My wife gave me a copy of Jill’s paper. Jill is a batchmate of mine. We were both members of the student council in 1998. More importantly, we were part of Stand-UP’s university-wide secretariat.
The government boasts that the Philippines ranks high in the list of countries which are promoting gender equality. In another report the Philippines is expected to achieve significant gains in improving gender parity among school-age children. Last year a deputy speaker for women was appointed in the House of Representatives.
Should the local women’s movement celebrate and announce the victory of feminist causes? The emphatic answer is no. Women continue to be marginalized in Philippine society. Feudal culture is still dominant. Women welfare is still not given top priority by the state.
True, the number of women in government is increasing every year. For instance there are 53 women legislators in the House of Representatives today. This is almost one-fourth of the total composition of the Lower House, the highest number in Philippine history. This figure is also outstanding by Asian standards.
But this does not mean that women are more empowered today. The paper of UP College of Law graduate Sandra Jill S. Santos, "Legislation for Women, by Women", clarifies that more women are entering Congress partly because of dynastic politics. Santos writes:
"An estimated 45 percent of the female legislators elected to the 12th Congress were replacements of relatives previously in the House. In the 14th Congress, 15 percent of the congresswomen are wives of congressmen who have just served their third and final terms."
Santos adds that as of 1998, only 130 women legislators have been elected in the century-long history of Philippine Congress. The figure stands for only about 10 percent of the total number of legislators elected. This figure is "statistically negligible." In fact, only 2 female presidents (as opposed to 12 male presidents) had been elected in the country. No female Chief Justice has ever been appointed in the judiciary.
We must ask the women legislators: Do they stand for genuine change? Are they prepared to defeat traditional politics? Will they promote the women agenda? Can they challenge the anti-poor and anti-women platform of their political parties?
Many women politicians are clueless to the troubles afflicting the women sector. What they represent, and ready to defend at all cost, is the oligarchic interest of their families. The best example is President Gloria Arroyo. She courted the women and the poor (Nora Aunor fans) during her reelection bid in 1995 despite advancing a neoliberal economic agenda in the Senate which hurt the women and the poor.
After reviewing the legislative performance of women legislators in the country, Santos noted the following:
"A scrutiny of the bills and laws framed by women in the post-war congress revealed that the congresswomen generally advocated for social amelioration and education rather than what are presently perceived as specific gender concerns. The women of the Post-People Power Congress are credited with promoting legislative agenda that gave more attention to specific women’s issues."
After the fall of Marcos in 1986, women NGOs proliferated in the country. Foreign-funded advocacy groups succeeded in articulating women’s specific concerns inside Congress. The specific women’s issues refer to gender equality, reproductive health, women’s rights violence against women (rape, sexual harassment and trafficking in women) and the protection of an increasing number of women in overseas contract work.
Here are some of the landmark laws for women: Women’s Day Law; Women in Development and Nation-Building Act of 1995; Maternity Benefits Law; Women in Small Business Enterprises Act; Anti-Sexual Harassment Law; Overseas Workers’ Rights Protection; Anti-Rape Law; the Child and Family Courts Act; the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act; the National AIDS Policy Act; the Solo Parents Welfare Act of 2000; the Anti-Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children Act of 2003; and the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Law.
Despite the passage of these laws, women continue to be discriminated and abused in the country. Legislation of specific women’s issues does not guarantee the upliftment of women. Perhaps it is also crucial to pinpoint the general political, social and economic reforms which should be implemented in order to promote the well-being of women. The tendency to highlight the specific women concerns can sometimes lead us a bit farther away from addressing the roots of women oppression in the country.
It is not wrong to advocate the establishment of women desks in public institutions. But this should not be celebrated as proof of the state’s benevolence towards women. This campaign, along with other politically-correct micro advocacies, if not accompanied by a comprehensive platform for women and social emancipation, can produce a wrong impression that men in our patriarchal society are now starting to recognize women as equals.
This is not an endorsement of the legislative performance of post-war women legislators. This is also not an attempt to diminish the achievements made by post-EDSA Congress. This is only to reiterate what activist women groups are advocating: Women liberation is not isolated from the struggle of the people for genuine freedom and democracy.
In short, it is not enough to fight for women’s reproductive and marital rights. Women are part of the broader fight to assert people’s rights and welfare. It is best that women’s groups should be active in shaping a new political landscape in the country.