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Torture and Other Gender Issues

The gender issue is a reality in the state’s torture of politicized women. This is a fact specific—very concretely a constant threat—to women in militarized counties of the so-called Third World. Almost unknown to most (for the lack of a better term) First World women, it is a key concept to an understanding of an urgency of feminist issues among women so superficially tagged in the West as “women of colour”. (Re colour: is white not a colour?)

Speaking publicly for the first time about her torture two decades ago by the military, ex-political detainee Raquel Edralin-Tiglao said before Toronto audiences: “The politicized woman is tortured because she is a woman.” Reiterating at a Philippine – Solidarity Group forum the realizations she shared as Philippine delegate to the November 1992 CRIAW (Canadian Research Institute for the International Advancement of Women) confab, she fortified feminist analyses from many other societies with repressive governments.

It is clear to such women that their torture is intentionally done to increase their sense of being victims of a society that looks down upon women. The military, true son of the society it is part of, tortures women and then blames them for “provoking” all the violence that was turned against them. This torture added to the military torture—and all state-sponsored violence-wielded so ruthlessly, attaches stigma to being a victim. “The tendency of women-victims is to be silent about their torture,” which Raquel pointed out is precisely what the military wants to happen, since military strategists know how women are brought up—or caged up—in society. Currently the Director of the Women’s Crisis Centre in Manila, Raquel is also familiar with the same tendency to silence among rape and battering victims of non-members of the military.

With politicized women the shame of being a victim is further overlaid with guilt. Guilt for women is another culturally-created obstacle that bogs down their development. For women ex-detainees, it becomes intense. Not only are they seen as having “provoked” their own torture by daring to be political; they are also held responsible for the torture of other persons. Raquel’s torture included being made to witness the torture of her fellow-detainees. Being privy to the breakdown of the majority of the torture victims, she became a victim of incessant and helpless worry for them. Looking back, she believes that her greatest torture was this intense self-blame for the suffering of others.

Raquel observed that in militarily-repressed societies, state-sponsored violence has been insufficiently documented. To begin with,such enormous miasmas of stigma, guilt and silence surround the torture of women, how can documents ever be sufficient? It will take a long period of healing, sharing with these women, empowerment dynamics.

We can even go way back to the Japanese Occupation and ask the same questions about women: why is there meagre documentation of our own Filipina “comfort women”?

And what about the social cost of the U.S. military bases to the women of our country? The prostitution of thousands of Filipina women, and the resultant degradation of all Filipina women both in the country and globally, have to be defined fully as a steep cost to Philippine society—which we are still paying.

The cost of international trade on women also has to be accounted for. International tourism, accelerating along with international trade, has increased the prostitution initiated by the R&R thrust of the U.S. bases. Impoverished Filipinas, their labour already devalued by an export-oriented and import-based economy, have no substantial choice in this kind of situation. And then, there’s the transformation of many Filipinas into migrant workers, and mainly, domestic workers. As such, they’ve had to suffer physical and sexual violence—and racial stereotyping. Suddenly, in a strange country which they had been trained to look at as paradise, they have had to tackle the many-faceted expressions of sexism, combined with racial and class prejudice.

Who is to account for all high costs demanded of women living in societies where they have been so sweetly described as rocking the cradle, and thus ruling? This is perhaps worthy common ground for women in Canada to work together on.

Then we could quickly go to the hows, before militarization and wars make all of that impossible.

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