December 22, 2009 was a historic day. It saw the birth of the first youth organization that has taken up patriarchy as its main enemy. So precise were the words of one of the leaders of the Youth and Students for the Advancement of Gender Equality (YSAGE), Ray Justin “Jong” Ventura, “I know that from hereon, there will be people who will be trembling in fear, they are the oppressors – the traffickers, perpetrators of violence against women, and those who defend patriarchy! I also know that today, there are people who will be jubilant – they are the oppressed, the women, the victims-survivors of violence!” Jong came from the strongest chapter of YSAGE, the one based in Palawan.
For three days, almost 100 youth leaders from 14 regions of the country gathered at Ridgewood Hotel in Baguio City to reunite with fellow graduates from 12 youth camps organized by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP), and 9 echo camps organized by the graduates themselves.
At the Reunion camp, the youth leaders deepened their understanding of women’s issues as linked to other forms of structural inequality. Through the Power Walk, the young leaders emotionally revisited the various categories of human rights violations – by virtue of sex, class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, political opinion, and others. Their roots were traced to pervading structures of exploitation: racism, patriarchy, militarism, and capitalism. And learned that all these are interlinked, more so in the system of prostitution.
As leaders, they were trained by CATW-AP on the various human rights instruments that can be utilized, but also in tools for structural change. Through an adaptation of the popular game “Amazing Race,” the participants learned the 10 Steps in Organizing as well as Leadership Qualities. Popular Education Principles and Methods were also imparted using the “Frogs in the Well” story. The second day ended with sharing on “Good Practices” by the leaders from areas who have delivered successess early on in the formation of YSAGE – Palawan, Bicol, Marawi, Davao and Cotabato.
Emotional was the start of the formal launch of YSAGE on the third and last day, with testimonies of violence against women from Liza Gonzales, Policy Advocacy Officer of the prostitution survivors’ group Bagong Kamalayan and CATW-AP Executive Director Jean Enriquez. These personal testimonies were linked by Josua Mata, Secretary-General of Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), to the global issues that dictate the growth of demand for prostitution as well as the worsening of gender-based violence.
Riza Mae Palen of YSAGE-Davao and Jong Ventura of YSAGE-Palawan exhorted their fellow campers to unite and organize so as not to be defeated. Jong emphasized that this last day is not the end, but only the beginning of their long but triumphant road to equality.
The YSAGE orientation paper, by-laws, logo, structure and common strategic goal – “To establish YSAGE as a national organization campaigning against prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation and inequality” – were finalized through the facilitation of their own leaders. Provincial strategic plans were presented by the participants, who are strongly determined to work in their localities and raring to enjoin local institutions from various sectors. Of course, some of these chapters have already been implementing activities with sheer passion, soliciting required resources on their own as they conducted echo camps, exhibits, forums, rallies and produced information materials.
A national council was also elected democratically, as representatives from island caucuses. The set of leaders was reflective of the values learned during the entire reunion camp – a young Moslem woman, young women survivors of violence, a gay person – other than ensuring that more than half of the leadership is female. Towards the end, the participants, facilitators and guests held on to each others’ hands and sang:
Don’t lose your way
With each passing day
You’ve come so far
Don’t throw it away
Dreams are for weaving
Wonders are waiting to start
Live your story
Faith, hope & glory
Hold to the truth in your heart
If we hold on together
I know our dreams will never die…
The bond that resulted from the camp not only strengthened the participants’ determination to pursue the principles of YSAGE, as the youth arm of CATW-AP, but established an organizational foundation and support system to ensure their sustained collective action. CATW-AP continues the “hand-holding” with the youth leaders, as YSAGE blazes the trail for their sector in the fight against gender inequality and other oppressive structures.
Executive Director, CATW-AP
Please copy paste this link to your browsers for photos. http://catwap.multiply.com/photos/album/2/Reunion_Camp_and_Launch_of_YSAGE_December_2009