October is Women’s History Month in Canada and we wish you a thoughtful one! As we celebrate the stories and struggles of women here and in the Philippines, we should also reflect on these histories in the context of the occupation and colonization of the unceded lands of so-called “Canada”. As members of GABRIELA BC, we stand in solidarity with Indigenous women on their ancestral territories as they continue to fight for true justice and decolonization. No woman is free until all are free.
This month, we reflect on women’s struggles for liberation in the diaspora here, and how they are tied to women’s and all people’s liberation in the Philippines. We also reflect on the historical root causes of the formation of the global Filipino diaspora. As well, we understand that our celebration of this month is also carried militantly forward as we also work to continue these histories of women’s struggles into the present. Our reflection, remembrance, and struggle doesn’t begin or end with this one month.
This month is a chance for us to revisit the stories of Filipino women and bring forth new ones.
Our grassroots women’s alliance organization, GABRIELA, is named in honour of the peasant Illocano military general Gabriela Silang (March 19, 1731 – September 20, 1763), who was the first Filipino woman to lead an armed revolt against Spanish occupiers. She was the closest military advisor to her husband, Indigenous Illocano resistance leader Diego Silang. Following his assassination, Gabriela established a new base in the Abra mountains to reassemble her troops and recruit fighters from local communities. She led the regional resistance for four months before being captured and executed by the Spanish.
Another woman who directly inspired the formation of GABRIELA is Maria Lorena Barros (March 18, 1948 – March 24, 1976), who formed MAKIBAKA (Free Movement of New Women) as a student in the University of the Philippines. Maria was at the forefront of the First Quarter Storm, a period of civil unrest ignited by local uprisings led by students, labour unions, and people’s organizations in response to poverty, economic instability, and political corruption. MAKIBAKA understood the women’s struggle as fundamentally anti-feudal, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist, while directly addressing patriarchy’s embeddedness in these structural inequalities. Following the declaration of Martial Law by President Marcos in an effort to violently suppress the people’s resistance, Maria was captured, tortured, and killed by the military. MAKIBAKA would eventually evolve into GABRIELA.
We remember Gabriela Silang’s resistance against Spanish colonialism by carrying on the Filipino struggle against American imperialism today. We remember Maria Lorena Barros by carrying on the Filipino struggle for true national democracy, free from imperialism, feudalism, and capitalism. Our liberation as Filipino women is built on the militant dismantling of these structural oppressions and our solidarity with international liberation movements.
Long live women’s liberation! Long live international solidarity!
We acknowledge that we work and live on the unceded and stolen Coast Salish territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.