In worldwide observance of International Women’s Day held annually on March 8, the National Women’s Month Celebration (NWMC) was commemorated throughout the month of March in the Philippines. The theme for this year, “WE Make Change Work For Women,” marks the first celebration under the current administration, which aims to highlight “partnership for change and full implementation of the Magna Carta of Women or Republic Act 9710.”
Throughout history, women have long been subjected to oppression and inequality by societies all over the world. International Women’s Day first surfaced from labor movements in North America and across Europe in the early 20th century. Since then, International Women’s Day has been celebrated to give recognition to contributions of women to society in fields such as politics, health, and education, among others.
State of women’s rights in the Philippines
NWMC is supervised by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), the national machinery for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Throughout March, NWMC organized activities that not only promoted and raised awareness of issues that pertain to women’s rights, but also honored the plight of women’s rights movements across the world.
In his first State of the Nation Address, President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his support for the full implementation of the Magna Carta of Women to ensure that men and women will work hand in hand for the country’s economic, socio-cultural, and political developments. On the celebration of International Women’s Day, the president regarded women as “heroes,” and characterized them as having “vital roles in Philippine society.”
However, Duterte has been notorious for making comments on women, which have landed him in local and international headlines, a streak that perhaps started with his joke on the rape of an Australian woman.
Some other instances include his speech in front of a crowd of survivors of Typhoon “Yolanda” last November, where he jokingly narrating his malicious glancing at Vice President Leni Robredo’s legs during meetings. Duterte defended himself, explaining that such remarks were only given “to make the mood lighter.”
Another incident which caused controversy was the president’s issue with then Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, a strong and vocal critic of Duterte’s administration. De Lima, together with Senator Risa Hontiveros, recently lambasted the president who continues to blame the media for the said “wrong perception” of him by the public. During a public interview, Hontiveros stated that the issue should not be tolerated, but rather should be “confronted and resisted.”
Recently, the Malacañang Palace released a statement calling on all women to be more understanding towards Duterte, most especially regarding his catcalling and “sexist” comments. Assistant Communications Secretary Marie Banaag commented on the issue, stating that on the month dedicated to women, people should have a “forgiving heart.”
Despite this, Hon. Ma. Lucille Nava, Representative of the Lone District of Guimaras, believes that women’s rights are currently in a good position in the country. In an interview with The LaSallian, she contends that women are exceptionally empowered considering their achievements.
“We have past [female] presidents already. We have right now in Congress, 93 lady legislators. So, I think there’s a big chance [for women’s rights to take hold in the country,]” she contends. “If we compare [ourselves] with other countries, I think we (Filipinos) are so passionate about the rights of women. There are lots of legislations that are upcoming, protecting women’s rights so I think that [we are] at par or more [in a better position than] other countries.”
On sexual harassment
One of NWMC’s core activities which aim to educate various stakeholders of issues on women’s rights is manifested in a campaign by Gabriela Youth entitled “SHOut Now!” or “Sexual Harassment Out Now!” It is a series of forums held in DLSU that call to end sexual harassment in educational institutions. The campaign was spearheaded by the likes of District Representative of Guimaras Hon. Lucille Nava and DIWA Partylist Representative Hon. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar.
Matters regarding Violence Against Women (VAW), Anti-Sexual Harassment Act, and the currently proposed amendments were at the heart of discussion by the speakers. The proposed amendments, according to Atty. Kathy Manguban, aim to expand the coverage of sexual harassment in the workplace including peer-to-peer sexual harassment and those experienced by female bosses.
According to Deputy Secretary General of Gabriela Youth of University of the Philippines Manila Jo Lapira, VAW exists due to a number of reasons including those that are embedded in a patriarchal culture and society. The impunity in VAW cases is also the reason for its increase in number despite the implementation of more than 37 executive and administrative orders that aim to protect women and children.
Lapira adds that students can opt to participate in gatherings, activities, and programs within or outside the campus that aim to address issues of women. She also encourages school administrations to prevent and deter acts of sexual harassment by establishing a unit that addresses these cases.
“Only through collective action can women fight the abuse and violence they experience. Because collective action is key, we encourage young women to join women’s organizations or establish women’s desks in organizations and institutions inside the campus,” she remarks.
Meanwhile, DLSU student Angelo Chupeco (II, BS-CHE) explains that the celebration should highlight the discrimination and sexism women receive. “Their potential to affect the world can only be fully realized when they are given equal opportunity to do what they are capable of doing,” he asserts.
Tyanna Flores (II, AB-ISE) comments that not even all women were aware that such a celebration was happening, and explains that she only was informed through social media. Flores also expresses her sentiments on the recognition of the event. “It’s a celebration of how far we’ve gone to break out of the little bubble we were expected to be in, and a reminder to continue our efforts in making the world a better place,” she concludes.