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Feminism and Its Effect on Philippine Decision Making

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The Philippines, a predominantly matriarchal society, for many years, have placed women at the center of not only the family but the Filipino community itself. Before the colonial era of the Philippines, women wielded equal and in some cases even more influence than the men in the tribe; even ascending to the rank of the tribe’s chief. Although the Philippines is recognized as a matriarchal society, its position on women, feminism, and its role in Philippine politics, grows increasingly ambiguous.

There are, however, a number of laws with the intent to develop and secure more equal rights and empowerment for Filipino women and numerous Filipino women in Philippine politics. This research aims to compare whether these laws that have been enacted were influenced by the feminist movement in the Philippines and have had a measurable impact with yielding results. It is also the intent of the research to seek improvement and respond to prevailing issues that arise in Philippine policy making in order to change the current status quo for Filipino women.

Phillipino Women’s Suffarage Movement

In order to understand why the feminist movement in the Philippines holds such importance we have to distinguish what feminism is, particularly in the Filipino context. The introduction briefly discussed the strong influence that being a Matriarchal society had in pre-colonial Philippines.

One can make the assumption that the Spanish colonization, and the introduction of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines clamped down on women’s rights. Typically countries that are dominated by religion and religious influence, such as the Philippines and the Roman Catholic Church in this case, tend to force women into more ‘traditional’ roles of inferiority compared to men. Although the Americans, while the Philippines was still an American Commonwealth, were responsible for making education accessible to the Filipinos, regardless of gender or class, still upheld the stereotypical facade of a meek and docile women, which was far from the true nature of our Filipina ancestors.

The Associacion Feminista Filipina formed in 1905, and the Associacion Feminista Ilonga, which was established two years later in 1906 is considered the dawn, or rather comeback, of Filipino women demanding and securing their rights. The same year that Associacion Feminista Ilonga was formed, a bill was filed with the intent of granting Filipino women equal right to vote. American Generals at the time supported the women’s suffrage groups and their mission to get it into the Philippines legislative assembly, however majority of them failed to initiate any action or legislation.

Simultaneously, the National Assembly which at the time comprised of all-male members, held severe reservations about including women’s suffrage; ironically claiming that it would ruin the Filipino family unit and tradition and that the males would cease to have control over their family, land, and finances. From 1935 – 1937, the National Assembly whilst drafting the Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, decided to hold a plebiscite in order to determine if women’s suffrage was to be included; albeit it was only to be passed under the condition that 300,000 women voted in favor of the bill. The outcome resulted in a total of 444,725 women voting “yes”.

Global Gener Gap Report

The Global Gender Gap Report formally introduced in 2006, is as explained by “The World Bank” (n.d) “examines the gap between men and women in four fundamental categories (subindexes) and 14 different indicators that compose them”. Since the introduction of the Global Gender Gap Report the Philippines has been and remains in the top 10. As of 2018 the Philippine’s standing is at 8th place out of 149 countries, after climbing from 10th in the previous year. In East Asia and the Pacific, Philippines ranks 2nd overall, right behind New Zealand. The 2018 overall score of the Philippines is at 0.799 , where a score closer to 0 is indicative of poor to no equality (imparity) and a score closer to 1.00 is indicative to equality (parity).

Philippines’ Feminists

After the advancement of women’s suffrage in the 1930s, Filipino women have made steady advancements in Philippine politics. In addition the Philippines, has produced an impressive amount of Filipino women who served in government, or held positions of high authority.

After the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the Philippines saw its first ever female President, Maria Corazon “Cory” C. Aquino, who restored democracy to the country. President Aquino was also the first female president in all of Asia. She was responsible for a provision in the 1987 Philippine Constitution that allows for the protection of human rights, more specifically in Article II, “Declaration of Principles and State Policies”, section 14, “The State recognizes the role of women in nation-building, and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men”.

In 1998 the Philippines elected its first female vice President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. In 2001 she then became the second female President and stayed in office until 2010. Arroyo signed into law Republic Act No. 9710 or “The Magna Carta of Women”. “Philippine Statistic Authority” (March, 2010) describes The Magna Carta of Women as a “comprehensive women’s human rights law that seeks to eliminate discrimination against women by recognizing, protecting, fulfilling and promoting the rights of Filipino women, especially those in marginalized sector.”.

The “Dragon Lady” also known more popularly as the “Iron Lady of Asia”, Miriam Palma Defensor Santiago was a notable women of Philippine politics who was able to serve in all three branches of government and in the international arena. The Quezon Service Cross, the highest form of recognition in the Philippines was only granted to a total of 6 Filipinos, one of which was Defensor Santiago, who was the only woman to receive the honor. Defensor Santiago also authored ten laws and influenced a plethora of political issues in the Philippines. Of the women mentioned, there are still numerous others who are responsible for shaping and pushing for women’s rights in the Philippines.

The Philippines holds a number of pro-women organizations. One of which is the Gabriela Women’s Party is an organization that advocates women’s issues in the Philippines; Gabriela is an acronym, General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership, and Action. The organization was founded during the repressive era of the Marcos regime of 1984. The organization drew inspiration and its name from revolutionary Filipina Gabriela Silang, who was known for her efforts against Spain in the 1700s.

In 2004 at the national party list elections, Gabriela Women’s Party was able to elect Hon. Liza Maza; she was the only woman representative. In the years since the organization was able to rise up the party elections and advocate issues relevant to women in the Philippines to Congress. The controversial Reproductive Health Bill or Republic Act No. 10354, was heavily influenced by women’s organizations and Gabriela, all of whom are composed of not only high ranking Filipino women, but more importantly ordinary women hoping to make a change.

An issue that is becoming prevalent is political dynasties, and how it affects the future direction of women in politics. The question remains whether or not women are participating in governance because of their own initiative or because of family influence. Masigan (2018) writes:
There are 250 political families who control the country, 56% of whom come from old political elites like the Osmeñas, Roxases and Magsaysays and 44% emerged after the 1986 Edsa Revolution. In the Senate, 16 out of the 24 members belong to political dynasties as are 70% of the members of Congress.

The Philippines is increasingly becoming flooded with “political families” all of whom are likely to consolidate power. With more political families that hold a certain amount of influence in Philippine politics, women belonging to those families or that have connections, are more likely to get into politics. This would be that the number of women joining has increased over the years, but it is questionable if they are able to achieve anything worthwhile. It can only be assumed that this would hurt the cause of the Filipino women’s suffrage.

Analysis

Based on the data given by the Global Gap Report of 2018, women in the Philippines have had the opportunity of equality in almost all aspects of the Filipino society; they have been able to exercise those rights of equality that were given to them from past feminist movements and women’s suffrage groups. Based on the information provided by the Global Gap Report (2018), we can observe that the Philippines scored high in educational attainment and in economic participation and opportunity.

There is a clear positive correlation between economic development and political development in the Philippine context, especially in regards to Filipino women representation in democracy. The natural assumption is that the increased economic development in the Philippines and the accessibility of education increases the likeliness of women to participate and contribute to their society, and government. Filipino males make up majority of the labour force, however in terms of “legislators, senior officials and managers” and “professional and technical workers”, Filipino women tend to be more suited for leadership roles in the society.

A study conducted by Nava Ashraf, “Spousal Control and Intra-Household Decision Making: An Experimental Study in the Philippines”, concluded that in the Philippines the women are generally in charge of the finances of the household (Ashraf, 2009). This information further solidifies the implication, and makes the National Assembly’s original concerns about men losing control redundant considering that Filipino women have always been at the helm of their family, community, and nation from the beginning.

Women are also more likely to continue their schooling and pursue higher forms education beyond High School. The Global Gender Gap Report (2018) under family, Filipino women have a lead average of 6.6 as a “contributing family member” and are less likely to be “discouraged job seekers” than their male counterparts. Which is a positive indicator, and enforces the assumption that Filipino women are naturally drawn to responsibility and can handle such positions.

Conclusion

Although once given less importance by to the Philippines’ colonizers, the female role has since held great significance in the development of the country. It is undeniable that women had, and still continue, to have a significant role in the Philippine society. It is important, however, to recognize that women still need more representation and participation in Philippine politics in order for their agenda to be fully utilized. The data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (2019) gives a clear picture that there are more women participating in Philippine politics, and The Global Gender Gap Report (2018) has strongly indicated that women are occupying higher level positions in society, despite being the minority of the Philippine’s labor force.

The indication that there are more women participating in the society, particularly in politics, is not conclusive evidence that Filipino women are thriving in the political environment in the Philippines. The emerging concern, however, that draws from this is whether or not these women are acting of their own accord or because of other external factors, such as family pressure. If due to the latter, then the outcome of women participating in politics is more of a concern of whether or not Filipino women are being represented accurately by those who participate in politics. Filipino women should take an interest in women’s right and issues in order for them to be addressed suitably and accurately.

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