Women’s liberation: Why the struggle remains relevant

GabrielaI wrote this commentary for the Philippine Online Chronicles in commemoration of March as Women’s Month.

One often hears that women in the Philippines are one of the most empowered in the world. In the 2012 Global Gender Gap Index, the Philippines ranked first in Asia in terms of gender equality. The country also ranked eighth worldwide.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution has the guarantee of women’s rights and welfare as one of its cornerstones. Moreover, several legislations have been passed ensuring the protection of women against violence and discrimination.[i]

In a way, the growing empowerment of Filipino women can be partly explained by the strength and vibrancy of the broad and militant women’s movement in the country.

The number of protest marches and other commemorative activities held annually by various women’s groups during the March 8 International Working Women’s Day commemoration in various parts of the country is testament to this vitality.

We can also cite the thousands of women who danced last February 14 for the “One Billion Rising” campaign to end violence against women and children.

Persisting Violence and Discrimination

But despite these gains in forwarding the rights and interests of Filipino women, violence and discrimination against the sector persist.

Notwithstanding the Noynoy Aquino regime’s boasts of an improving economy given the 6.8 percent growth of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in the last quarter of 2012, women still suffer from worsening oppression under its rule.

In a country where the wealth of the 40 richest families is equivalent to 76 percent of the GDP and 178 dynasties dominte political power, women suffer from rising prices of commodities, lack of access to social services like health, worsening hunger and unemployment, and poverty.

The human rights alliance Karapatan points out that women and children are also targets of political violence and bear the brunt of the militarization of communities under the Aquino regime’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.

Eighteen women political activists have been murdered under the Aquino regime. Thirty-three women political prisoners continue to languish in jail. Many more women have been subjected to illegal arrests and detention, enforced disappearances, harassment, torture, and extrajudicial killings.

But while all Filipinos are indeed oppressed in terms of unjust and unequal class relations and foreign domination, Filipino women are also victims of gender-based oppression.

Data from the Center for Women’s Resources show over thirty cases of violence against women reported in the country daily.

In 2012, 5,180 cases of rape were reported, which means that fourteen women or children are raped every day. Meanwhile 12 women die of childbirth complications every day. More cases are presumed to be undocumented.

Roots of Gender Oppression

The roots of gender oppression of women can be traced to the continuing domination of a feudal-patriarchal system, said Samahan ng Mag-aaral at Kabataang Kababaihan-University of the Philippines Visayas Chairperson Shelly Dalmacio.

The feudal-patriarchal system is rooted in the persistence of feudal relations between landlords and peasants in the countryside which was inherited from the Spanish colonial era, she said.

“Under a feudal-patriarchal order, women are subordinated to men. Women are tied to domestic work and are regarded to have a secondary role in economic production. The man is the dominant authority in the house and has the final say in making decisions,” said Dalmacio.

This very system also forms the social basis of the oppression of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgenders or LGBT community.

What is worse is the intertwining of this feudal-patriarchal view with a bourgeois view of women which considers them as mere commodities, a view introduced when the country was put under the orbit of the world capitalist system.

The youth leader pointed out that women are “liberated” from the domestic sphere in order to transform them into cheap laborers doing semi-skilled work. Many serve as waitresses and salesladies in the service sector where 68 percent of the labor force are women.

With the Aquino government continuing the labor export policy, many women leave the country with seven of ten becoming domestic helpers and caregivers abroad.

At the same time, women’s bodies are seen as sex objects wherein their worth is equated to their being desirable to the male gaze. This is everyday seen in the way scantily-clad women are used as decorative adornments in the mass media to attract consumers.

An extreme form of commodification of women’s bodies includes prostitution and human trafficking. Over 500,000 Filipino women are estimated to be victims of prostitution.

Women’s Liberation

In the end, the liberation of women can only come with the overthrowing of the dominant social order which maintains the feudal-patriarchal system and ties down women to oppression. At the same time, such social transformation cannot happen without the involvement of women.

According to Lucia Francisco, Gabriela Women’s Party National Vice-Chairperson, women are still faced with the momentous challenge of strengthening women’s organizations, raising women’s consciousness of their conditions and its social roots, and mobilizing women to become active agents of social change.

“This 103rd International Working Women’s Day, the Filipino women are one in opposing the anti-people policies of the Noynoy Aquino regime that deprive the  people of food on the table, decent livelihood, and accessible social services like health and education,” said Francisco.

“We continue to demand for the right to just wages and decent jobs for women. We continue to oppose all forms of discrimination and violence against women and push for more equal treatment of women in society and in the family,” she adds.

The struggle of Filipino women for their rights and welfare and for genuine democracy and national liberation therefore continues to be relevant in this era of the supposed “mainstreaming” of gender issues and women empowerment.

[i] Some pro-women legislation passed from the 1990s decade onwards include Republic Act 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women Act of 2008, Republic Act 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act of 2004, and Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, among others.

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