Babaylan Feminism: An Imperative for Women Now

By Virginia Jasmin Pasalo

 

IT is a fact that we owe the advancement of women to those who have worked towards women empowerment through the years. What we owe to ourselves is to retain whatever gains they have made and to contribute our own. These are challenging times. Women are faced with events that are drastically changing the rules of engagement in their homes, workplaces, in their social, economic and political lives. Whatever gains they may have achieved may be obliterated by a new form of dictatorship.

In these days when algorithms are used to process data from employment to bank loans, it is difficult to pinpoint oppression and discrimination or inequality at any given point. Very little is known about how algorithms work, but most business establishment trust them to process many transactions. What we know is that these are based on advanced machine learning that only a very small group of technical people understand. The algorithm extrapolates all available data about individual persons, not necessarily because they are women, but because of their unique individual circumstances, making it difficult to organize around an issue and protest. This growing trend of individual discrimination, in addition to collective discrimination, puts a heavy strain on women’s lives in the coming years. The world is evolving towards heavier reliance on artificial intelligence to make decisions in our daily lives.

The good news is, there is a big difference between intelligence and consciousness. In his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari defines intelligence as “the ability to solve problems”, while consciousness “is the ability to feel things such as pain, joy, love, and anger.” Algorithm, according to him, does not need to feel in order to recognize biochemical patterns of feelings in apes. It is therefore incumbent to make a parallel effort at developing human consciousness, so as not “to empower the natural stupidity in humans.”

Harari believes that those who own the data own the future. This spawns political and economic inequality where new technologies may “bridge the gap between countries”, but “threaten to enlarge the rift between classes.”

 So what are the imperatives for women? Technology may indeed bring families and friends together through internet, but technology cannot give love and personal care to the sick. For example, a sick man may be able to get comfort from conversations online, but they will not be able to brew coffee, bring him food or hold his hands. This is our reality, however advanced we are, that we live in very personal, physical communities. The imperative then for women is to focus on developing the consciousness around which bonds are strengthened, within themselves, within others and their communities. Women therefore, must do what they are truly good at: healing, connecting, building relationships and deepening the physical and the spiritual dimensions of life. They must stretch their hearts and minds to develop the framework and formulate workable strategies by which these can evolve. Closest to this framework is babaylan feminism, a word coined by historian Fe Mangahas, to refer to “a more than 500-year old tradition of intentional, forceful, and positive feminism, longer than the history of women’s liberation in the West.”

Mangahas described the babaylans as an empowered class of women who were “healers, advisers of men, intercessors between material and spiritual worlds, inspirers of arts and crafts, and believers of a holistic world view, who reigned prior to the arrival of the Spanish colonials in the 1521.”

 The urgency of a parallel effort in developing human consciousness will mitigate the divide and alienation that is exacerbated by the advances in artificial intelligence and technology.

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