Why The Philippines Needs Girl Power (And The Feminist Movements That Are Fighting The Good Fight)
For International Women's Day, why not find out how to support the groups fighting for women empowerment in your area?
While reading up on feminist groups in the Philippines for this article, I came across a thread on Quora titled “Why is there no feminist movement in the Philippines?” The top answers stated in a matter-of-fact manner that quite simply, the country just doesn’t need feminism. (Needless to say, these answers were from men.)
As a writer who has interviewed many women who advocate for equality in the country, I found the thread baffling and infuriating. Yes, it’s true that the Philippines has been long hailed as one of the most egalitarian countries in Asia. The country has consistently ranked as one of the top 10 most gender equal countries in the world in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report since 2006, when the report first launched.
But these reports barely scratch the surface of the average Filipino woman’s reality.
Top politicians in the country trivialize sexual violence with rape jokes on the regular. From 2013 to 2016, over 27,000 cases of gender-related crimes were reported to the Philippine National Police. And in the deeply conservative Philippines, breaking out of traditional gender roles is still often seen as transgressive.
4 Things Feminist Groups in the Philippines Are Fighting Against
While much progress has been made over the recent years when it comes to women’s safety, there is still much to be done. Here are just some of the gender-related issues in the Philippines today, as well as a few of the groups that are doing something about it — click the links to learn more about how you can support their cause.
1. Sex trafficking
Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, yet the country has gained a reputation as a hotbed for sex tourism. It’s been estimated that 800,000 men, women and children work in the Philippine sex trade.
Some sex workers enter the industry by their own volition, but many Filipino sex workers are victims of trafficking and illegal recruitment. From 2017 to 2018, DSWD cases of involuntary prostitution increased by 107.7%.
Who to support
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific: “The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women is an international network of feminist groups, organizations, and individuals fighting the sexual exploitation of women globally.”
Called to Rescue: “Called To Rescue is a non-profit worldwide organization given to rescuing minor children from sex trafficking, violence, and abuse.”
International Justice Mission: “We partner with Philippine officials and international law enforcement agencies to identify and rescue children who are being sexually exploited in footage broadcast online.”
2. Unavailability of contraceptives, sex education
The Reproductive Health Law — which guarantees universal access to contraceptives, sexual education, and maternal care — was passed in 2012, yet its implementation was suspended and stalled due to objections from deeply religious groups. In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order accelerating the RH Law’s implementation, but many continue to protest against its implementation.
Seven years after the RH Law’s passing, teenage pregnancy is still high — according to statistics, one in 10 women aged 15-19 has already begun childbearing. From 2010 to 2016, HIV cases in the Philippines has more than doubled, from 4,300 to 10,500.
Who to support
Family Planning Organization of the Philippines: “For 40 years now, FPOP has not wavered in its desire to help improve the quality of life of Filipinos… FPOP has emerged to become the leading reproductive health care service provider and sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate in the country today.”
The Forum for Family Planning & Development Inc.: “The Forum is a leading voice in the advocacy of national policies on population management, health, nutrition, and family welfare and in the provision of universal access to information and service for all Filipinos especially the poor and the youth.”
3. Inequality in positions of leadership
Only 7% of the top 1000 companies in the country are headed by female CEOs. And when you factor in those who actually made it to the top through their own merit (i.e. not because they were related to the owner), that percentage is even lower. In the government, only 21.5% of elective positions are held by women.
There are several reasons behind this inequality, such as traditional gender roles in the family, women’s lack of assertiveness in the workplace, and women’s risk aversion. AirAsia Inc. Philippines CEO Maan Hontiveros says that this is why companies should make a conscious effort to address the inequalities. “It must be driven from the top,” Hontiveros says. “And it must be measured.”
Who to support
Filipina CEO Circle (FCC): “FCC is focused on encouraging Filipinas in the workplace to achieve their full potential and pursue their ambitions to head and lead their organizations”
Gabriela Women’s Party: “Gabriela Women’s Party is a sectoral party dedicated to promoting the rights and welfare of marginalized and under-represented Filipino women through participation in the country’s electoral system and organs of governance.”
In 2017, it was reported by the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) that one woman or child is raped every hour. According to the CWR, there were 7,037 reported rape cases nationwide in 2016. That number by itself is depressing, but what’s even more disheartening is the fact that the number still doesn’t show us just how big the problem is — because of the stigma linked with rape, many rape victims choose not to report attacks to authorities.
“As long as there are people and institutions that trivialize rape, normalize sexual violence, embolden perpetrators, and put the blame on women, rape culture will continue to persist,” says the Philippine Commission on Women.
Who to support
Grrrl Gang Manila: “Grrrl Gang Manila aims to create a safe, non-judgemental space for women in the Philippines to discuss the issues that affect them.”