See “An Unusual Poetry Sunday” for a note on the mission of this young poet, and to read her poem “Separation.” —Ed.


Pauline LacanilaoHaving lived in the Philippines for the past four years, one thing I’ve consistently been frustrated at—and heartbroken by—is the lack of volume given to, or value placed on, women’s voices here.

I remember that one September a couple of years back, I was getting dressed in my bedroom on the 33rd floor of an apartment building when I heard a man yelling obscenities as if he were right outside my window. I got frightened and crouched down, only to notice that across the street, a man with binoculars had been watching me. Immediately I went to his building to confront him, but a fleet of guards accosted me. When I explained the situation, the head of that building’s security told me that it was my fault for being so close to the window. They threw me out of their building.

The longer I spent in the Philippines, the more of these kinds of stories I began hearing, each one more horrifying than the next. I regularly encounter women who don’t know their real age or name because they were trafficked into the sex industry before they could read or write. I’ve begged policemen on the street to help me break up a fight between an angry husband and his crying wife—and then been turned away because “traffic cops don’t handle domestic disputes.”

These horrific tragedies tend to become a trendy cause—but when the cameras aren’t rolling, and there isn’t a cool band or T-shirt advocating change, the apathy toward women paralyzes this country, regresses it.  It’s frustrating, it’s heartbreaking.

I mention all this because as I was reading the mission statement of Women’s Voices for Change, this passage struck me: “Our goal is to create an accurate, vital portrait of who we really are and what we contribute to the world. Together, all of us share knowledge, information, stories of stress and success to empower all women.”

I know that this not-for-profit organization is aimed at women over 40. But this goal echoes mine, even at 26.

For me, writing poetry is not just about feelings and self-expression. I believe that real change—real healing of social ills—begins when individuals hold themselves accountable to their values, even when no one is looking. I believe that writing clarifies those values, carefully maps them out, and articulates them onto something visible and tangible (paper, a computer screen). And because the written word is harder to ignore than invisible willpower, and because what happens in the mind comes out in the body, I believe that those who engage in writing are not only far more likely to have socially sensitive values, but are also more likely to live them out (i.e., help others).

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  • Maria Victoria A. Grageda-Smith April 17, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Dear WVFC:

    I discovered you through a friend who sent me your link to Pauline Lacanilao’s wonderful essay and poem (with which I identified completely) . And how glad I was to have discovered you all! This is precisely the type of women’s discussion group I’ve been yearning for. Funny how serendipitous encounters lead us to what we’re passionate about!

    Now that I am connected with all of you, dear sisters, I look forward to sharing and discussing the many important issues we face as women.

    Maria Victoria “Vicki” A. Grageda-Smith

  • Diane Dettmann April 14, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Thank you, Pauline, for sharing your personal experience about the lack of value placed on women, the devastation in their lives and the repression of their voices. As a writer, I agree with the power of the written word and that it can inspire productive change in our world. Sharing our values and stories in the public arena requires commitment and bravery. Thank you for taking that risk and keep writing. The world needs to hear voices like yours.