Advocates push for fair representation of women in politics
MANILA, Philippines – Why aren't women in elected posts pushing women issues forward? Why is there no women's agenda?
These are just among the things discussed on Monday, March 18, in a roundtable highlighting the importance of forwarding women’s issues in the political arena.
Dr. Nathalie Africa-Verceles, Director of the UP Center for Women's and Gender Studies (UPCWGS) said that only 21.5% of all elective posts in the Philippines are comprised of women. The UPCWGS recently launched Angat Bayi, a comprehensive political empowerment program. Its aim is to encourage women to be politically active, develop their capacities and skills on feminist leadership, and carry a clear and strong women’s agenda. (READ: [OPINION] This is what we want for our women)
Patriarchy and politics
Angat Bayi fellow Mayen Juico said that the low representation of women may be because of the influence of the cultural context of patriarchy in society. “Our society is also still pretty much patriarchal and leadership roles are still very much given or males are looked to for leadership roles,” Juico said.
Juico, who is also a Quezon City Councilor, cited "political preservation." She said women leaders who are up for re-election hold back from rising and speaking out because they still want to be re-elected.
In the past years, Filipino feminists have criticized women in elected posts for failing to speak up against the sexist and misogynist remarks made by President Rodrigo Duterte in various occasions.
Dr. Carolyn Sobritchea, also a mentor of Angat Bayi, explained that, in a patriarchal society like the Philippines, men are viewed as more capable for leadership roles in a community seeking for a leader who can command with the voice and acquired physical strength.
“I guess we have to change the culture itself and the culture should be gender sensitive and gender responsive,” Dr. Sobritchea said.
This was echoed by Ilocos Sur, Candon City councilor Joanne Valdez who added that the desire for political convenience also complements the patriarchal context of the country.
"In my case, I filed the anti-catcalling ordinance. The council didn't actually approve it, [saying they] will just include it in our GAD Code. So I think sometimes they don't let you pass because you're not part of the administration. I think that's one of the biggest challenges also but I'm very hopeful that there are few women who really carry women's agenda," Valdez said.
Verceles also cited that during the 2016 elections only two women won Senate seats, and 28.6% for the House of Representatives. She added that only 23.5% of all governors and 23.2% of all vice governors are women.
Finding allies, empowering women
Given that there are only a few women in government posts, the panelists agreed that it was important to find allies in both men and women in government posts.
"We have barangay leaders coming out and taking a more active role being more serious in their participation because they see a leader. In the same manner that I see a leader in my boss. So I see that she's also espousing the same advocacies so somehow you know, the fire doesn't stop burning and it just keeps getting bigger. And you find other allies, you find peers, you find colleagues who will also help you in the same manner that we have found inspiration from each other," Juico said.
While acknowledging the gaps in pushing for the political empowerment of women in the Philippines, the panelists also said that the fight is not without its share of small victories.
Canadian Ambassador John Holmes for example noted how the political participation of women in the country "don't seem to be as strong as other parts of the world."
"Despite the numbers that you mentioned, I am extremely impressed with the Philippines. [There are] many dynamic women that I have met here... And you know I think there's been some positive things that have happened in the 2 years that I've stayed here," Holmes said.
Among the examples he cited was the signing of the Expanded Maternity Leave Act or Republic Act No 11210, giving mothers 3 months of paid leave.
With elections coming up, why is it important to think of the empowerment of women? Ambassador Holmes has a simple and straightforward answer.
"It's already 2019."
Valdez added that it's "quite exciting to be here in a vibrant democracy like the Philippines to be here for this elections."
"I encourage all Filipinos to exercise their rights because as we see around the world, democracy can be under threat. So exercise your right, choose the best candidate and I'm sure that if you look closely many of those best candidates will be women," Valdez said.
Watch the full video of the roundtable here. – Rappler.com
Maria Gabriela Aquino is a Rappler intern. She is a senior high school student at the Mapua University taking the Humanities and Social Sciences track.