GABRIELA USA and the International Women’s Alliance Advance the Filipina Working Women’s Movement
Additional Reporting by Zach Wandalowski
Hundreds gathered in front of the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C., on a windy afternoon in early March with flags and banners in hand representing mass organizations and alliances. Pyxie Castillo, the newly-elected chairperson of GABRIELA USA, pointed towards the gated building before protesters marched onward to the World Bank and White House.
“In our fight for the liberation of our people, we are reminded of our role here in the belly of the beast,” Castillo said. “To continue to build among working-class Filipina women, solidarity allies and the broad masses of Filipinos, striking a blow to U.S. imperialism from within.”
The demonstration was the culmination of a joint political conference between GABRIELA USA and the International Women’s Alliance from March 3-5, where working-class and migrant women charted plans to fight against American imperialism, militarism, and exploitation.
GABRIELA USA is an overseas chapter of the progressive, anti-imperialist Filipino women’s organization and alliance GABRIELA PHILIPPINES. Named after Filipina revolutionary leader Gabriela Silang, the alliance champions her revolutionary spirit in advocating for Filipino women and workers against Spanish colonization.
“In the end, we’re fighting for a system change, but it’s for the people. Not for whoever is in power,” Castillo said.
As part of the National Democratic movement of the Philippines, which advocates for the rights of workers and peasant farmers, GABRIELA USA recognizes the unique challenges working Filipino women face, such as gender-based violence at home and the workplace, sex trafficking, and access to adequate reproductive and maternal care.
GABRIELA USA is also a member organization of the International Women’s Alliance (IWA), a broad anti-imperialist global alliance of grassroots women’s organizations committed to advancing national and social liberation and gender equality, said Katie Comfort, U.S. national coordinator and global secretariat member of IWA.
“The issues that Filipina women face are not so different from the issues that women face around the world because imperialism is global,” Comfort said. “Impacts on things like forced migration. For the Philippines, it’s the labor export policy. It bears a different name in other parts of the world but serves the same interests.”
GABRIELA’s slogan for the next three years will be “Bangon Babae!” (Women Rise!). In this next era, the organization aims to further build with working-class women to improve their living conditions that worsened during the U.S.-Marcos regime between 1965 and 1986.
Since the election of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in May 2022, activists say the Philippines faces a worsening economic crisis, from the rising costs of basic commodities, low and stagnant wages, and few job opportunities. The financial situation presents even more challenges for working Filipino women.
“Everyday Filipino women are continuously exploited, put down by their employers and their families. The feudal patriarchy in the Philippines also extends to Filipino women overseas,” Castillo said. “It’s the state that puts us in this position and continues to put Filipino women, especially in the Philippines, as second-class citizens.”
Organizers hosted the joint conference in the U.S. Capitol to affirm that the issues women, particularly Black women, face in the United States are interlinked with the struggles of women abroad. As a historically Black city, Washington, D.C. has experienced generations of segregation, oppression, and militarized surveillance.
Such experiences are familiar to Luci Murphy, who was born and raised in D.C. Murphy is a community organizer with the D.C. Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, the Black Alliance for Peace, and other organizations. In the 1970s, she protested alongside Filipino and Filipino American youth against the 20-year dictatorship of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. In recent years, she has participated in demonstrations against former President Rodrigo Duterte and the extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders under his regime.
“I see the women outside of this country being treated like I was treated. Like how my mother, or my grandmother, or my great grandmother were treated as Black women,” Murphy said.
For Murphy, attending the GABRIELA-IWA conference represented an expansion of the National Democratic movement for the Philippines. She especially enjoyed how Filipino activists integrated food and live music into their activism and emphasized the importance of sharing food.
“Sharing food gives us a sense of family and healing,” Murphy said. “You all have a lot to teach with your use of culture, theater and food.”
At GABRIELA USA’s Chapter Assembly on March 3, members shared campaigns that addressed the varied issues Filipino women experience due to imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism. Organizers convened at the same time the Marcos Jr. administration expedited the process of revising the country’s constitution, or charter change. The current constitution, ratified in 1987, implemented democratic safeguards for the Philippines after Marcos Sr. was ousted from power.
If the charter change successfully passes, the entire Philippine constitution will be open to amendment. This could include altering term limits for elected officials and easing restrictions on foreign ownership of land and local industries, according to GABRIELA situationer materials.
The conference also recognized the need for immigrant justice through the Alma Bowman campaign led by Malaya Movement Georgia with GABRIELA and MIGRANTE.
Bowman is a 56-year-old Filipina living in Georgia who was detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for three years despite being a permanent resident. As stated in her petition, Bowman experienced medical negligence during incarceration and was denied adequate treatment while detained. At risk of deportation, Bowman was eventually released in 2020, and her legal residency status was revoked.
To this day, Bowman says she is unable to have a driver’s license, apply for health insurance, or work without paying annual fees for a worker’s permit. According to Michelle Sauve, chapter coordinator for Malaya Movement Georgia, Bowman’s experience as an immigrant living in a right-to-work state is particularly challenging in the South.
With the help of grassroots community organizations, Bowman and her family acquired resources and support that the United States and Philippine governments did not offer.
“I did not know that there were organizations that could help you,” Bowman said.
Campaigns supporting working-class women are also prominent in Long Beach, California. According to Xenia Arriola, secretary general of GABRIELA South Bay, the area has a high population of Filipino migrants. The chapter assists Filipino domestic and hospital workers and currently leads a workers’ campaign for fundamental rights and protections. GABRIELA South Bay is also advancing the Justice for the Roques campaign, which calls for justice and accountability for a Filipino migrant family who endured a racialized attack in May 2022.
“The GABRIELA Assembly just really affirmed how we are all connected together, no matter what sector you’re organizing in,” Arriola said. “Across the board, we’re just being exploited by the imperialists and capitalists who just want to profit off us.”
As the sun set on March 4, Katie Comfort, a representative of IWA, called for the unity of women in the United States and abroad.
“We have to get organized,” Comfort added, gesturing to the White House. “Otherwise, they win.”
CALLS TO ACTION
BAYAN USA Opposes Resolution for Constitutional Convention “Cha-Cha” in the Philippines Full Statement
GABRIELA USA Calls for Justice: Hold Sex Trafficker Apollo Quiboloy Accountable
GABRIELA USA demands justice for the victims of sex trafficking by perpetrator Apollo Quiboloy, cult leader of Kingdom of Jesus Christ, owner of Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) and longtime partner of former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Quiboloy is wanted by the FBI and was indicted in Nov 2021 by federal grand jury. Follow this campaign on Instagram @gabriela.usa. More information forthcoming.
Justice for Alma Bowman
Alma Bowman is a 56 year old Filipina who was detained by Immigration Enforcement Customs (ICE) for three years. During her incarceration, she experienced medical negligence at Irwin County Detention Center that gained international attention. She currently has an active deportation order despite the fact that she held legal residency status prior to ICE detainment. Sign the petition.
Justice for the Roques Members of the Roque family experienced verbal and physical assault in an anti-Asian hate crime. The assailant, Nicholas Weber, is given a citation to appear in court and released by LAPD. A migrant Filipino family, the Roques tried to appeal to the US Embassy and Consulate in Los Angeles, CA, but have not received any resources or appeal thus far. Join the campaign.