By Christine Bernadette F. Almoite @inquirerdotnet
For the longest time, women were not allowed in the military. Traditional, stay-at-home, and a too-safe sense of fashion—these have been the expectations. More often than not, the most dominant yet weakest representations of humankind were women.
Today women enjoy, or appear to enjoy, equality with men in many areas. Whether in the fields of business, media, engineering, or the military, women are now well-represented. Women now come across as more dynamic, confident, outspoken, inquisitive, unshakable in their convictions, uncompromising. Today a number of women are in the military, though they cannot be assigned to the frontline of battle. Or perhaps that is just the thinking of the Philippine Military Academy.
The commencement ceremony of the “Salaknib” (for “Sanggalang ay Lakas at Buhay Para sa Kalayaan Ng Inang Bayan”) Class of 2017 of the country’s premier military institution was held on March 12. News about women truly breaking barriers was all over the trimedia and shared by thousands on social networking sites. The event was cause for celebration until the PMA issued a statement that shook my world. According to Chiara Zambrano’s report on TV Patrol, the number of women recruits will be lessened because in the end, it is still men who will be sought in the world of war (“Babawasan na sa susunod ang pagkuha ng babae dahil sa huli, lalaki pa rin ang hahanap-hanapin sa mundo ng digmaan”).
As many as 63 female cadets are in the Salaknib class—the biggest number in PMA history. Among the top 10 graduates, 8 are women. The topnotcher? A woman!
Such a statement from the PMA is really disheartening; it is sexist and misogynistic as well. It was not too long ago—23 years, to be exact—when the PMA started accepting women into the military institution, in an acknowledgement of gender rights. While an important step toward equality in the military appears to have been made, there are still some major snags—such as the quoted statement from the PMA.
Gone are the days when women were solely viewed as damsels in distress. Beyond the feminine exterior lies a modern and empowered hero. While in the past, society largely viewed a woman as a princess waiting to be swept off her feet by a prince, we now know that our strength lies, not in our gender, but in our bravery to step up and act on things we believe in. Armed with that knowledge, we cannot be stopped by external limitations.
With equal rights and empowerment, both men and women can be agents of change. And we women can be at the forefront of combat even with makeup on. If the PMA believes that it is men who are sought after in times of war, it is wrong. This nation and its people believe that women are an integral part of the PMA’s capability to perform its mission. Let’s face it: In times of war, there is no gender-protected environment in the battlefield. But bravery and endurance are not only reserved for male military personnel.
Some of the most applauded soldiers are defined by the awards they receive for courage in battle. Both men and women have demonstrated extraordinary bravery under conditions other than direct combat, and many have not been recognized for their deeds. This is common among women during the wartime resistance, those behind the wheel in convoys, in the cockpits of obsolete planes, and in field hospitals, patching up the injured with little more than a standard first-aid kit.
While women and girls are the first targets of attack, the promotion of our rights must be the first priority in response.
If men are always presented the opportunity to serve and protect this country, why can’t women be given the same opportunity to serve, protect, and fight for this country, to the extent of making the ultimate sacrifice alongside their comrades in arms? If women are relegated to bystanders in the narrative of our battles, we will get stuck in the preface of that story and lose sight of the value of the next chapters.
Courage, integrity and loyalty are not just words for lip service. These are values deeply ingrained in the heart of a cadet, of whatever gender and sexuality.
Let us take a lesson from the words of then US President Barack Obama to his fellow Americans: that they should all be “proud that our military will grow even stronger, with our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love.” We should empower our women to be the best drivers of growth and best hope for reconciliation. One should not belittle women’s ability to do things society thinks we cannot do. We cannot defeat radical ideologies or build resilient families and communities if we continuously draw a red line and post a sign that reads “Men only.” If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all, here’s what has to change.
While we are not looking, stories of today’s heroes become tomorrow’s history. With women in uniform making life-and-death decisions on the frontline of ground combat, both offering and receiving praise and punishment, this history is about to surface for everyone to see.
Being in the military does not have anything to do with being female. It does not even come close. It is being able to perform one’s duties as a soldier with unwavering commitment, breathing new life into antiquated story lines.
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Christine Bernadette F. Almoite, 22, is planning officer of the Regional Budget and Management Office of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.