As part of their International Women’s Month series, the Center for Social Concern partnered with St. Scholastica’s College (SSC) to discuss the role of women in Philippine democracy in Usapang Babae, Usapang Botante: A Forum on the Women’s Vote last March 25 via Facebook live.
A new form of leadership
SSC Vice President of External Affairs Sr. Mary John Mananzan, a pioneer of Asian feminist theology and an activist for over 50 years, opened the panel with a discussion on women’s potential to lead which she called “transformative women leadership”.
The country needs leadership that is rooted in feminist values, Mananzan said, asserting that a good alternative to the current leadership should challenge the status quo—that is, the patriarchy that “glorifies domination, control, violence, competitiveness, and greed.”
“It dehumanizes men as well, as much as it denies women their whole humanity,” she added.
Mananzan explained that transformative women leadership removes centuries-old sex-role responsibilities where men are portrayed as “macho”, while women are viewed as “subordinate.” Women must develop healthy self-esteem to challenge how they are “socialized” as secondary to men.
Men, meanwhile, can also internalize feminist values of equality, justice, and nonviolence. Following this, Mananzan openly expressed her dismay at the current administration’s handling of human rights violations, saying, “Napaka-importante ‘yung value of human rights kasi kung hindi mo rerespetuhan (sic) ang human rights ng tao, anong klaseng society mayroon ka?”
(The value of human rights is important because if you do not respect the people’s human rights, then what kind of society do you have?)
However, Mananzan also pointed out that simply being a woman in position is not enough. Dr. Ronald Holmes, Chairperson of DLSU Commission on National Issues and Concerns and President of Pulse Asia Research, presented how the number of female voters, candidates, and elected officials in the Philippines have significantly increased over the years. While female participation is important, more women in positions of power “does not necessarily translate into these leaders…acting on women’s issues” unless they become transformative women leaders first, he reasoned.
‘Giving them a chance’
During the open forum, SSC Institutional Social Action Director Rebecca Marquez emphasized voter registration and education among the youth and women, while Holmes emphasized the need for transformative leaders.
“When we vote for people whose actions are more or less aligned with our own values and aspirations, then our vote will be rational,” he explained.
However, he elaborated that politicians abandoning their campaign promises make voters question the former’s ability to represent them, pointing out how some female lawmakers would oppose measures on Sexual Orientation and Gender Equality and divorce.
Asked why it took so long for women’s rights to be recognized, Holmes explained that gender inequality began during the Spanish occupation and continued even during the American occupation when only men had the right to suffrage.
Marquez added that the role of women in the past was also diminished, placing women at the bottom of the hierarchical structure.
“I think we would have to empower more women to be able to push for women’s issues, and women should start that with the help of men,” she recommended. “We will have to go into a lot of learning and unlearning in relation to how we would look at things because most women carry the male perspective.” Education on the gender dynamics and stereotypes present in social institutions such as family, education, and religion is also needed.
In the political space, Marquez cited the successes of women leaders in Taiwan and New Zealand in pandemic control as an example of how women can succeed in positions of power. “We have the leadership capacity, it is a matter of giving them (women) a chance.”
Moving forward, she explained that change starts at the community level in schools and families where discriminating behavior can be removed and raise awareness.
“If we can change it within the small community that we have, which later will radiate to the bigger community, you correct it,” Marquez concluded. “We will have to start. I think that is the most important.”