In the 1960’s, many years before the women’s movement and even the work of social change and transformation had gained recognition or respectability, Remmy Ignacio was already at the forefront of such work. She had already established a career in accounting, working for the country’s top accountancy and management firm, when, in her search for further meaning in her life, she took a post-graduate course on Economics at the Asian Social Institute. She then worked for different Catholic dioceses and agencies in Mindanao and elsewhere, organizing farmers and communities around land and tenancy issues, in the course of which she met Gerard Rikken who later became her husband.
Remmy then channeled her work in social development to helping organize the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), working with such esteemed stage artists like the late National Artist Lino Brocka, to organize the cultural workers not only in staging politically- and socially-oriented plays, but also in using drama as a tool of pedagogy, working with young people to gain self-awareness and awareness of their place in society and what they can do to change it.
It was around this time that Remmy was invited to take part in a consultation among leaders of the Association of Foundations of the Philippines, and during their down-time, she got to talking with three other women – Teresita Deles, Irene Santiago and Sr. Mary John Mananzan – and they all noted how, even in this gathering of the most socially-aware Filipinos, the “woman question” hardly figured. Among their concerns: how, when a couple faced a choice between their shared social commitment and the need to earn a living, it was the woman who inevitably gave up her social involvement to work in the private sector; the lack of recognition or seniority given to women leaders in the social movement; and the refusal of many social change groups to address women’s issues. From these intense, late-night discussions was born PILIPINA, a home-grown “feminist-socialist” group that seeks to act as a “catalyst” among women of various sectors and to promote the role of women in politics and public power.
Sometime later, as the protest movement in the wake of the Aquino assassination grew, Remmy assumed an active part in organizing different women’s and sectoral groups to present a united front against the Marcos dictatorship. Soon after the EDSA Revolt that saw the Marcoses fleeing in exile, Remmy was appointed by the then-new President Cory Aquino as executive director of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women.
In this post, Remmy brought her gifts of persuasion and her years of deep analysis of the conditions of Philippine society, to forge a new direction for the Commission. She steered the Commission away from its work of direct organizing of women to the important task of “mainstreaming” gender concerns in every government department and office, and thus influencing even the private sector and non-government organizations. Much of that work has seen fruition in different ways: in the greater awareness among law enforcement agencies like the police and the armed forces of women’s rights and protection against violence; in changing curricula in schools on the role of women and men in the family and society; and in the greater voice given to women in business and the economy. Remmy was also instrumental in drawing mainstream support to the work of different organizations providing shelter and counseling for women victims of violence, winning support from funding agencies and helping draw up their principles of work and advocacy.
One of Remmy’s most innovative approaches to the question of gender and peace was to organize women community leaders among indigenous communities in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordilleras, where armed conflicts had already exacted their bloody toll, in sincere dialogue and sharing of experiences.
She has also brought her work on gender and politics to the regional arena, in her work as coordinator of the Asia-Pacific organization on women in politics.
Remmy is today the Chairperson of the National Commission on Women, as the re-organized NCRFW is now known. She continues to go around the country, continuing to “raise consciousness” about gender issues, especially on the role of women in building and sustaining peace. She continues to use her gifts of humor and sharp commentary to keep public attention on the continuing need to work for gender equality especially now when a new generation of women tends to take the gains of feminism for granted.