From Malacañang to the streets, women are demanding better lives
MANILA, Philippines – It is March 8, Women’s Day.
In Kalayaan Hall, dignitaries and advocates discuss the latest situation of Filipino women. In the streets of Manila, women are marching and demonstrating. Both have the same message: women need to be included in the national agenda.
Life has become better for Filipino women: there is gender equality in education, they have become leaders in government and business, and they have a voice influencing national policies.
“Women have come a long way and have changed themselves and their world,” said Remedios Rikken, Chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW).
It is difficult to disagree with her: 105 years after the first International Women’s Day, there are more opportunities than ever for them.
Among the last 5 presidents, President Benigno Aquino III has the highest percentage of female appointees to the cabinet at 21.7%.
In the executive branch, there are 815 women, or 43% of the career executive service officers (CESO), while women make up 24% of the CESOs in government financial institutions and corporations.
The country has also improved its rank in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index and has made headway in bridging the gender gap in different sectors.
Emmeline Verzosa, PCW executive director, considered these steps in the right direction. Several factors are behind this: a social safety net, empowering networks, and safe environments.
90% of the Department of Social Welfare Development's Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (Bridging Filipino Families Program) beneficiaries are 90% women. The program has affected education and health.
Dropout rates are 9% in schools where students receive 4Ps subsidies. In the last 5 years, more women have given birth in health facilities and received post-natal medical attention from professionals.
Women are making headway as leaders, too. The first signature on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) came from Prof Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, one of the chief negotiators. It makes her the first woman to sign an agreement of its kind.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles saw it as a milestone in female leadership. Whereas women previously "were just in the secretariat" at best, today they are taking an active role in peace negotiations and other national issues.
The Filipina, Deles added, has “come a long way from being a vulnerable victim of war to being a prominent mover for peace,” Deles said.
For Commission on Higher Education Chairperson Patricia Licuanan, creating future female leaders has been the goal. Her gender equality advocacy includes gender-fair language and setting up a Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CODI) to prevent sexual harassment in campuses.
“The educational system...is one of the main socializing forces of gender role stereotypes and thus helps strengthen existing stereotypes and thus helps strengthen existing stereotypes,” Licuanan was quoted as saying by Verzosa.
When President Aquino presented his “Social Contract with the Filipino People” in 2010, he promised he would promote gender equality while in office.
Based on the increasing participation of women in business and government, it looks like he has kept his promise.
Joms Salvador, Secretary-General of Gabriela Alliance of Filipino Women, however, disagreed.
“This thing they’re saying about closing the gender gap, the reports they cite about improvements in education, in health – there’s a slight decrease in the maternal mortality rate, there is supposedly a small increase in women’s cohort survival rate – but that is just a part in their situation," Salvador said in Filipino.
She pointed to extreme poverty – making girls vulnerable to trafficking and abuse – and a “record high” incidence in cases of violence against women and children (VAWC). (READ: International Women's Day: A salute to women workers)
According to Salvador, 1 in 4 Filipino women is living in extreme poverty, and only around 40% are employed. She did not cite figures for the "record high" VAWC cases.
“Nandiyan pa rin ang mga saligang problema sa ating lipunan,” she said. (The underlying problems of our society are still there.)
The PCW, however, attributed the growing bravery of women to report these cases as the reason for the numbers.
International Women’s Day has historically been a chance for women to campaign for participation in labor and government. Women and advocates continue the fight for inclusion today.
Verzosa said: “We need to capacitate women to be leaders. Because they themselves have to change their own views about themselves.”
So is gender equality possible?
For Salvador, it can only happen by eliminating poverty, which she said, affects both men and women.
Verzosa, however, is optimistic. “Hopefully our society will eventually become more gender-fair, violence free, with men taking on their responsibilities and women taking on their challenge and bringing out their power to contribute.” – Rappler.com