MANILA — Women and the LGBT community fight in tandem for their rights, Bahaghari chairperson Reyna Valmores said as the country celebrates Women's Month this March.
"It has always been my firm belief that the fight for women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights are deeply intertwined. It is no accident that often, LGBTQ+ women are the ones who gravitate towards leadership roles in LGBTQ+ advocacy," Valmores, a trans woman and rights advocate, told ABS-CBN News.
"For me, our campaigns for a national SOGIE Equality Bill, for safe and inclusive spaces, and for dignified work for all, are as much a battle for LGBTQ+ persons as it is for women."
Valmores, a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a degree in molecular biology and biotechnology, became the spokesperson of the LGBT rights group Bahaghari in 2019.
Since then, Valmores has been in the forefront in the push for the legislation of the SOGIE equality.
For her, women continue to be second class citizens in the society and face discrimination.
"The reality women face is that, today, we continue to be written off as secondary and less than men. Despite our strides in gender equality in the Philippines, Filipino women today are still belittled, dismissed, discriminated against, and subjected to various kinds of exploitation and abuse, simply on account of who we are," the rights advocate said.
"For as long as such a culture in the country and in the world exists, there will always be a need to honor women and provide a platform for them to speak on their struggles," she added.
In 2020, Valmores along with other LGBT rights advocates led a Pride March near the Mendiola Peace Arch but police officials arrested them.
When women choose to fight, they face attacks reeking of misogyny, Valmores said.
"Worse still, when women decide that enough is enough, when they join together and form organizations that speak truth to their issues and demands, they are vilified and harassed by state forces," she added.
"Plenty of women rights defenders face red-tagging and trumped-up charges. Many, including pregnant and old, ailing women, have become political prisoners."
Despite the struggles, Valmores view the hardships as eye opener for her to fight for their rights.
"Being a woman, and especially a trans woman who has had to fight and assert her womanhood, has been a means for me to see the realities of the world from a young age. It is by being a transgender woman that I realized the value of compassion, kindness, and choosing to fight back," she said.
"To be a woman, to be a Filipina today, is to be in the line of fire. In a country steeped with macho culture and politics, each woman is confronted with a question: Do we accept, or fight this system that exploits us? Being thrust into making this choice is the essence of womanhood today."
"And it is the women who choose to fight, to speak up, to come together with other women, to stand for her rights and the rights of those downtrodden like her, to dare to imagine a better world for all, who exemplify the words: 'Women in the struggle are women unbound.'"
Valmores urged Filipinos to continue their fight for equal rights.
"Filipino women today need support in the form of social services against (Violence Against Women and Children), of wage increase towards a family living wage, of regular and secure work, and of the protection of people’s human rights and liberties," she said.
Valmores believes every Filipino woman is strong.
"But this strength is not only a product of her own mind, or by her own journey, alone. All of us, collectively as women, are steeled by our shared experiences throughout our lives, and throughout history. We are strongest when we harness our power together," she said.
"And so in order to truly and meaningfully leave the world a better place than we’ve found it, we must come together as women, form communities and organizations as expressions of our will, and channel our collective energy as a force for change in the world. Let our sisterhood be the stuff of legends."
This article is part of the Amazing Women series of ABS-CBN News this month of March, featuring stories of select women who are making a mark in their respective fields and advocacies. March is National Women's Month in the Philippines.