Fight without Fear: GABRIELA, Fighting Patriarchy and Imperialism

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by Amee Chew

On March 11, in honor of International Women's Day, INCITE! Boston Women of Color Against Violence held a film screening and fundraiser for GABRIELA, a mass-based women's organization in the Philippines. A packed audience of over 70 viewed a documentary on GABRIELA's activities, called "Fight Without Fear!," produced by local organizer Darlene Lombos.

GABRIELA works to free women from all forms of oppression, whether intimate violence, landlessness and economic exploitation, lack of reproductive healthcare – or state violence and foreign domination by the U.S. Its branches organize sectors that include rural women, the urban poor, students, minority Moro women, and former "Comfort Women."

As an especially remarkable treat, two representatives from Gabriela Network, a support organization for GABRIELA based in the U.S., were present at the event to provide incisive political analysis and historical context to the film.

We have a lot to learn from Global South women's organizing. Lombos' background as an organizer rather than professional film-maker meant her documentary explored many aspects of GABRIELA particularly relevant to activists – foregrounding the group's combination of service provision, cultural works, political education, grassroots struggle, and nation-wide networking.

What is particularly singular about the political analysis that GABRIELA and GabNet advance, is its full integration of an understanding of patriarchy with anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist politics. Patriarchy is treated as a system requiring a comprehensive response, inextricably linked to these other systems. In fact, GabNet coins the term "P.I.G. – Patriarchal Imperialist Globalization," to describe this landscape. GabNet organizers Olivia Quinto and Dorotea Mendoza were able to grapple with the complexity of an anti-sexist politics in a manner that is rare among U.S. progressives today.

The Philippines underwent 300 years of colonization by the Spanish, only to experience re-conquest by U.S. masters in the early 20th century. Quinto outlined five factors shaping the political and economic situation of Filipinas today:

  1. During the Vietnam War, the Philippines was used as the chief R&R base for U.S. troops, experiencing a deluge of 10,000 GI's daily. Today, as a direct legacy, the country has the greatest number of prostituted women and children in the region – more than Thailand. The sex industry is the country's fourth largest industry.
  2. Export Processing Zones sell Filipinas as cheap labor
  3. Foreign Debt is now worth 30% of the Philippines' GDP, helping cripple the economy, even though the country has long paid enough interest to cancel out the original debt
  4. The government has promoted an official policy of labor export, because the economy relies on remittances from this overseas labor; 75% of this overseas workforce is female. The Philippines is the world's top exporter of women; the top trades these women enter are domestic labor and sex work. Filipinas have been sent to work as prostitutes in U.S. bases in Iraq, subcontracted under Halliburton or Root & Brown.

Quinto and Mendoza also drew attention to the current climate of repression and political killings under the U.S.-based Arroyo dictatorship. The two made powerful presenters who combined down-to-earth, clear-cutting language with revealing data.