Peace Corps Philippines Volunteers Tout Women’s Rights
Ever since I lived in Jinhae, Korea and would stay up late at night listening to my neighbor beat the crap out of his girlfriend (and be told by Korean friends and co-workers not to call the cops or interfere because it could make the woman’s life even worse – a kind of sick reasoning that was fully backed up with common scenarios as to just how worse her life would be if I budded in), women’s rights has been a personal crusade of mine. (And a big part of the current thesis I am writing for my M.A. in East Asian Studies).
Even though March (Women’s History Month) is almost over and despite the fact that International Women’s Day (March 8th) has come and gone, that doesn’t mean that the issue should be put to rest. If anything, such a time should only serve as a reminder to us that the topic needs constant addressing.
For a very inspiring post about what is being done to deal with the issue in the Philippines, read this post from the blog Amanda in the Philippines. Amanda is a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and just recently conducted a women’s rights workshop with fellow Peace Corps volunteers in the country.
The whole experience was really eye opening. On Sunday we met with the women’s group that we were working with to facilitate the workshop. They are called Buklod ng babae (Women bonding together) and are based in the downtown area of the city that we were in. For two days we were to meet with around 25 women and girls (I say girls because some of these girls were “18” and I refuse to call them women) who work in GRO bars or on the street. I have mentioned GRO bars before, but to clarify, GRO stands for Guest Relations Officer here, it is the term that they use, for lack of a better word, for prostitutes. There are GRO’s that work on the street, but mostly there are bars where there are varying levels of entertainment involving the girls there for sale.
The workshop did not criticize the women’s line of work as clearly it was seen as the only available means of supporting themselves and their families. Instead, the seminar dealt with issues of rape, self-respect, HIV/AIDS and served as a source of information about women’s rights.
To get a better idea of what kind of environment the women they were interacting with worked in, Amanda and her colleagues visited some of the bars the women and girls entertained in.
We started in the city where there are ordinances which affect GRO Bars. The first bar we went to, Mangos, had (as expected) a bunch of old nasty white men scamming on the young-looking girls that were working. There were about 10 or 11 girls, many of which were in short shorts and bikini tops. There was a small stage at the front where at least one was dancing at all times. It was not like the dancing that you see in the movies, the girls were swaying slowly and looked uncomfortable, they stared only at their reflections in the mirrors and did not look around at the onlookers as though they were pretending to be somewhere else. We stayed for a little while and spoke with a girl who is a member of Buklod and also a GRO at the bar. She looked like she was about 4 or 5 months pregnant, but we did not bring that up. The next bar was the bar that was owned by the woman that came to the workshop. Here there were a few more old nasty white guys, but there was no stage or dancing, the girls had on little black dresses and tags. They were tags like they wear at my LGU with the girl’s picture, age, etc on it. The owner says that they wear them to show that they have been certified by the government as ok for GRO work.
We have added Amanda’s blog to our sidebar for those wishing to continue following her Peace Corps experience and her updates, and have also put her blog in our “Editor’s Pick” category.