Collective action and structural changes are vital for gender justice

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
Judy Taguiwalo, politician and women's rights leader
[Watch video, listen podcast] Judy Taguiwalo is a politician as well as a women's rights activist of Philippines. She is the former Minister of Department of Social Welfare and Development of Philippines. Since her student days she has been in the forefront of advancing women’s rights, in relation to societal changes, and has been a member of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) since 1987.

Judy is one of the key participants at the 3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017) being organized by the APWLD in Chiang Mai, Thailand (7-9 September 2017). She was in conversation with CNS (Citizen News Service) on why building people’s movements is critically important to bring about lasting structural changes for a better world to live in. 

Here are some excerpts from Judy Taguiwalo's exclusive interview with CNS Managing Editor Shobha Shukla:

You have been called the People’s Social welfare secretary. Why?

Judy Taguiwalo: "As a minister, I tried hard to take the resources of my department of social welfare to the people, rather than letting them be used by politicians and the elite to perpetrate their own interests. It had been a very difficult journey for me, but I did my best. The government has resources and money—the important thing is to bring them to the people who are in need of it without having to go through the intermediaries who want to use these for their own political ends. I was appointed by the President and the Parliament had to confirm it. But they rejected me, without publicly giving any reason for this. So, while the people wanted me, the Parliament rejected me. I firmly think that while government positions are temporary, serving the people is forever. The people realized that in my short stay of 14 months as minister I did my best to serve them with competence, honesty and humility. So perhaps they were unhappy to see me go. Whether we are part of the Parliament, or the Ministry or civil society, the important question we need to ask ourselves is: For whom am I working, and who will benefit from my activities, policies and services?"

Why are human rights defenders (HRDs), especially women, being targeted by the States when States are supposed to be the vanguard of human rights?

Judy Taguiwalo: "The situation of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) cannot be separated from that of the people. Human rights are not only about political rights-- the right to organise, assemble, criticize-- but they are also about basic rights to live—the right to food, health, land, and job security. If WHRDs are being pursued by the States it is because of their advocacy for achieving not just political rights but also the basic rights. If the State is unable to provide these rights, then people are bound to dissent to get them."

What more needs to be done to protect human rights defenders, especially women? And why is this critical to achieve development justice?

Judy Taguiwalo: "Historically, HRDs have been activists from different sectors. During Marcos’ regime many HRDs including WHRDs were persecuted in Philippines. This has happened in other parts of the world too. It is necessary to consider women’s rights as human rights, and women who fight for these rights should be protected and assisted to carry on with their work of helping people achieve the basic rights necessary for survival."

Does fundamentalism curtails women’s already limited exercise of human rights?

Judy Taguiwalo: "Fundamentalism could be religious fundamentalism, which believes that women are inferior to men, and that women’s place is in the home and they should not be seen in public, and even if they do, they should be silent and covered up. This religious fundamentalism obviously curtails women’s human rights. The other form of fundamentalism is economic fundamentalism—the belief that only a market economy and profit is the motivator of wellbeing. This economic fundamentalism actually has had a very negative impact on women’s lives as it has brought about (i) privatisation of health services - making them almost inaccessible to the poor due to their high costs and (ii) displacement of communities (fisher-folks, farmers and their families) from their land to make way for corporations. So economic and religious fundamentalisms are both inimical to women and their right to live their lives to the fullest potential."

How does militarization add to all this?

Judy Taguiwalo: "We have seen in many countries of Asia, as well as in countries of Africa and Latin America, that militarization has resulted in unequal economic relations, with the land being owned by landlords, instead of belonging to the farmers who are supposed to have it. Militarization has also displaced indigenous communities and their land has been taken over for mining and other industries that profit the corporations. Military rule is strongly linked to economic policies that are inimical to the poor and perpetuate huge economic inequalities."

What is the situation in Philippines?

Judy Taguiwalo: "The situation here is not much different from that of other countries in so much as Philippines Parliament is dominated by the rich elite, and there are very few true representatives of the people. We are a rich country with an abundance of natural resources—seas/rivers, fertile lands, and mineral deposits. Yet the people are poor. This unbalanced equation, which has historical and structural roots, continues to be so, because even if we change the man in the presidential palace, even if we have more women in the parliament, the basic structural inequalities-- the system that keeps power in the hands of the elite few--remains in place. The system will not change just by changing the person(s) occupying the seats of power."

What is the way forward you foresee for development justice?

Judy Taguiwalo: "The way forward would be movement building through developing the power, the voice, the knowledge and the solidarity among women and other sectors who want a change. The real arena for bringing in change is in the villages, in the schools, in the streets, in the forests, where the people’s power can be built through movements and collective actions."

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
 6 September 2017

(Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor at CNS (Citizen News Service) and the above article is based upon her interview series of key women leaders in Asia Pacific region who have played a key role in striving for development justice. Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla)

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