Coffee at Midnight

(published 09 March 2015, MST)

A friend and I went to a coffee shop one weekday evening and found it difficult to get a nook. The place was crowded with people like us, unwinding after work and after a hearty dinner. We finally settled into a high table, our legs dangling underneath us -- not the most comfortable spot, to be sure. But the conversation flowed and we were surprised it was almost midnight. We looked around and ours was one of the very few tables still occupied.
“Aren’t we lucky?” my friend said. “It’s midnight and we’re free to still be out having coffee.”
We had been discussing that by the sheer randomness of birth, we were born into this country and not in others where, as we have been reading on the news, women still do not enjoy the same rights, respect and dignity that men do.
Start, for instance, with that documentary that was banned in India but made available online, anyway. India’s Daughter is an hour-long film about the rape of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh. Jyoti came from a poor family but was determined to make something of herself. Her parents defied norms and used the money they had been saving for her wedding to pay for her education.  She also worked part-time at a call center. She was the perfect example of girl power -- until she met her end.
Jyoti was gang raped inside a moving bus, her intestines taken out.
In the documentary, one of her rapists was interviewed and he implied she might not have been dealt with that violently had she not resisted the rape. She should just have lain there and allowed it to finish, the man said. Judging from her life before that evening in December 2012, Jyoti was not the kind of person who would just allow things to happen to her.
The documentary exposes what is deemed a prevalent attitude towards women in India and in similar societies. Jyoti had to be “punished” for going out at night with a male friend, and even for resisting her rape. 
Some weeks ago, a short video made the rounds of the Internet. It was one of a woman walking on a road being stopped by al-Qaeda supporters because she was wearing a red jacket. She was made to crouch on the ground; in minutes, she was told she had been convicted of adultery and was shot. The men cheered.
 And then there is Malala Yousafzai. She was a teenager living in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, attending a school at a place where girls were not supposed to be educated. The Taliban got wind of the activities in the school, owned by Malala’s father, and one day as she was sitting on the bus they came and shot her and few other classmates.
Malala survived and went on to receive last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Compared to these countries, then, we can say girls born here in the Philippines are lucky. They have equal access to basic services and education. Women managers and leaders are nothing new. Many women have the choice to pursue a career even as they raise their families.
Whatever limiting factor there is is not because of gender but because of poverty.
Yes, on the surface, Filipino women are no longer marginalized. Their voices are heard, their faces seen. This is what is easy to see -- when we speak from our comfortable perches in air-conditioned offices in the capital.
What may be insidious,are the silent struggles of women who have not been empowered by education, or even access to information, who do not have the natural disposition to assert themselves, or who are still bound by norms that dictate that women are still second-class citizens.
Some of these norms are that it is solely the women’s role to take care of her children and perform all the domestic tasks, that she should always be available to respond to her husband’s whim and need, that it is her duty to bring children into the world, and that she should bear her husband’s behavior, however boorish or abusive or psychotic he is, to keep the family intact.
So let us not be fooled by appearances. Ours is a great country for women -- not only for having coffee out at any time of day. But there is much work to be done, more in some places and less in others.
In the end, the objective is to enable women to claim their true place in society, achieve their full potential, and contribute much, much more than what we already do.