By Fr. Shay Cullen
Women have been longing for equality with men for thousands of years and began campaigning and marching only two hundred years ago for their rights and dignity to be respected. Throughout history, they have suffered discrimination and oppression and were considered property and were sold for sex to old men. Men ruled the world, so-called “honor killings” happen frequently in Pakistan where in 2021, according to the Human Rights Commission, as many as 470 girls were killed in 2021 but human rights workers say the number could reach a staggering 1,000 a year.
Around the world, women resisted and gradually fought for their rights. On 17 September 1937, Philippine women won the right to vote and many rights have been won since then. It could take three hundred years to achieve equality for all women, according to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. We celebrated International Women’s Day last March 8 and Women’s Month this month in the Philippines. The theme this year is Accelerating Equality and Empowerment for Women.
Throughout history, males dominated, abused, and enslaved women and children to have sex at any time and could rape with impunity. Even children were raped as they are today. Although in the last 40 years a great awaking on girls’ rights has changed apathy into action to defend the victims of sexual abuse.
There is a misogynistic attitude of hatred and contempt for women and girls present in society and institutions where empowered women are a threat to male historical patriarchy. Violence and exploitation of women is growing as seen on social media allegedly led by the likes of men such as Andrew Tate and his brother. They are allegedly women- haters and blame women for rape.
They are presently arrested and detained in Romania on human trafficking charges, woman abuse and exploitation. Tate was banned on Twitter but recently allowed back on by Elon Musk, the new owner. BBC researchers found that Tate’s following on Twitter shot up from 150,000 in November 2022 to a present astounding five million followers. Most of them are young men that share his views and desires to control and dominate women.
There are the brave and courageous young women that fight back against their rapists. Now almost 19, Angel (not her real name) told her story as a survivor of childhood incest and multiple rape. She addressed a gathering at the Preda Foundation 49th anniversary recently where two ambassadors, Ambassador David Hartman of Canada and Ambassador William Carlos of Ireland, Governor Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. Of Zambales, distinguished officials and international observers listened to her story.
She told the silent and intent gathering that when she was six years old she lived in fear after her father raped her one night. She was afraid to tell anyone and buried the memory and pain and hurt. She pretended nothing happened. When she was eight years old, it happened again. Angel tried to escape but he caught her and she was raped again. “Why did you do it, Papa?” she asked him later. “Because I love you, tell no one, or your mother will be hurt,” he answered. She asked, “Is this love?”
Again, like thousands of victims of incest and sex abuse, Angel buried the memory, afraid to tell others. Then, her brother molested her, and a neighbor-friend of the family came and raped her also. Then, her father and brother raped her again several times. They had made her a dis-empowered frightened sex slave. She feared being killed if she told anyone. Somehow when 16, she found the courage and told her mother and begged her to get them to stop. She was not believed. In despair, she thought of suicide but could not do it.
She told the audience that one day she got out of the house, met a kindly woman and told her what she endured. She was rescued by social workers and brought to the Preda Foundation home. There, after a year of affirmation, friendship and Emotional Release Therapy, she recovered, was empowered and filed her legal complaint against her abusers.
Her father and brother were prosecuted in the Olongapo City Family Court by Fiscal Bernadine Santos and after two long trials, they were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison by Judge Gemma Theresa B. Hilario-Logronio. Justice was finally done and now Princess is a strong empowered young woman going to school and living independently while starting life again helped by Preda. The audience applauded with admiration for her courage.
Woman and child abuse is a centuries-old evil. With the coming of Jesus of Nazareth and his progressive teaching on the rights and dignity of women and children, there was little change. Institutional religions ignored that teaching and focused on obscure theologizing and fighting bloody wars over their abstruse theologies.
The man from Nazareth treated women with dignity, respect, understanding and declared them as having dignity and equality. He said children are more important than the elders, scribes, teachers and adults (Matthew 18:1-5). He shocked the patriarchal society when he tried to overturn the unjust, unequal repressive system that degraded women and children as if they were non-persons. A male dominated society crucified him for his audacious teaching that all were equal as “Children of God,” his father. The elite killed him as they do human and women’s rights activists today. What the Man from Nazareth that overcame death taught is so simple, “Love one another as I loved you.” He said to respect every human person especially women and children equally. Love your neighbor as yourself, believe that goodness, truth, action for justice and love of neighbor will overcome evil. That is the basic values of Christianity.
Recognizing the equal rights of women and ridding the church of abusive clerics is the great challenge facing the institutional Church today. A woman from God is needed to right this terrible wrong. The church hierarchy is against such a leader. So we rely on Pope Francis who is following the advice of three women appointed as his consultants to the influential Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In the Philippine Church, women have little influence or status due to a conservative hierarchy. Several congregations of religious sisters are empowered, independent-minded and serve the people with great dedication but other diocesan orders have been made servants of the bishops and priests.
In society, women have demanded respect, recognition of their abilities, achievements and intelligence. They have a more important status in a society that respects their dignity and intelligence. Today, women make up 28 percent of the congress. More has to be done to make it 50 percent. Yet they have over the years, by sheer determination and persistence, strengthened those positions and influence and passed laws to bring greater freedom and equality and protection to women and children. There are at least 10 laws protecting women rights and 37 protecting children.
What is needed is not only belief in the rights of women and children but action for a change of mind and heart among men and women to respect their dignity and acknowledge the rights of women and children and implement the laws protecting them. Belief without action is dead.