Published in Manila Standard Today
By Elizabeth Angsioco
The color purple has taken on a new meaning: the struggle for the passage of the reproductive health (RH) bill.
Purple is a secondary color from the mixture of the coolest and warmest primary colors, blue and red. “The Color Purple” is also a novel by renowned feminist author Alice Walker. The book was the basis of the equally popular movie with the same title. The novel highlighted the complex women’s oppression due to class, race, and gender. I was young when I saw this movie and was struck at how the color purple was used to the fullest impact in its scenes.
Many are unaware but historically, purple has been the political color of the world’s women’s movements.
In 1908, the suffragettes adopted purple, white and green as its colors symbolizing dignity, purity, and hope respectively. The suffragettes’ struggle for women’s right to vote was most controversial then. In our country, the movement succeeded in April 1937 primarily through actions by women themselves. It’s been said that the women’s mobilizations during the referendum on the issue was the biggest political statement of Filipino women by far. If the suffragettes failed, imagine a Philippines where only men can vote, and run and be elected to office!
The color purple was again picked up by the women’s movements from the 60’s to the present. The right to vote was a crucial victory but women had, and still have to struggle for equality and equity in laws, opportunities, and beyond these, in family and personal relationships. Thus, issues like violence against women, sexuality, and reproductive health and rights surfaced.
Women’s organizations in various parts of the country used the color purple in our advocacies for the passage of laws like: Anti-Rape (R.A. 8353), Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children (R.A. 9262), Anti-Trafficking in Persons (R.A. 9208); and most recently, the Magna Carta of Women (R.A. 9710).
I recall a phase in my feminist activist life when almost everything in my closet was either violet, lavender or purple in varying shades and textures. I would go to meetings and events in everything purple, including accessories and shoes! I was called Ms. Purple and told that I had an emotional affinity with the color. Perhaps I did.
The RH struggle is no different. The various groups, particularly women’s organizations pushing for the passage of the RH bill have been using a lot of purple through the years. We troop to Congress for RH sessions in our trademark purple bandannas and pins. We march on the streets garbed in purple and with similarly-colored flags and banners.
Thus, no other color can represent the RH movement better than purple. The launch of the “Purple Ribbon for RH” was a bigger success than what organizers expected. It was an unprecedented gathering of personalities from various fields like academe, business, governance, arts and entertainment, and media.
Noted personalities graced the event including: former President Fidel V. Ramos; former Prime Minister Cesar Virata; former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani; former Department of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno; and former National Treasurer Liling Briones.
Government was amply represented by Health Secretary Enrique Ona; Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles; National Anti-Poverty Commission Secretary Joel Rocamora; Social Welfare and Development Undersecretary Alicia Bala; Aurora Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo; and Commission on Elections spokesperson James Jimenez, among others.
Other personalities not ordinarily seen in RH events but were present were: Oscar Lopez, Margie Holmes, Aurora Pijuan, Joanne Zapanta, and Elizabeth Zobel.
Artists also showed their solidarity with the cause. The event was hosted by Jim Paredes, Leah Navarro and Tuesday Vargas. Arnell Ignacio, Mocha Uson, Vin Dancel of Peryodiko and Katwo Puertollano of Duster were there. Jet Pangan’s The Dawn and Cookie Chua graciously performed to the cheering crowd.
I wish the public saw the performances of Noel Cabangon and Lea Salonga. Noel sang his “Ako’y Mabuting Pilipino” with a twist that broke the house down. He replaced the song’s last stanza with: “Ipinaglalaban ko ang kinabukasan ng ating bayan, kaya ang RH bill ay aking sinusuportahan. Ito ang sagot natin laban sa kahirapan, at di nasisindak sa banta ng simbahan!” The crowd, yes, including the big names, were all cheering and shouting.
International artist Lea Salonga rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” was a big contrast. People were quiet all the way as if mesmerized in a prayer. It seemed like we were all internalizing the lyrics especially that part asking us to imagine that there is no religion. I had goose bumps. It was only after Lea completely finished the song that we all woke up from the “trance” and wildly cheered her. It was an experience.
Now, the color purple is increasingly equated with the struggle for the passage of the RH bill. The purple ribbon unites people of all classes, persuasions, ideologies, and religions. Personalities and ordinary masses become one in purpose. Wearing or displaying this is a simple way to tell our legislators that we are pro-RH and we want an RH law.
This statement is gaining momentum. In social media, Twitter and Facebook users proudly wear the purple ribbon. Many openly say that they will attend Sunday masses in purple as a political statement. Numerous people are looking for pins, stickers, posters with the purple ribbon on them.
I dare say that we will see a lot more purple ribbons and the color purple in the coming days. We will wear our color as we observe our legislators in the House of Representatives and Senate discuss the RH bill. As starters, be with us on Tuesday, May 17, as the House discusses the bill in the Plenary.
The purple ribbon puts women at the center of the RH debate. As former President Ramos said, RH is primarily a women’s issue and women’s voices should be significantly heard in the discourse.
When you see the purple ribbon, think of the eleven Filipino women, mostly poor who die daily due to preventable pregnancy and childbirth complications.
The purple ribbon is for saving these women.