Hanane Benzidane has been a member of the Philippine Women’s Centre of BC since 2009, and now sits on the board. She is also a host for Tinig Ng Masa (The People’s Voice), the Kalayaan Centre’s weekly radio program on Coop Radio. A passionate labour and community activist, you can catch her on air and on the streets highlighting issues and policies that affect workers, women and youth in the Filipino community. She believes in the positive, transformative power of collective voice and action.
Over 30 young women, workers and their allies gathered at the UFCW 1518 hall on Saturday March 10, 2012 to celebrate the 101st International Women’s Day. Organized by the Philippine Women’s Centre of BC, Abante Babae! (Tagalog for ‘Advance Women!’) was a full day of educational and creative workshops intended to educate and empower women of colour in the community about the successes of the women’s movement and the continued struggles we face.
When a group of Filipina women came together back in February, in an apartment living room to plan this event, we all came together out of a need to combat racist, sexual and economic violence committed against transnational working women in our community. With systematic abuses of our women involved in the Live In Caregiver Program, to the effects of sex trafficking and prostitution of women and girls in our community, and the disproportionate amount of our working class woman relegated to low waged labour despite high education levels, we knew we wanted to take action.
We wanted to empower and educate ourselves and our community about the ongoing systemic barriers and violence committed against all women. We wanted to advance the role of Filipino women in our community, and empower them to become leaders and role models in the fight to build a strong, fierce and inclusive women’s movement in Canada.
The PWC has been a part of organizing numerous conferences and panels in the past. We strive to continually deepen our understanding of our history and current situation as Filipino Canadians, understand how Canadian state and society shape our community’s reality, and develop action plans towards just and genuine participation and entitlement in Canada.
For example, past conferences include Counterspin, and yearly Women’s/Feminist Study workshops, film screenings, mini-panels. We also do tons of arts workshops-spoken word/visual, especially with our youth group Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada.
At Abante Babae!, the morning’s panel speakers spoke on a variety of topics from combating sexual violence against women, the systemic abuses endured by Filipino workers involved with the Live in Caregiver Program and the hardships faced by young workers engaged in non-unionized and contract work across the country.
Arlene Oropel, Executive Director of the PWC of BC, shared her experiences as a former live-in caregiver in Canada. “I experienced a lot in the four years I spent under the LCP. It was oppressive and exploitative. Worse, we are seeing in our community that the impacts of this program trickle down to our children. As women under this program, we are relegated into poverty, and our children also inherit this poverty.”
The other panel speakers were Cherry Smiley and Sarah Ma, who spoke on eradicating sexual violence against women, and Krystle Alarcon from Tinig Ng Masa and the PWC, who spoke about migrant work.
The afternoon session was filled with song, dance, and sharing stories. The participants were split into two creative arts workshops-one poetry and the other painting. Kim Villagante, a young, Filipino artist and activist with the PWC encouraged the women taking her painting workshop to feel free to be creative, “Take what you learned today, the emotions you felt, and create. Anyone can be an artist.”
(photos by Hanane Benzidane)