Perspective: Women in Politics
|Editor’s Note:||This speech was presented at Guampedia’s Chamorro Heritage Series, 7 November 2012, Latte of Freedon Hall of Governors, Ricardo J. Bordallo Governor’s Complex, Adelup.|
I am indeed humbled and honored to stand here before you to share some of my thoughts about Politics in Guam and more specifically Women and Politics. Since I left the Guam Legislature and took over the helm of the Bank of Guam many people have asked me if I miss politics. I tell them that I have never left politics as it exists in my everyday life, be it in my community involvement or in the Corporate world, or my continued watch of what my legislative representatives and the Governor are doing to sustain a better Guam.
I love politics. Politics is exciting, it is a freedom to be enjoyed, it is similar to a sport that requires players, strategies and a winner. It stimulates debate and from debate we hope to come out with good policies, good initiatives, and laws that result with a better quality of life for our community and our island.
This is the goal and good politics is the way to that. Politics is in every fiber of our lives. When we wake up we debate about what we eat for breakfast, where we send our kids to school, what decisions we have to make at work, and so on. We have family politics, we have generation politics, we have religious politics, we have corporate politics, we have government politics and, of course, our favorite — Partisan politics, which culminated yesterday [2012 Guam elections] and begins today, every two years.
Good politics and good government are critical for a community to arrive at a state of democracy, a state of social order, a state of fair governance, a state of flexible ideologies that encompasses diversity, embraces respect and solidifies integrity.
Our form of a democratic government evolved from our Ancient Chamorro castes where there was no form of a central government and where politics operated at the level of clans and villages. Our Ancient Chamorro clans consisted of families that were led by the Maga Haga (first daughter) who was the oldest and highest ranking woman in a clan. Together with her siblings and children, she oversaw the affairs and holdings of the clan. The clan’s social position in the village depended on the respect it would get through their behaviors of generosity and social responsibility. When the Spaniards came and colonized our island they imposed their way of government and politics, which took the form of local elections and villages choosing their mayors. It changed, to a large degree, a tradition of our social order of clan and village politics. It influenced the transformation from clan rule to the population’s ability to govern themselves.
After the Spanish-American war  we were once again occupied, and control of government was turned over to another Western nation — the United States. We became an unincorporated Territory controlled by the US in all aspects of our political lives. We lived under a Naval Government that controlled our self-determination until our Organic Act was passed in 1950, creating a structure of three equal branches and giving rise to a democratic form of government with publicly elected officials.
This is the Western way of democracy and we have since incorporated this onto the present electoral politics. Historically, politics have been dominated by men and through the years women have been making a greater presence. There is a need for women representation, as no one can better advance the interests of women than women themselves. We have a much better handle on social and family issues. We bring a more balanced perspective in the whole political debates and activities. Our nurturing and collaborative skills work positively towards a productive outcome. We prioritize those concerns that matter to the community. We value a safe community, we are passionate about providing quality education, we believe that a healthy community is a successful community, we fight for children’s and women’s rights, and we advocate for social changes that assures equal and fair treatment for all.
We must be a major player in framing the legislative and executive agenda, in the political decision-making process and in the diverse strategies to get legislation passed that prioritize the interests of women. Many of our past and present women senators have been successful, but we need to have greater representation. Women in Politics on Guam have improved our representation, but it is not there yet. The most we have had in the legislature is 29 percent representation, and yet we make up 51.8% of the electorate. We have the first female Speaker; we have not had a female governor but we had a female Lt Governor, and we have the first female US Congressional representative. We have made strides, but we need to work harder.
Our past women in politics that we honor today have made many inroads and opened the doors for Women. In 1946, Rosa Aguigui Reyes, was well known for being the first woman elected to the Guam Congress. Following after her was Mariana Lujan, who was elected in 1948 and in the 9th and 10th Guam Congress. Although, the Guam Congress was largely a formal advisory body which did not have any authority or legislative powers under the Naval government, nevertheless, the election of our female political pioneers created the prospect for other women to move into policy-making positions.
Accepting the course of our political status as an Unincorporated Territory, our leaders since 1901 strived for a more elevated rank with more rights, and sought citizenship under the United States. After many years of failed attempts, travel to Washington DC, and audiences with Congress and the President, it was not until after World War II and its consequential loss of lives of our families and friends did the US finally approve our request to be citizens, and in 1950, the Organic Act was passed. This landmark document further transformed our way of governance. The 21-member legislative body was created with more authority and greater powers of rule-making. Laws that come out of our Legislative body are what will eventually oversee our lives, and administer the way we do business, and the way we address social, civil, economic and political concerns. Many of our people stepped up to the plate to be involved in this process and became legislators. It was a male-dominated world until some women decided to carry the torch that our earlier political pioneers, Rosa Reyes and Mariana Lujan, fired up.
Cynthia Torres, an educator and a businesswoman, and Lagrimas Untalan, a dynamic educator and an accomplished pianist, were the first women elected into the 3rd Guam Legislature, in 1954. Their victory was not without obstacles, not without a fight, and not without difficulties and defamation of their character and reputation. In spite of all this, they forged forward with their campaign, and gained the overwhelming support of women. Women attended their meetings resisting their husband’s disapproval. At the meetings, women’s issues were raised and discussions revolved around serious marital concerns.
As a result of the early struggles made by these women, others have benefitted. We entered the world of politics with less difficulty, although barriers still existed. They started to frame the legislative agenda around women issues like safety, health, education, children, the elderly, equal pay for equal work, the minimum wage, and social justice. Among them is Concepcion Barrett, known as an accomplished scholar. Her legal education guided her capacity to enact Guam’s Criminal and Correctional Codes and the Criminal Procedure Code, thus setting up the foundation of safety on our island and led to the protection of women’s reproductive health.
Senator Cecilia Bamba–known as the “Lady Extraordinaire” for her organizational skills and her passion in what she believed in. She fought hard to help make the wrongs of World War II right and sought social justice by advocating for War Reparations for WWII survivors. She was extremely passionate and righteous about her agenda. You see, during World War ll she was nine years old and witnessed firsthand the atrocities of the War. She witnessed the beating of her mother by Japanese soldiers that led to her eventual death. She was orphaned by the beheading of her father during the war. As a result, she took this experience and directed her energy and efforts to correcting an injustice through the legislative process. As a lawmaker and a policy maker, she established the authority of the War Reparations Commission. It was this structure that would advance us to the justice we deserve for the massacre from a war decided for us without representation. Twenty-six years later we fervently continue her fight as it now has become our island’s fight for civil and human rightfulness. Today, Congresswoman Madeline Bordallo, a woman and a previous legislative colleague of Senator Bamba, carries this fight forward in Congress with the same determination and persistence as Senator Bamba had because it is, indeed, an injustice that must be corrected.
Elizabeth Arriola, a champion for the elderly, youth, children’s rights and the preservation of our culture, known as the “mother of historic preservation,” stood strongly for issues that affect the family and most notably, against legalizing gambling and abortion. Her daughters– strong, intelligent, and passionate women– continued her legacy with the same commitment, determination and fervor as their mother.
Many women contribute to the overall well-being of our Island’s life who are not elected officials, but still, are recognized as women in politics. One very prominent woman in this category is Candelaria Rios, an educator and a leader in the development of educational programs, a public servant in many of our community sector organizations, and a very influential force in many senatorial victories for the Democratic Party. She promoted the Democratic values and beliefs through her village organizations at the grassroots level. She was a diehard supporter for retirees and their survivors. She and the now deceased Gloria Nelson led the legal fight against the government to fulfill their obligation to pay the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA). Because of their relentless battle, the retirees prevailed and payment was satisfied.
These women we honor today–and everyday–for the many accomplishments they made politically. They are a true reflection of women’s character of honesty, integrity, decisiveness and compassion for human dignity. I am thankful for their cultural sensitivity, for the compassion they delivered, the firmness they portrayed, the courage they showed, the stances they took–all for the purpose of the greater good of humanity. They fought for a safer island, they fought for an educated community, they fought for children’s rights, they fought for a healthier community, and most of all they represented with dignity and pride the interests and welfare that women hold dearly.
I am indeed fortunate to benefit from the political house they built. It gave me and many of my female political contemporaries the power to make a difference in the lives of many of our island residents. The legacy they left us is carried on by the work of our current women in politics. We see education being made a priority; we see laws enacted promoting the safety of our island; we see laws passed promoting the preservation of our language and culture; we see persistent and determined policies passed that help improve our healthcare status; we have witnessed many programs established that protect children and promote their rights; we have seen laws passed that have improved the health care programs for women.
Yes, many achievements have been reached for the interests of women but we still have a long road ahead. This road must be travelled by women and more precisely by women in politics. That is where a huge impact can be made and made for the good of our island. Women in politics make a whole lot of difference in our governance, in correcting social injustice, in managing social and family values, in our economy, in our environment and in promoting the greater good of humanity. You see, women’s interests are our interests; women’s struggles are our struggles; and when women win, we all win.
By Lourdes Aflague Leon Guerrero
CEO, Bank of Guam