By Chris Clemente
Last Saturday, March 17, local female-oriented organization Grrrl Gang Manila celebrated their one-year anniversary in Dulo MNL, Poblacion. It was an all-day event that filled up both floors of the venue with activities like an open-mic storytelling, art exhibit, film showing, and a gig to culminate the affair.
Founded in March 2017, Grrrl Gang Manila’s mission is to provide an accessible and approachable intergenerational safe space for girls and women to discuss issues that affect them on a personal level. It is a safe space where no one is judged, and where differences of opinion and diversities in social, cultural, and political backgrounds bring females together, one meet after another.
Their group is composed of women that cover a wide range of age groups–from young girls and high school students to yuppies and those in their forties and fifties–as they believe that there’s something to learn for everyone on different stages of their womanhood and life in general.
Before things got too hectic at their event, we caught up with a few of the members and founders of Grrrl Gang, including Filipina fashion designer and milliner, Mich Dulce, Aissa Ereneta, Marla Darwin, and Alice Sarmiento.
What inspired you to form and join Grrrl Gang Manila?
Aissa: I think Mich should answer that because she was the one who brought all of us together!
Mich: Basically I felt like everytime I go out of the country, I would always find these feminist communities where you could just come in and engage them and talk very openly about feminism and women’s issues, and it was always my dream to have that kind of community in the Philippines.
So I reached out to a bunch of friends and asked them "Do you guys want to try and do this?" I felt like there wasn’t a safe space for women to dialogue and learn. More importantly learn. Because I always had so many questions about feminism, and so many things I wanted to ask, learn about, but I had to look outside the Philippines for that, where I wouldn’t be ashamed to ask the questions and be looked down upon for not knowing enough or not being "woke."
The group keeps growing and what motivates me to keep going even if we’re exhausted from work, even if we have to find pocket of spaces, is that, as a young gir,l I always wanted this community growing up, and for me I feel like I owe it to younger girls so that they don’t have to quest for it like I did.
Marla: I felt compelled to join because I think she’s highlighting something that I haven’t seen here which would be a mainstream, beginner-friendly, non-intimidating feminist group. Because there are a lot of groups, that have been doing amazing work. But if I wanted to bring a 12-year-old somewhere, or college girls who know nothing or people who grew up really sheltered and don’t know anything about activism, I wanted to be that space for them. In a way, we’re like a feminist preschool.
Alice: The joining part is not as interesting as what sustains the group. A lot of us are fairly intimidated by grassroots organizing in the Philippines. Not to diminish what they do at all, I really do admire them, but not everybody has the stamina, or it’s like you have to come equipped already, and those are very specific environments that not everybody is ready to commit to.
What were the milestones for Grrrl Gang this year?
Mich: Well, I think, that we exist. (Laughs) It’s amazing for me that we had formed Grrrl Gang and for it to become a 3k-person community online and assemble some really amazing women at every meet, and create that kind of conversation for women.
We were able to build a community. And Grrrl Gang is not an NGO. Grrrl gang is a group of volunteers. And to be able to sustain that community and be proactive, engage in different kind of events, sending a general message, to me that’s the milestone. We’re all doing this as a passion project. We just all put time in it. it’s amazing to me how everytime we have a new meet, we have a new recruit, a new member, a new person who wants to help and further that cause.
What topics do you usually touch on during your meets?
Aissa: We talk about very personal subjects. We talk about sexual assault, relationships, discrimination that you’ve felt in society, etc. We’ve really been great at establishing an environment where people are respectful of each other. We’ve established norms and how to engage with each other, so people know that we might disagree on certain things but we need to be respectful and sensitive to others. There are people who have different experience than others.
How do you define feminisim?
Aissa: At its core I think it’s really about political, economic, and social equality for the sexes. There’s a broad spectrum of people who identify as feminist and not everyone agrees on every single topic. It’s a spectrum so there are more extreme views on certain topics. But I think what all people who identify as feminists can agree on is political, economic, and social equality.
And some people might say, "If it’s just about equality why call it feminism, why not humanism?" The reason it’s called feminism is because we seek to oppose the social structures that were created in a male-dominated society. And it’s not just women who are oppressed by these structures. Because men are too. If you’re a man who doesn’t fit in a box of what’s very narrowly-defined as masculinity, you can face discrimination and exclusion so that’s the kind of social structure that we seek to criticize and oppose.
Have you had any personal experiences with discrimination that drives you to do what you do for Grrrl Gang?
Marla: I came from an all-girls school Catholic background, and the wounds are still there because whether these schools had that intention or not, and I would say in my school they had this intention, [they taught us] that women were supposed to be the help-maids of men. I would make jokes about my high school as a housewife factory. There was so much emphasis on being able to be a homemaker, pigeon-holing you into these roles. And the fact remains that a lot of institutions still operate this way. And that’s my personal incentive.
If it already starts with preschoolers, it starts with elementary school, and there aren’t any efforts to dismantle these things, it’s hard to take advantage of their freedom and emancipation as an adult if you can’t even address that.
If this didn't urge you to find the girl support you've always needed, then we don't know what will! To know more about Grrrl Gang Manila and stay updated with their activities, visit their Facebook page.
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