By PROF. MAE FE ANCHETA-TEMPLA
Women and their various circles and collectives all over the world observed October 5 every year as the International Day to End Prostitution. Here in Davao, I was invited as a reactor for the Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao’s School of Peace elective forum last September 20 on the special topic on The Woman Question: Historical and Class Perspectives, which was a well-attended forum.
I wish to refresh colleagues through this article if only to serve impetus for the revival of the Eskwelahan sa Kababayen-an (Women Mobile School of Davao City originally launched in 1997, if I am still not in senior moments). As a student of critical and constructivist social work I am more inclined to reflect on social work and social sciences at they are used for hegemonic purposes.
Patriarchy as a worldview and capitalism as an economic order seek to perpetuate themselves in the consciousness of people, especially in the dominant knowledge and theories of the sciences. Human behavior and the relations among human beings have so far been explained by ‘super’ theories as in Social Darwinism, Functionalism, Structuralism and Marxism. Most of them have justified the ‘natural’ order and hierarchy of things, especially about the women’s place in society, preferably in the home and in the family. The dominance of the First World economic interests influences the theoretical resource of the social sciences as well as the ways of dealing with social problems such as seen in psychology, psychiatry and social work as discussed by Kuitenbrouwer (1979) cited by Rodriguez (1990).
Antonio Gramsci, as cited by Weiller (1988) in Rodriguez (1990) introduced the concept of hegemony to explain the various ways by which the dominant classes and interests in society impose their own conception of reality on all subordinate classes, and the possible ways by which the oppressed can create alternative cultural and political institutions to establish their own understanding of oppression in order to oppose and change it. Rodriguez (1990) stated that such concept helps in understanding how women’s subordination is perpetuated in capitalist societies through the promotion of social science knowledge that guides institutionalized practices such as social work.
Marxist Movement and Women
I find the woman question explanation by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels as closer to the realities of today. Marxism provides a scientific materialist foundation, both for socialism and women’s liberation. It sees that the roots of women’s oppression lie on the mode of production. It is rooted in a system of production based on private property and a society divided between a class that owned the wealth and a class that produced it (Engels and Bebel in Waters, 1972; Ofreneo, et al, 1997)
Achieving women’s liberation has been paved way by Marxism. It explains how the abolition of private property would provide a material basis for transferring to society as a whole all those onerous social responsibilities today borne by the individual family – the care of the old and sick, the feeding, clothing, and educating the young. When women are relieved of these burdens, Marx pointed out, the masses of women would be able to exercise their full capacities as creative and productive – not just reproductive – members of society.
Marxism provides the materialist analysis and scientific perspective for women’s liberation. The materialist analysis on the women question highlights the gender perspective in the class struggle. Women’s oppression has a material base (ownership of private property- the means of production – by the ruling class) as well as an ideological and cultural superstructure, but that these are not immutable and in fact change along with the more sweeping transformations of the social order (Waters, 1989 and Ofreneo, et al, 1997).
Moreover, Marxism enlightens the women activists in the struggle for democratic reforms as in the victory of the suffrage movement. The fight for democratic reforms is also in the interest of the working class, especially, the working class women. The relation between democracy in general and capitalism is such that the conditions provided by capitalist society do not make it possible for the oppressed classes to “exercise their democratic rights” as they are subjugated economically. It is typical of the capitalist system. And Marxists know that democracy does not abolish class oppression. It only makes the class struggle more direct, wider, more open and pronounced. The more democratic the system of government, the clearer will the workers see that the root of all evil is capitalism, not lack of rights (Lenin in Waters, 1989). The struggle for democratic rights is thus important for the oppressed to appreciate the connection between the fulfillment of the democratic rights and the class struggle.
In my thesis paper (2007) I presented that there is a growing concern of women human rights activists and to some extent social workers in social development work to engage in rights-based approach to women question. In fact the global women’s movement has been into women’s rights advocacy campaign that educates the public that women’s rights are human rights. It may be argued that rights-based approach to the women concerns sprang from the fact that the needs-response analysis had been inadequate in addressing comprehensively the conditions of women so that a shift became necessary and inevitable.
To a great extent, combining needs-response and rights-affirmation/denial analytical frame is contributory to the analysis of the woman question. I surmise this is attributed to the influence of the global socialist movement that recognizes that small victories are necessary to consolidate experience for a qualitative leap towards women emancipation.
Importantly, while all feminist theories may agree on the goal of sexual egalitarianism, gender discrimination is neither the sole nor primary locus of the oppression of Third World women, particularly, Filipino women.Feminist studies, International Day of No Prostitution