Luzviminda Camacho: Making Stride for Pilipinas

 “Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression.” - Margaret Sanger

Luzviminda Camacho after taking her oath in the Philippine Senate in September 2013.

On October 28, 2013, the Philippines made headlines as reports of their seventeenth peace-keeping mission to Haiti decorated both written and internet news publications. The Pilipino contingency is a part of a larger pacifist effort called the Multinational Interim Force. Conceptualized by United Nations in 2004, it was the reaction to the bloody confrontation that occurred between the Haitian government and insurgents that same year. They continue today as a means to maintain peace in Haiti, a country torn by violent anti-government revolts.

As a participant in this initiative, the Armed Forces of the Philippines provides perimeter surveillance, administrative and logistics service to UN diplomats. They ensure the safety of these figureheads as they move forward in their attempts to stabilize Haiti’s still transitional government and prevent any acts of violence that would only increase the amount of blood already spilled.

This ongoing campaign is praiseworthy without help, however, that is not the reason why it was plastered on newspapers and websites in bold print. The reason is Luzviminda Camacho. Camacho is this year's commander of the Philippines' peacekeepers. She is also a woman, the first woman the Philippines has ever sent on such a mission. This is an enormous stride for both Camacho and Pilipino women, and it is not the first she has made. In fact, she is quite familiar with the notoriety that surrounds a 'first woman leader'. She was the first female to command ships in the Pilipino Navy (four naval vessels over a period of three years). Assigned to traditionally male-occupied positions, Camacho is both carving out a larger space for women in the Pilipino military and proving that the intellectual skills of strategy and leadership do not elude women as much of society may think.

Gender Equality in the Philippines

Heavily influenced by Spanish colonialism, the Philippines is a society that, in its early years, centered itself a patriarchal ideal. Men were breadwinners and women homemakers. However, with the ascent of female President Corazon Aqunio, the Philippines saw major changes that allowed women to shatter the "glass ceiling" in the Philippines. Not only was a women assigned to the most influential seat of power in the nation, but Aquino released a revised the constitution so that it guaranteed Pilipinas impartiality in the eyes of the law and protection in the workplace. The following 30 years brought even more progress, enacting legislation that counteracted gender discrimination in political representation, reception of land, and entrance into military schools.  Women were also protected, by law, from sexual harassment, rape, and partners seeking mail-order-brides. As a result, the Philippines, today, boasts the title of the best performer of gender equality in the Asia-Pacific, ranking number six in on the list of most gender-equal nations.

As noteworthy as this accomplishment is, there are still instances, albeit reduced, of workplace exploitation, and violence against women. These instances are proof that there are still obstacles hindering complete gender equality; although the "glass wall" has been broken, shards of it remain. Luzviminda Camacho is, then, more than just the first Pilipino female to command a naval fleet and more than just the first Pilipina ambassador to Haiti. She is an example of women who refuse to let their brilliance be repressed. She is not a woman who will bashfully reject compliments, but rather eagerly accept the well-deserved rewards of her excellence.

As a naval captain, ready to confront the dangers of  protecting foreign diplomats, she has not limited herself to "making puddings and knitting stockings." She is as physically capable as any man. As a single mother, constantly leaving her son for foreign seas and countries, she does more than "[play] on the piano and [embroider] handbags." Her emotional and intellectual capacities are as far-reaching as that of her male counterparts. Although she may not know it, Camacho is an active warrior evening the playing field between the sexes, working to close the gap that has deceivingly defined men as society's "more privileged creatures."

[I]t is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that [women] ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

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UniPro's The Vagina Monologues: Breaking the Maria Clara Image, Indeed

Moans, writhes, orgasms … it wasn't your typical UniPro event. On March 9, UniPro hosted The Vagina Monologues: Breaking the Maria Clara Image at Cap21 Studios. Based on interviews with real women, The Vagina Monologues is a play by Eve Ensler featuring hilarious, heartbreaking and uncomfortable confessions from different women about their, well, vaginas, relating to their personal stories of femininity and sexuality.

UniPro’s The Vagina Monologues production starred an all-Pilipina cast, with a special Pilipina twist added to parts of the script. In one monologue, for example, a “lola” ashamedly discussed her “down there.” Then at the end of the play, the cast stood side by side onstage, taking turns to share disturbing facts about victims of sexual violence:

"One in three women on the planet will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. That’s more than one billion women living on the planet today."

"The NDHS revealed that one in five women aged 15-49 has experienced physical violence since age 15."

"One in ten Filipino women aged 15-49 has experienced sexual violence."

Following the play was a panel of representatives from various women’s rights organizations. These distinguished women included Ivy O. Suriyopas, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at AALDEF; Kristina K. Joyas, a member of AF3IRM (and UniPro’s Director of Staff Development); and Zarah K. Viñola, Vice-Chairperson for FiRE. They discussed ways their organizations are tackling issues that affect Pilipinas, as well as their own definitions of the term “feminist.”

Confronting topics ranging from rape and sexual violence to self-image and self-discovery, the night was emotional and thought-provoking. It was a seamless event and production, organized by Kirklyn Escondo, our Community Building Director, and directed by Precious Sipin and Leslie Espinosa. Music also added to the drama of the play, with Andre Ignacio Dimapilis on the didgeridoo and Andy Jean-Gilles on the djembe drums. Lastly, Stella Ma also spoke on behalf of the NYC Chapter of the National Pacific American Women’s Forum, informing the audience of the recent publication of their Health Resource Guide.

It’s rare seeing Pilipinas onstage, portraying characters with real depth to whom we can actually relate. It’s a stark difference from the roles Asian Americans are usually degraded to: the token Asian friend, unnamed nerd or exotic lover. Let’s not forget the title of our production, which references Maria Clara, the iconic character from Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. This tragic heroine is known for her sweetness and obedience; she is a symbol (or perhaps a caricature) of the ideal Pilipina. Well, with all the talk of vaginas that Saturday night, the strong and talented women of UniPro’s production of The Vagina Monologues couldn't be any farther from Maria Clara.