by Lilith Usog

A puzzling sight, which bothers me as I ply the main thoroughfares of Manila are young girls peddling sampaguita leis and old people begging. Another is a mother mixing coffee or selling congee at the sidewalk while breast-feeding an infant. Still another desperate sight is the convertible pushcart – a mobile store/rolling store during the day and a sleeping quarter at night (if you can call it as one). At times when I take the metro rail transit, commonly called MRT, I look with pain and sadness at those sleeping on the steps of the MRT station. My hypercritical mind begins to dash out silent questions: How come this is happening? Why is this tolerated? What has happen to the family? Where is God in this situation? And a lot more questions pop up.

Economic deprivation has gone wild! It is well entrenched in the situation of the Third World. Economist and women political activists assert that the impact of globalization is heavier on the women than men. While we experienced the mushrooming of industrial estates and export processing zones we also see merciless conversion of agricultural lands to the detriment of the poor peasants. Doubly hit in this setup are the women. Mothers by nature cannot simply close their eyes to the needs of the households. Let me share this little story to capture the effect:

Corazon dela Cruz is a mother of five (3 daughters and 2 sons).The husband is a seasonal construction worker. They live in a small shanty behind a Sports complex in Manila. All their children managed to finish grade school in a nearby public school. Her dream is to send their children to secondary education but the family income is irregular so her dream remains a dream. What the husband earns is not even enough for their food. To meet the basic needs, Aling Corazon decided to sell cigarettes and candies outside the sports complex.She continues to lament that they never had enough to meet the needs of the households. What makes the situation worse is the threat of demolition in their “squatter colony.”

Where is the promise of economic prosperity that the proponents of globalization proclaim? Economic prosperity does not manifest itself in the situation of women especially in the Third World. The continuous exodus of women to other countries to search for better jobs is not life-giving but in turn makes women vulnerable to abuses It is very important to empower women to be able to free those who are caught in the cycle of poverty and hunger. Denying women the basic necessities including economic and education opportunities is one of the expressions of economic violence.

In the local front it is good to note that women who have no substantial education become prey to exploitative employers or recruiters. A case worth mentioning is the sweatshop factory. A national daily carried this account:

“Anvil Ensemble, a garment factory in Taytay, Rizal makes baby clothes for First World companies. Business usually blows in by September. A few weeks before then, workers are given drugs/medicine to keep them awake for 24 hours to meet their quota. (Phil Daily Inquirer).”

The countless stories of women caught in the quagmire of poverty continue to make me feel uncomfortable at the same time challenged. What is doubly annoying is the affluence of the minority (elite) who fed on the crumbs of the majority (masses).

As Christians steeped in the gospel values we are enjoined anew to witness or live-out our faith. I hold on to the tenets of John’s invitation to live life to the full. Jesus, in the good shepherd narrative, stresses ” …. I came that they may have life and have it to the full.” (Jn. 10:10) This is also an invitation to us to respond to situations where life is threatened; where women and children can hardly eat three meals (not even a decent one) a day; where protest are quelled because people are ignorant of their rights; where houses and shanties are destroyed to give way to industries and subdivisions.

Fuelled by this gospel impetus let us continue to be vigilant and affirm our trust in the God of life. Let us reflect anew on the following:

* Where am I called to respond to God’s invitation to live life to the full?
* How can I contribute to preserve a life-giving environment for women and children?
* What for me is economic justice?

Let me end this reflection with a borrowed prayer:

Overflow our hearts with the healing of liberation. May loving justice flood our dreams for those enslaved and deprived. Never let us rest until our emancipation is shared with all those persons who are disposed or alienated. All hail and glory to the God of Peace and Justice. Amen*

(Prayer from the author’s collection)
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This article is from the January 2004 issue of EWA’s geocities.com/ecclesiaofwomen website. At the time she submitted the essay, Carmelita M. Usog was the Philippine coordinator of EATWOT. An administrator and professor of St. Scholastica’s College, Manila, and a teacher of Women and World Theologies and Women’s Studies.