I Am a Woman, Count Me In!
“I use every power in my tiny frame to ensure state support for gender inclusion. I tirelessly walk the halls of the conference rooms, approaching delegates, reminding them to engender the agreement. I email them. I give them lobby materials. I peacefully nag them until they see the words “gender language” written all over my face.”
For as long as I remember, I had issues with the use of the word “man” when a speaker in front of me actually refers to both women and men. Whenever the parable on “Jesus Fed Five Thousand Men” is read in my church, I am saddened with the disciples’ report of the count: “five thousand, excluding women and children.” I am heartbroken at the suggestion of my exclusion. I console myself that the numbers would have been different if Jesus himself did the counting. After all, He spoke to a Samaritan woman by the well. He dined and made friends with the marginalized – the tax collectors, children and women, among others.
As a young professional about a quarter of a century ago, I raised my first public opposition to my exclusion in language. A speaker in a big forum kept saying “man” when he actually meant “women and men.” I raised my hand in the middle of the speech and said, “Mr. Speaker, I am bothered whenever you say ‘man’ when you actually refer to both women and men. May I request that you please say ‘women and men’ instead?” He gave me a puzzled look. “But you are part of the word man,” he argued. “No,” I said. He did not get it.
Never mind. At least, I registered my first public opposition to women’s exclusion in language.
What’s the fuss about language? Language shapes consciousness. The use of “man” alone embeds in peoples’ thinking that the other half of the world’s population is less important. Language transmits cultural values and meanings. In a society where men dominate, the use of exclusive language reinforces what is culturally practiced–that women are meant to play secondary roles; that they are not meant to be leaders or decision-makers.
As I added years to my age, I saw more areas of gender exclusion. Hence, I am on a crusade. No, not those crusades where lives are taken and territories are conquered. My crusade is not only to see gender-inclusive language used. My crusade has expanded to women’s inclusion, participation, and representation. In my country, the Philippines, I coordinate a group called Women Engaged in Action on 1325 (WE Act 1325). UN Security Council Resolution 1325 urges Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional, and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention of conflict and for work related to the building of peace.
My country is host to two of the longest-running armed conflicts in the world. Peace negotiations to end these hostilities are currently ongoing. Not only do we lobby for women’s increased representation in these peace processes, WE Act 1325 is also actively lobbying for the inclusion of gender language in the peace agreements that will be forged.
I have taken this crusade to the global front. I am one of the many ardent campaigners for the adoption of an arms trade treaty in the United Nations, and I campaigned vigorously that this robust arms trade treaty would not exclude the perennially forgotten half of the world’s population. The years of lobbying bore fruit. The draft treaty submitted for the consideration of States contained gender language. The Preamble declared that state parties to the treaty have in mind that women are particularly affected in situations of conflict and armed violence. Article 5 on Additional Obligations proposed that each State Party, when authorizing an export, shall consider taking feasible measures to avoid that transferred arms be used to commit or facilitate gender-based violence.
Getting to this language was not easy, especially in a situation where some state parties seemed allergic to the mention of the word “gender.” I use every power in my tiny frame to ensure state support for gender inclusion. I tirelessly walk the halls of the conference rooms,approaching delegates, reminding them to engender the agreement. I email them. I give them lobby materials. I peacefully nag them until they see the words “gender language” written all over my face. And every time they mentioned on the floor support for the inclusion of gender language in the treaty, this pint-sized campaigner at the back of the conference room jumped up and down.
“Women and gender” got into the text, yes, but the ATT was not adopted in July. Never mind. It is not the end of the battle. The majority of the States pronounced that battle continues. They would make sure that an ATT is forged soon. And we would work, too, to help make sure that women and gender language remain and even be more strongly reflected there.
We worked for gender language inclusion, as well, in the UN Programme of Action(UN PoA) to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in All Its Aspects. In the Review Conference held in August this year, we lobbied to genderize the document. Two paragraphs of the outcome document included women. One is paragraph 11 of the declaration, which expressed grave concern about the negative impact of the illicit trade of SALW on women. It underscored the need for further integration of the role of women into efforts to combat and eradicate the illicit trade in SALW.
Paragraph 8 of the UNPoA implementation plan indicated the need to facilitate the participation and representation of women in small arms policymaking, taking into account relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly. It also indicated the need to explore means to eliminate the negative impact of the illicit trade in SALW on women. Several delegations expressed desire for a stronger language, noting that language on gender mainstreaming or a gender perspective was omitted. The language provided does at least provide recognition of some of the important issues related to women, peace, and security, which can be built upon in the future.
Indeed, the resistance I had to gender exclusion in my younger years had expanded to campaigning for gender inclusion in many other areas. Women’s exclusion pervades every structure, system, institution, and policy. Therefore, working to be counted has to be broadened and pursued. The work goes beyond standing up to a man who would refuse to say “women and men” in his language. The work entails standing up to a whole structure to assert: Count me in!
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