Today is International Women’s Day.

My friends, I would like to request you to particularly consider the plight of our women detainees in today’s commemoration of the successes of the women’s rights movement.

They are the mothers separated from their children, unable to care for them and watch them grow.

They are the wives separated from their husbands, unable to share with them the bliss of marital life they promised to each other.

They are the sisters who will not see their brothers wed or their sisters graduate.

They are the daughters who will not be there to hold their parents’ hands during their last days, or even to view them for the last time, as their mortal remains are lowered to the ground.

Imprisonment was supposed to keep our society safe, and protect us from persons who, if not incarcerated, will cause harm to us. But look at our women detainees and tell me honestly, will society be less safe if most of them are released back to the community, while they wait for the resolution of their cases through our hopelessly clogged, snail-paced justice system?

Majority of these women are incarcerated on drug-related charges. Our ill-thought anti-illegal drugs law, which makes it non-bailable for a person to be accused of selling even 0.01 gram of illegal drugs, has practically shut the door on temporary freedom for many of these women.

We cannot continue to celebrate International Women’s Day while ignoring the dehumanizing circumstances of our detained women. As a society, we have to look into ourselves and decide how we could address this problem. I have some suggestions: (1) review our anti-illegal drugs law, and reduce the penalties for most of those criminalized acts; and (2) improve the speed at which our courts could resolve cases of detained persons. That, of course, requires voting into office leaders who have a true understanding of the issues involved. There’s still a long way to go.

But for now, here’s what you can do: hug your wife, or sister, or mother, and consider how lucky you and your wife/sister/mother are, to be able to do this freely and without the necessity of lining up to be inspected by jail personnel. Perhaps, in your heart of hearts, you will plant that seed to speak up and fight for the rights of our women detainees.

Pictured: Atty. Cathy Abenido Alvarez hugging a BJMP inmate, paralegal training graduation rites, July 2016, Cebu City Female Dormitory