“These are their stories.”
Last week I wrote about two remarkable community women leaders who have been with my organization, the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP), for decades. Let me now proceed with the eight other women.
Laura “Lalyn” Nuñez is a coconut farmer from Lopez, Quezon. Do not be fooled by this diminutive and quiet woman. She may be small but Lalyn is a dynamite when it comes to her leadership roles. Presently, she serves as a Kagawad in her barangay. Her being so, she said, she owes to the various training she underwent through the DSWP, particularly those pertaining to political participation and skills development.
Lalyn and her group joined the DSWP in the early 1990s but she has already been actively organizing women’s groups in as far as Laguna years before joining the DSWP. The groups she helped establish eventually joined the DSWP as well. When asked about her unforgettable experience with the DSWP, she readily responded, “that time when we went to Cebu in the early 2000s for a national consultation on the bill that is now known as the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children. For one, it was exciting being my first time to take an airplane. Also, I will not forget the passion by which women advocates discussed each provision of the bill. I realized then that drafting a really rights-based bill is not easy.”
Lalyn also mentioned the DSWP leaders’ study tour in India as a memorable experience because it was her first time to go out of the country, and there, she met women who like her, were fighting for women’s rights. Lalyn’s biggest lesson gained through the decades of working with the DSWP is the courage to face and discuss matters with what she termed as “matataas na tao” at the local and national levels. “I never imagined that an ordinary woman like me will be able to do the things I do now, and this is because of the DSWP,” she concluded.
It is because of Lalyn and her core group of women leaders that the DSWP has been successful in providing education and training, livelihood opportunities, and reproductive health services in the province of Quezon through the years.
Wilhelmina “Willie” Catane is from Bukidnon. Her group where she serves as the Executive Director, the Bukidnon Active Women’s Federation (BAWFED) (formerly Bukidnon Women’s Organizations, Inc.), may be the biggest organization of women in the province because its members are also women’s groups from the various parts of Bukidnon. They joined DSWP also in the early 2000s.
From then onwards, Willie and their other women leaders have actively participated in almost all DSWP activities, including the advocacy for pro-women bills. Willie joined the DSWP delegation who went on a study tour in Denmark, and this she said, is her single most memorable experience. “I saw there that when women work together, we become stronger and able to do more things. In Denmark we had meetings with women government officials and I was very surprised that they were just using bikes to go to their offices. They also did not have bodyguards unlike here where government officials always have bodyguards,” she said. “It was inspiring. I realized that women have power and that we can also do this here in our country,” Willie ended.
Because of the training they received from DSWP, the women’s groups in Bukidnon came to appreciate the opportunities for participation in the local government units (LGUs). Thus, Willie and her group persevered in having the local organizations accredited by their respective LGUs. This enabled the BAWFED to pursue partnerships with government agencies on projects for women. “Without DSWP’s assistance and the training we received, we would not be able to achieve this,” a proud Willie concluded.
Ligaya “Gaya” Gargar-Beso is from Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental. One will not fail to notice this tall woman who speaks in the unmistakably tilting Ilonggo/Negrense accent. Gaya’s group joined the DSWP around 2004, a bit later than the others but from then on, has been actively involved in the federation. She was among the leaders chosen to join the DSWP study tour to India where she realized that like here, Indian women also contend with and struggle against biases, marginalization, and abuse.
Asked what her memorable experience in DSWP is, Gaya responded, “It was the advocacy for the RH bill. Besides the very long and difficult time we used for this, when we were doing the signature campaign calling for the bill’s urgent passage, a priest said to me that I would not be allowed inside the church.” Gaya continued chuckling while saying that she answered the priest with, “Ay hindi pwede yan, Father. Bakit, sino ka ba? Diyos naman ang pinupuntahan sa Simbahan, pari ka lang.” This is typical of Ligaya.
Like the other DSWP pioneers, Gaya considers her gaining self-confidence to, and developing the skills in dealing with different kinds of people, including those in high government positions, as her surprising characteristics learned from DSWP. “It is because of DSWP that I am able to do things. Now, we will need to focus on our recovery because our province was devastated by typhoon Odette. Many of our homes and livelihood, including mine, were destroyed. We will find ways to recover.”
DSWP’s activities in Negros Occidental have been successful mainly because of our capable leaders there and the pack is led by Ligaya.
Next week, to conclude this series, I will write about Neolenia “Neoly” Barbas, Emily Callo, Catherine “Cathy” Gayo, and Rhoda Avila, four more remarkable women worthy of being recognized.
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