Why study women?

I was about to give up on my master’s degree on women and development. Not entirely. I was visiting back and forth to UP, just so they would accept me again. For complicated technical reasons, I was not eligible to enroll this coming semester.

I pleaded, persuaded to give me a chance to process my documents. I was way passed the deadline.

It takes a lot of determination to pursue and continue higher studies. It’s always tempting to question the value of master’s degree and make a mental cost and benefit analysis. Do you really need it for your career or for your well-being?

How much more if you are taking women studies? There will be doubts along the way over your academic life choices.

Why study women? Why take women’s studies? These questions lead to a bigger question: Why should we take gender issues seriously? Is there a need at all?

Since the day I have studied women and development, I have heard these criticisms. There is no need to advocate for women empowerment and gender equality for the following reasons: The Philippines is a matriarchal society. Women have more jobs than men. Women “can” get jobs. Women are more educated. No one is stopping a girl to go to school. Women are already empowered.

I don’t want to go on detail and debunk these with statistics. What makes “truths” valid if they appeal to our realities. In a practical sense, maybe we need to examine our society by what is actually happening within our own neighborhood and our social circle.

Maybe it’s best to have a reality check through the following questions:

  • Do you think it’s not safe for a girl to walk alone at night?
  • If you are a parent, do you worry when your daughter is out late night?
  • Do you think there are places where women cannot travel all by herself?
  • Do you know a friend, loved one, or acquaintance who has experienced violence?
  • Do you receive cat calls?
  • Have you experienced being intimidated with a group of boys?
  • Do you find the need to constantly protect yourself? How often do you find the need to protect yourself?
  • Are you judged by your virginity or sex experience?
  • Are you judged by your relationship/s?
  • Do you think you are deprived of opportunities because you are a mother?
  • Have you ever experienced a stranger touching your body parts without your permission?
  • Do you get conscious when you wear short shorts?

If you have answered “yes” to more than two questions, then there exists a gender issue.

Unless every girl in this world feels safe, there remains a gender gap that needs to be addressed. Women are not totally free at all times. Some have enjoyed certain extents of freedom but there are always restrictions and limitations set by social norms.

A person with gender lens will tell you how facilities can be sensitive to the needs of women, that the comfort room should not be far from women and girls, that a breastfeeding station and daycare center at offices are needed so that women can enjoy working. And most importantly, a person with gender lens aims to change behavior in society. Through this, we want to reduce street harassment, catcalling, and teach the value of consent and body ownership.

So, why study women? Or why take women’s studies? Because we have to care for people, especially those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and marginalized. On my part, I specifically choose women because it is a vulnerable group whose angst, struggles are those I can validate with my day-to-day experience. Sure, there are many more specific, and marginalized groups but we find our own space to create change from where we are and from where we have stories.

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