This paper tackles the significance and implications of the movie “Iron Jawed Angels” as regards to how women were viewed in the early 1900’s and the struggles that certain women had undergone in order for the female population to freely cast her vote in a male dominated society. The purpose of this paper is to depict an era when women were viewed no different from chattels whose main purpose was to serve men, and the courage that ladies like Paul and Burns mustered in order to pave the way of recognition of women’s rights and suffrage. On the same vein, this paper will emphasize the importance of suffrage which more often than not has been taken for granted by those bestowed with such privileges. It also tackles on the implications and exercise of suffrage in the Philippines. Lastly, the writer shall tackle those sovereigns who until now refuse to acknowledge the role that women play in the nation’s development and refuses to grant the right of suffrage to female populace.
The picture narrates a story of two brave women, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns who devoted their life and work to fight for American Women’s right to vote. These two women led the National Women’s Party (NWP) which they formed after leaving the bigger organization, National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Paul and Burns movement was fired up by a parade which they organized while with NASA to whom Milholland, a labor lawyer served as a figure head, and later on played an important role in furthering NWP’s cause. After the said parade, where chaos erupted as some men violently expressed their sentiments, NAWSA gained a huge publicity which was despised by the NAWSA leaders. As Paul and Burns were accused of siphoning the funds, they decided to leave NAWSA and organize the NWP bringing with them some of the most generous donors of NAWSA such as Helen Keller.
As part of their main advocacy, they wrote the first equal rights amendment to be presented before the Congress. Being constantly rejected by the President, they resorted to staging regular protests at the gate of White House, with the intention of persuading Woodrow, even after the US entry into the war. As they continued the protests during the time of war, it lead to a public outcry, violence against the protesters and subsequent arrest. They were then tried in court, and the judge convicted them of obstructing traffic and imposed a $10 fine.
Refusing to pay the $10 fine as they have not broken any law, the women were imprisoned in the Occoquan workhouse in Virginia and immediately declared themselves “political prisoners.” The response is brutal. After their conviction, Paul was subsequently arrested, and initiated a hunger strike in the said facility. Transferred to the “psychopathic ward,” the prison psychiatrist, instructed to gather evidence of her insanity, eventually comes to the conclusion Paul is suffering no delusions, that she is in fact mentally competent and fiercely dedicated to a just cause. When the presidential delegation resists his diagnosis, he responds: “for women… courage is often mistaken for insanity”.
Paul was brutally force fed a number of times, because of her continued hunger strike. Aside from that, she was subjected to ferocious assault on her personhood, her dignity, and her cause. Word gets out (with the unlikely help of a woman guard and Leighton’s husband) of the prison mistreatment, torture, force-feeding and general brutality towards these women who have done nothing wrong. This resulted to an enormous support to these women which eventually animated Congress with the mandate of the President to amend the law. Thus, with enough yays, the 26th and 19th amendment was approved giving American women the right to vote.
The right of suffrage which comprises of the right to vote and to participate in the electoral process, and right to participate in public or government affairs is guaranteed to us by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 10 December 1948 UNGA Res 217 A(III)(UDHR) art 5). This is likewise adopted by the Philippines in the 1987 Constitution (CONST. art. V), Art. 5). A right which has been oftentimes taken for granted. Undervalued, because voters particularly Filipino voters do not exercise this right in such a way that would promote its purpose. We even put a price to it by allowing political aspirants to pay for our votes. Rampant vote- buying is not the only problem that we have, but we are also threatened by the inability of voters to intelligently select candidates to fill in vacancies. A large number of registered voters, even refuse to exercise such right believing that their vote would not matter especially in this country which is ruled by few.
“Voice is for those who have votes” is one particular statement that incites a thousand words. It connotes a lot of things. This means that only those who can vote can take an active part in the administration of the Government. Rights such as the ability to propose amendments to the Constitution, passage of laws, ordinances, and running for elective office is only afforded to those who can vote. Like depicted in the movie, the Philippine women were also deprived of the right to vote until in a plebiscite on April 30, 1937 which amended the 1935 Constitution extending suffrage to women (Women’s suffrage in the Philippines, 2008. Retrieved from https://womensphere.wordpress.com/2008/05/06/womens-suffrage-in-the-philippines-71-years-after). Arriving at this era right now where women like men are granted equal rights, to vote, to work, to all other things was not a walk in the park. A lot of people particularly women shed their bloods and tears in order to give us the very right we are enjoying right now.
As depicted in the movie, such fight was not an easy one. Paul and Burns had to constantly expose themselves to ridicules, insults, criticisms and intrigues. If that was not enough, they were also exposed to extreme physical conditions like forced feeding, torture and other inhumane treatments all for fighting a just cause. From such transition we could see how women were viewed before, merely chattels whose sole purpose in life is to serve her husband and her children.
To fully recognize the rights of women, there have been numerous instruments and laws promulgated for the preservation and protection of such rights. One such instrument is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) or also known as the International Bill of Rights for Women. Unknown to many, CEDAW was a brainchild of Leticia Ramos-Shahani, a Filipina who prepared and submitted the complete draft of the same instrument (Petralba, Pepita Jane, Manila: Rex Book Store, 2013, p. 4). The convention provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men through ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life — including the right to vote and to stand for election — as well as education, health and employment.
States parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, retrieved from http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw.htm). The Philippines is a signatory to such instrument, and in fact is one of the countries who holds the best record when it comes to women protection, and these is manifested further by the Philippines when it enacted RA 9262: Anti- Violence Against Women and their Children (Petralba, Pepita Jane, Manila: Rex Book Store, 2013, p. 114).
In view of all this developments, it would also be important to note that there are a still few countries which up to now refuses to recognize the rights of women and the important role they play in the society. Some of these countries are mostly Muslimm countries which include Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan.
Given all these, we ask ourselves just how important a woman’s role in a nation’s governance and development is. Women are not only bearers of children, the source of the youth, but are also an integral part in a state’s endeavors. They have contributions that men do not have the capacity to do so. So, women’s rights must always be guaranteed, and women should always be protected, and acknowledged with importance same as that of every man.
The Philippines, is one of the countries who strongly recognizes and value the rights of women and the role they play in the society. This is evidenced by the treaties, and the laws the Philippines have acceded to in order to promote the welfare of women. Like all other things, there is no easy road, and the road to women freedom is no different. There were people who made sacrifices along the way, people like Paul and Burns. We have also emphasized the undervalue people have given to these rights, the rights we have fought for so long, because many voters still waste their votes to hopefuls who do not deserve a seat in governance. Despite such, there is still hope, hope that people will one day realize the importance each one plays in the development of the nation. And, a hope that someday all members of the International community would come to realize the importance of women, and subsequently recognize their rights and inherent freedom.
1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 10 December 1948 UNGA Res 217 A(III)(UDHR) art 5. 2. 1987 Philippine Constitution (Article 5).
3. Women’s suffrage in the Philippines, 2008. Retrieved from https://womensphere.wordpress.com/2008/05/06/womens-suffrage-in-the-philippines-71-years-after. 4. Petralba, Pepita Jane, Hornbook on International and Philippine Human Rights. Manila: Rex Book Store, 2013, p. 4 5. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, retrieved from http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw.htm