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Women Empowerment

By J. Myrna Dimaranan Vidal

The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Philippine Constitution. It does not only grant equality to women, but also empowers the government to take measures against discrimination of women.

In 1981, the Philippines has assumed the role to promote gender equality and women's empowerment as a vital element in addressing global concerns by joining no less than 180 countries in ratifying the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The CEDAW which has been tagged as the international women's bill of rights is the first major document that contains a ban on all forms of discrimination and recommends temporary special measures to immediately achieve equality in fact between men and women.

In 1992, the Congress of the Philippines enacted the “Breastfeeding Law” which called for the promotion of gender equality in the country as a vital element to ensure the protection of the rights of women. By way of addressing various forms of brutalities, atrocities, as well as domestic violence, perpetuated against the weaker sex and their children, the Philippine Congress enacted in 2004 Republic Act No. 9262 entitled “An Act Defining Violence Against Women and Their Children, Providing Measures for Victims, Prescribing Penalties therefor, and for Other Purposes”.

However, despite these safeguards, Filipino women continue to suffer from numerous kinds of discrimination, viz: according to the 2006 Labor Force Survey (LFS), the National Statistics Office reported that while there are 12.8 million employed women, 936 thousand are unemployed. Thus, the number of employed men estimated at 20.4 million and unemployed women at 1.7 million are consistently higher over the past years. In terms of Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR), male and female LFPR were estimated at 79.1 percent and 48.8 percent respectively.

In decision-making processes, Filipino women are noted to have low participation at all levels. The Civil Service Commission reported that few women candidates - who ran for public office - succeeded in securing public posts. In 2004, the average proportion of women in key elected posts was no more than 17%. The dismal performance of women in the 2004 elections registered a sharp drop after an increasing trend beginning 1995.

Fortunately, though, in terms of their participation in the field of state governance, Filipino women are relatively better situated compared with their counterpart in other Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia. Thailand and South Korea. To date, women hold 51 seats or 19% in the Philippine House of Representatives, 4 seats or 17% in the Philippine Senate. On the other hand, there are 2 women Justices in the Sandiganbayan; 2 women Justices in the Court of Tax Appeals; 19 women of the 69 Justices of the Court of Appeals; while there are 5 women magistrates in the Supreme Court. Comparatively, as of last year, it is estimated that women's participation in the Lower House in Malaysia was 7.8%; Indonesia,11.4%; Thailand, 5.6% and South Korea, 3.7%. Additionally, the Philippines is proud to have two (2) women Presidents, former President CORAZON C. AQUINO and incumbent President GLORIA MACAPAGAL ARROYO.

While in the western hemisphere, like the United States of America, which attained their independence some three (3) centuries before the Philippines became a State, has never had a woman President.

Definitely, women can now be found in the halls of Congress, in the Judiciary, in the Military or Police force, in science labs, athletic fields, or in outer space. In fact, at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), women cadets have been admitted beginning 1992 via Republic Act No. 7192.

But they didn’t arrive there overnight.

Some centuries ago, people were of the impression that a woman's place was in the home. Women were basically treated as the weaker sex and second class citizens. They were excluded from the voting booths, and were even regarded as properties without legal rights. Ancient Greeks considered women just slightly above animals. Much worse, in ancient Hinduism, women had less value than cows.

In our country, since the First Philippine Legislature was formed in 1907 and until the time the Philippine Commonwealth was convened, the Philippine Legislature produced no woma n member. However, there have been incredible changes in the people's perspectives on women. In the latter half of the twentieth century, women began to enjoy some of the rights men used to enjoy exclusively. Article V of the 1934 Philippine Constitution extended the right of suffrage to women. By virtue of said mandate, then President MANUEL L. QUEZON signed into law the Women Suffrage Bill paving the way for Filipino women to have the distinction as the first women in Asia to be granted suffrage.

In the national election of 14 December 1937, no less than 24 women were elected to various positions. In 1938, Congresswoman Elisa Ochoa from the province of Agusan was elected as the first woman member of the House of Representatives. However, during World War II, soon after Filipino women started to penetrate Philippine politics, the country had another government, this time manned by the Japanese. In 1943 a Constitutional Commission composed of 20 members drafted a new Constitution but again, there was no woman member in the convened National Assembly. But during the Constitutional Convention for the 1971 Constitution, composed of 320 delegates, a number of women were elected thereto. In the 1987 Constitutional Commission, a woman became its President - Supreme Court Justice Cecilia Munoz Palma (Ret.)

Notably, the 1987 Constitution is unique for a number of reasons. It guarantees equality between men and women - a right which is not provided in the United States Constitution much less in many other countries. Article II, Section 14, of the 1987 Philippine Constitution provides that the State recognizes the role of women in nation-building, and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men. It is the present Constitution which enshrines the representation of marginalized sectors, including women, through the sectoral representatives and the Party-List System.

With these Constitutional principles come several organizations and projects which aim to empower the so-called “weaker sex”. The Great Women Project, for instance, is a five-year project (2006-2011) of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW). It is a capacity development initiative that aims to support and promote the economic empowerment of women, especially those in micro-enterprises, by contributing to the creation of a gender- responsive enabling environment for micro-enterprise development. It has three components: (1) Capacity development for NCRFW, (2) National enabling environment for women's economic empowerment (WEE), and (3) Local enabling for WEE.

The three branches of our government are to be commended in transforming the issue on women empowerment as a vital public concern, to wit:

The executive department committed itself, through the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), to prioritize programs promoting women's participation in national development. The government, as a whole, is bound to allocate at least five percent of the General Appropriations Act to gender and development programs;

The Congress of the Philippines is not passive in legislating laws which promote women's rights and welfare. In 1990, Congress passed RA 6969 or the Women's Day Law. In 1992, Congress increased maternity benefits for women in the private sector per RA 7322. In 1995, it likewise enacted RA 7192 or the Women in Development and Nation-Building Act which recognizes the role of women in nation building; gives women the right to enter into contracts without having to seek their husbands’ consent. Congress also enacted the following statutes, among others, for women: the Women in Small Business Enterprises Act (RA 7882) in 1995, Anti-Sexual Harassment Law (RA 7877) and the Overseas Workers’ Rights Protection in 1996, the Anti-Rape Law in 1997 (RA 8353), and in 1998 the Child and Family Courts Act, the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act as well as the National AIDS Policy Act;

Joining governmental action focusing on the problem affecting violations of the human rights of women, the Judiciary actively responded to address their gender oppressions and persecutions that exist in our midst. In the booming voice of no less than the Chief Justice of the Philippines, Hon. REYNATO S. PUNO: Today, the feminist movement is rooting out the etiology of domestic violence peculiar to different classes of women – the most maltreated and the least empowered of them, politically, socially and economically speaking. There will be further developments in the feminist front and we, in the discipline of law, should fully understand their efforts. For the history of the women's movement against domestic violence shows that one of its most difficult struggles was the fight against the violence of law itself. If we keep in mind, law will not again be a hindrance to the struggle of women for equality but will be its fulfillment. We crafted the Rule on Violence Against Women and Their Children in that spirit.

Women's contribution to the economy is likewise highly noteworthy. They now dominate the Filipino overseas workers, most of them being domestic laborers. Clearly, women are not blocked by a gender barrier. A growing number of top CEO's are women. A significant portion of our outstanding public officials are women. In the field of education, women are more inclined to educate themselves than men. In fact, as of the year 2002, 53.2 percent of college and university students in the Philippines are female. Not to mention that several board and bar examination topnotchers are women. As of the last three (3) years, women dominate the list of Bar Examination topnotchers. In 2005, 5 out of 10 were women; in 2006, 6 out of 11; and in 2007, 9 out of 11. Thus, there is no field of life that women have not penetrated into.

Indeed, women are everywhere. And more and more women are becoming empowered. However, we should not forget the vital roles women play in the family which are equally vital and primordial, but which we usually take for granted, such as the sacrifices of our selfless but strong-willed mothers whose hands first rock the cradle for us.




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