Published in Manila Standard Today
By Elizabeth Angsioco
The Philippines is the 17th best country in the world in terms of women’s status, said the American news publication Newsweek. Certainly, being at the top of the list alongside progressive countries like Iceland, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Norway, United States of America, Autralia, Netherlands, New Zealand, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, United Kingdom, and Romania is a feat in itself.
The study rated countries according to the following categories: justice and treatment of women under the law; access to health; access to education; economics and workforce participation; and political power. Scores were primarily based on United Nations and the World Economic Forum data.
We garnered the following scores (from a perfect 100 points): justice – 88.4; health – 57.0; education – 92.2; economics – 89.1; and politics – 85.6.
Before we go and celebrate, let us attempt to analyze the results based on available information.
What immediately caught my attention is our very low health score. 57 out of 100 is certainly not a thing to be proud of. Mas mababa pa ito sa pasang-awa. This is a dismal failure. This means that our women’s health needs are barely met. Certainly, this includes women’s reproductive health.
Among the country’s Millennium Development Goals are to improve access to RH services and significantly reduce maternal mortality rates. All indicators say that we will FAIL in meeting these goals. Without the passage of the RH bill into law, achieving these MDGs is next to impossible.
Imagine where we could have been in that list if the RH law is already in place!
I am not surprised at our high score in the justice category. Indeed, the Philippines has progressive pro-women legislation emulated by other countries. The Anti-Rape, Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children, Anti-Trafficking in Persons, Magna Carta of Women are some of these.
However, before any group takes credit for these, let me categorically state that these laws are there because of long years of advocacy by women’s and other progressive groups. Each of these laws met a lot of opposition from those who wanted the status quo retained and each took at least nine years of hard work before they were passed. The high score therefore, is a tribute to the advocates and the legislators who championed these laws.
Even the women’s right to vote was a product of women’s advocacy work. Thus now, we see women in high government positions.
Indeed, there exists no formal (read: legal) barriers for Filipino women to enjoy all opportunities life has to offer. Thus, we should not be surprised at our very high scores in all other categories because the ratings were essentially based on formal policies and laws.
This does not mean that Filipino women no longer experience discrimination and abuse. While a number of good laws are in place, our culture remains significantly sexist. The laws are slow in influencing our culture.
In feminist parlance, sexism is defined as a mindset that considers one sex as superior to the other and results in discrimination and/or abuse of the “weaker” sex. Sexism, in the form of machismo exists in our culture, in our society. We deal with this mindset everyday: men are generally regarded as superior to women by virtue of their being male.
Sexism in Congress is a reality and often, people just laugh at our macho (congress)men’s antics as if they are really funny. I refer to the macho men in both chambers of Congress—the House of Representatives and Senate.
Certainly, I do not say that all male legislators are sexist. I know a number who are quite progressive, some even more than some women legislators.
Machismo in Congress goes beyond the image of our legislators. Some are known to be womanizers, action stars, a boxing champion, etc. The common denominator among these macho lawmakers is their anti-RH bill position. Such machismo is manifested in Congress’ RH deliberations in many ways.
In gender sensitivity seminars, we do sessions on “Indicators of Sexism.” This make women aware of the various manifestations of discrimination against them. I will use these indicators to illustrate sexism in Congress.
One indicator is “condescension.” This is an attitude that does not take women and their issues seriously. A condescending attitude trivializes women’s concerns. When Senator Tito Sotto always introduces the “walang kamatayang” RH bill with a smirk, he trivializes a bill that will save women’s lives.
When Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado interpellated RH co-author Rep. Em Aglipay and said, “You are a good person Em, kaya gusto kong nasa side ka namin para pagdating ng judgment day, you will go to heaven,” he was really saying that he knows what is best for the woman legislator and that what she is fighting for is not important.
The “yes, but” attitude is likewise condescending. When male legislators say that “yes, there are RH problems but budget should be used for more important problems,” they really mean that women’s welfare is not, and should not be their priority.
“Hostility” and “backlashing” are other indicators of sexism and usually targets women and their organizations that challenge sexism. We have seen how Sotto and Enrile use their power to hit us, advocates of the RH bill.
“Sex role stereotyping” is another indicator. When Enrile insists that the role of women is to stay home, he is confining women to being housewives and nothing more.
Also, when Enrile, Sotto, Reps. Roilo and Anthony Golez, Pablo Garcia, Karlo Nograles, Amado Bagatsing, etc. say that contraceptives block the natural life giving process or are abortifacient, the implication is that women are nothing but baby machines and have no right to decide for themselves.
Similarly, when senators Lito Lapid and Jinggoy Estrada laughingly bantered during session about having a “playboy” image and implying having children with several women, the message really was, it is acceptable for men to womanize and have children with different women. I wonder how they will react if the tables are turned.
Enrile’s and Sotto’s denial that maternal mortality exists and their questioning of data from reputable organizations and government agencies are really manifestations of “invisibility,” another indicator of sexism. As the term connotes, women and their issues are not seen and given importance.
The last Senate sessions saw Sen. Pia Cayetano’s passionate defense of the RH bill. The passion, the emotions are really understandable when you, a woman and a mother, defending the lives of other women, have to deal with the macho (congress)men.
For the Philippines to be truly one of the best places for women, these talks should now end. Congress should now VOTE and PASS the RH bill. Demand accountability from your legislators, tell them to vote for this bill. You may use: http://wp.me/P1z0ew-rk for HOR and http://wp.me/P1z0ew-rO to reach your Senators.
Let your voice be heard.