Aiming to promote awareness on gender equality in the University, the University Student Government (USG) Office of the President, in partnership with the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative–Woman Leadership Academy (YSEALI-WLA), the Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA), and the USG Office of the Vice President for External Affairs (OVPEA) organized an open forum entitled Amplifying Voices last November 29 at the Roof Deck of the Henry Sy Sr. Hall.
USG Vice President for External Affairs Ronin Leviste explained that current progress and movements toward gender equality shifts in small increments, highlighting the importance of the forum. “Gender equality has been discussed for the longest time now, but [we] have yet to feel the tangible changes [in] today’s society,” Leviste said.
Despite a 2013 global survey rating the Philippines as a “gay-friendly” country, Knit Mental Healthcare Philippines CEO Kana Takahashi pointed to issues and injustices toward the LGBTQ+ community as a sign to the contrary, including the murder of transwoman Jennifer Laude and the arrest of Gretchen Diez. “Kung tayo ang 10th most gay-friendly country in the world, bakit tayo may mga ganito?” Takahashi asked.
(If we are the 10th most gay-friendly country in the world, why do we still have these incidents?)
Takahashi noted that only 18 percent of Filipinos reside in places protected by ordinances against discrimination on the basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE). “Sinasabi natin na 10th most gay-friendly country tayo, oo, sige, pwede in terms of tolerance, pero I don’t think nandoon tayo in terms of acceptance,” she added.
(We say that we are the 10th most gay-friendly country. Maybe in terms of tolerance but not in terms of acceptance.)
To clarify common misconceptions on SOGIE, Takahashi outlined the differences among gender, gender identity, and gender expression. According to Takahashi, the concept of gender identity lies inside oneself, while gender expression is how a person expresses themselves to other people. Takahashi acknowledged that the goal of public forums are to raise awareness and eventually sustain a society where SOGIE would not be seen as a big issue for people. Nevertheless, she admitted that Filipinos “still have a lot to learn”, amid the current judgement and biases against the LGBTQ+ community.
Culture and religion
Takahashi was later joined by Akbayan Partylist Representative Tom Villarin, and Assistant Professorial Lecturer Jeff Clyde Corpuz from the DLSU Theology and Religious Education Department, in a panel discussion facilitated by OVPEA Executive for Community Development John Rhoderick Campo and COSCA Program Coordinator Jose Marie Angelo Herrera.
Corpuz, a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Commission on Inter-Religious Dialogue, stated that gender equality is a basic human right. Acknowledging that everyone is a human being, he argued that “we are not defined by our race, color, gender, and even nationality.” He also mentioned the importance of educating people, especially the youth–by advocating that gender equality must be implemented in the University and must start within each person.
On the other hand, Villarin highlighted the importance of recognizing various societal issues as a step to attaining sustainable development. “If we don’t address discrimination, if we don’t [address] inequality wherein women and girls are set aside in the society, then you cannot pursue sustainable development,” the representative said.
Being refiled by Senator Risa Hontiveros to the 18th Congress, the SOGIE Equality Bill, also known as the Anti-discrimination Act, is intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Takahashi said that the filing of the bill has already been a “huge step” for advocates and legislators, considering that the Philippines remains predominantly Catholic and conservative. She added that changes in the culture may help the Philippines to become “ready” and to “debunk” heteronormativity.
“It’s perfect na we already have a bill passed in Congress to support our initiatives, but at the same time, we should always start with educating more [people],” Takahashi expressed.
Asked on whether the SOGIE Bill can serve as a backdoor for the legalization of same-sex marriage, Villarin responded that it is not possible since there is no current provision in the bill allowing it. Legalization of same-sex marriage would require alterations to the Civil Code, he explained.
Moreover, the three speakers agreed when it came to their fight for gender equality. Takahashi said, “I don’t need to be part of the community to know that they’re experiencing discrimination.” Corpuz also affirmed that DLSU remains an advocate of equal rights through its vision of an inclusive community, while Villarin highlighted that one’s personality is not complete under oppression. As part of the forum, a sharing session, Circles: Conversations on Gender Equality, was also conducted during the latter part of the event. YSEALI-WLA alumni and members of the project team served as facilitators for each circle. Aside from sharing stories of empowerment and self care, each group discussion also tackled ways to foster inclusivity and safe spaces in the DLSU community, as well as identify and stop gender-related violence.