Minding the Gap: PH Gender and Development Story

an information product for the Investigative Research in the Digital Environment subject

Zarah Zamora-Arroyo
student, Master of Digital Information Management
University of Technology Sydney

It cannot be denied that issues on gender are significant considerations in a nation’s development.  For one, gender equality is critical in achieving social and institutional change that leads to sustainable development. Shreds of evidence show that gender diversity in the workplace is a key business driver (Daniels, 2015). Women account for approximately half of the talent pool in any company or nation in general. Women’s potentials in contributing to nation building are widely acknowledged in various fields. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) acknowledges the issue and have included gender equality among its top five strategic drivers for its Strategy 2020 which states that “without harnessing the talents, human capital and economic potential of women, Asia’s goals of poverty reduction and sustainable development will not be met.” 

The gender and development scenario in the Philippines can be described as two sides of the same coin. There are intense contradictions in real-life situations, especially of women in the country. While data shows that there are women who have made a mark in the political arena, academe, professional endeavours, as well advancement in legislation, the other face of the coin reveals the grim reality of violence and abuse committed against women and different genders may it be physical, economic, and the like.

HERstory: The Past Revisited

Looking back in history, evidence shows that during the pre-colonial era, Filipino women are revered by the people in the community, having equal status with men. Unlike the women of neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, women could hold positions as religious leaders or “babaylan”, act as healers and seers, engage in trade, fight as warriors, and even inherit family property. It is interesting to note that even a famous Philippine folktale about the creation of humans narrates man and woman both came from the same piece of bamboo. However, all these changed drastically when the long history of Spanish colonialism embedded a highly patriarchal culture and ingested the concept of women as housemakers and submissive to men, as embodied by Maria Clara, a naive Filipino woman novel character. From then on, the Filipina (a term used which pertains to a woman of Philippine ethnicity) continuously struggles to go back to its matriarchal roots and of being equal with men. 

It took eighty-two years, in April 1937, when a special plebiscite gave Filipino women the right to vote, which is one of the fundamental and basic rights. Then, another breakthrough happened in 1986, when the Nation, through a People Power Revolution, ousted the twenty-one-year-old dictatorial rule of a male leader and elected a housewife and widow as its president. This made the Philippines one of the first Asian countries to have broken the glass ceiling, having elected two female presidents since its independence in 1898.

PH Global Gender Gap Milestone?

For the past five years, (2014 to 2018), the Philippines has been put in the spotlight due to its gender and development efforts, as shown in Figure 1 on the next page.  It has consistently been in the top ten rankings. Clearly, in the most recent data of the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) which benchmarks the progress and reveals best practices made in terms of gender equality of 149 countries, the Philippines ranks 8th overall. Based on the same report, no country has achieved parity, and only the top seven countries in the rankings have closed at least 80% of the gap. The Philippines is also the second country from the East Asia and Pacific region in the top 10 (next to New Zealand which is on the 7th place), and rises two spots, well nearly closing just under 80% of the overall gender gap, which according to the report, is the highest value for the country ever recorded by the Index. The Philippines has even surpassed well-developed countries such as Australia (39th), Singapore (67th), United Kingdom (15th), and also the United States (51st). 

Figure 1.Philippine Global Gender Gap Index Ranking for the Past Five Years

Image 1.The Global Gender Gap Index 2018

Source: Businessworld 181219GlobalGender_Final

The Global Gender Gap ranking is based on critical factors or subindices such as Economic Opportunity and Participation, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. Among these, the Philippines manages to narrow its Economic Participation and Opportunity gender gap due to increases in wage equality for similar work and women’s estimated earned income. It has also earned strong scores on closing the Political Empowerment gender gap. Aside from the fact of having two female presidents, it is noteworthy that the second highest ranking elected public official in the land is a female, Vice President Leni Robredo. On the other hand, its Educational Attainment gender gap remains fully closed.

A Closer Look at the PH Women Agenda (Agenda ni Juana)

While the Global Gender Gap results or the World Economic Forum indices have been promising for the past five years and has put the Philippines in the map, and in fact considered as the leading player in the international women’s arena as anchored on dynamic women’s movement (Anonuevo, 2000), how is the women’s agenda addressed from within? Is gender equality for real? There remains a high level of vulnerabilities to violence and glass ceilings in representation. This puts the gender-balance leadership and decision-making positions (both in private and public sectors) and women’s legislative agenda at the forefront of the national discourse. While there have been landmark laws passed over the last three decades and the legal framework on budgeting and planning to ensure gender mainstreaming, the implementation of most of these measures leaves much to be desired due to lack of political support or resources at various levels (Albert et al., 2017). Furthermore, some laws remain unamended, which in effect do more harm than good to women. Some of the significant laws that have a high impact on women’s welfare include the Magna Carta of Women (MCW, R.A. 9710), the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (R.A.10354), the Domestic Workers’ Act (R.A. 10361), the Anti- Child Pornography Act (R.A.9775), and the most recent one which is the Expanded Maternity Leave Act (R.A. 11210).  The Magna Carta of Women in 2009 is the overall framework which mandates non-discriminatory and pro-gender equality and equity measures to enable women’s participation in the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of policies, plans, and programs for national, regional, and local development. Some essential features of this law are the following: participation of women in high-level government positions including governing councils in the local level, penalising discrimination on the basis of gender, protection of women and children against violence, and expansion of coverage of maternity benefits which was just currently enacted into law, granting mothers of 105 days or over 3 months of paid maternity leave.

Looking into the legal environment, the Philippines can boast of the dynamism of the laws intended to promote gender equality.  However, there are some areas and specific industries where figures can attest close to equality conditions. For instance, the result of the 2019 National Elections, the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) re-launched the #AgendaNiJuana which reiterates the call for gender-responsive governance, gender-balanced leadership, and promotion of women’s political participation and representation in all spheres of society (PCW, 2019). The gender statistics in the next section narrates a different story.

Gender Stats 

A. Elections and Politics

Figure 2.  2019 Philippine National Elections Number of Voters by Gender

Females outnumber males by 1,789,844. Out of 60 million voters, 31, 816,797 are females and 30,026, 953, males.This is a good sign that PH women take into account the importance of voting.

Figure 3. Distribution of Elected Women and Men by Position in the National Level: 2016

There are only six (6) women senators out of twenty-four (24) senatorial seats for 17th Congress. Four (4) of which will serve until June 30, 2019, while the remaining two (2) will serve until June 30, 2022, which is 17%. The Senate figures are more volatile considering there are fewer positions. While in the House of Representatives, only 29% or 68 out of 238 seats are women while 71% or 170 are men. The low percentage reflects the poor representation of women in the legislative branch, which means only a few women propose bills, vote on laws, and speak on behalf of the women in the legislation.  

Figure 4.Distribution of Women and Men by Position in the Local Level, 2016

In the local level, the statistics are not much different. After the 2016 elections, 19 or 23.5% of governors are women while there is slight difference in the vice governors making up 17.5% or 14, while 377 or 23.2% of mayors, 295 or 19.8% of vice mayors, and 2,898 or 21.4% of councillors as shown in Figure 4 (previous page). Again, the local legislative landscape is male-dominated consequential to the top decision-making offices. This low turn-out of women in the top executive and legislative positions both in the national and local levels is not due to the voting public’s choice not to vote for women but instead because there are fewer women are entering electoral politics. 

B. Government Workforce

Employment in the government is desirable because of competitive benefits packages, especially on retirement and security of tenure as salaries are competitive, especially in the provinces or suburbs. Majority of the government workforce is female, knowing that most of them are public school teachers. Figure 5below shows the percentage of national government civil service employees who are female by level of career service in 2016.

Figure 5.2016 Percentage of National Government Civil Service Female Employees by Level of Career Service

Source: Civil Service Commission Report of Government Employees

Table 1.Total Percentage of National Government Civil Service Employees Who are Females by Level of Career Service, 2016

The percentage of civil service women employees in each level indicates a slight difference with the percentage of men in the first level at 46.8%, while it is higher for the second level positions at 66.9%. This can be attributed to the public school teachers in the Department of Education being females in the 2ndlevel. It can also be noted that Region 6 remains to be consistent of having the highest percentage of female government employees both in the 1stand 2ndlevel career service (Figure 5).

C. Education

The increasing school participation of girls and women is commendable, the gender disparity and learning in the country is driven by various educational, economic, and social factors, including motivational issues and learning expectations for boys and girls (David et al., 2009; David and Albert, 2015). While women tend to perform better in schools, this still has to be a cause for concern as the objective is for all children regardless of sex.

Image 2. Educational Status of Women and Men in the Philippines

Source: Philippine Statytistics Authoritah

 D. On Agriculture, Industry, and Services

Data sex disaggregation across sectors shows that the sexes are situated differently in the job market (Figure 6). 

Figure 6. Share of Employment by Sex Across Major Sectors in the Philippines 1995-2015

Working women are predominantly in the services sector accounting 71.0%. The rest of them are in the industry (10.0%) and agriculture sectors (19.0%). This has been a trend since the mid-1990s, with only a slightly lower percentage. Filipino women are more likely to be in white collar jobs as professionals and clerks with higher pay than men.  Women outnumber men in this category of professionals to a ratio of almost 2 to 1 (PSA, 2016 Women and Men Report).

Meanwhile, men outnumber women by a vast majority in work as labourers, farmers, trade and unskilled workers. Based on the same report, female-dominated industries are education, service activities, human health and social work, business and accommodation, and food services. It cannot also be denied, as numbers show that 90% of women are in the “activities of households” as carers of children, domestic helpers, and other home care services with minimum salaries. Moreover, there are inadequate earnings and poor conditions for women as self-employed and unpaid family work, which is 53% as against the 37.7% of wage and salary earners. But this also shows the unlimited possibilities for women to have regular incomes such as working overseas.

The overseas work landscape has also changed for the past decade due to the increasing demand for female workers. In the Survey on Overseas Filipino, Filipino women stats increased by 93 thousand from 764 thousand in 2006 to 857 thousand in 2007, which is 2% more than the number of male overseas workers.  The sex ratio among overseas Filipino workers is 104 males per 100 females.

Not All Is Fair

The Philippines may be leading the pack in Asia, being consistently in the top ten countries of the Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum. Indeed, while conditions of women are more favourable in the country than in any other place among Asian and Pacific countries, there are also other areas where it has failed to alleviate women’s conditions. The Philippines has failed 4 out of 17 indicators for the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations agenda. One out of the 17 SDGs is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” in the next 15 years. So far, the Philippines has been able to ensure that there is a balanced ratio of girls and boys in high school but not in the tertiary level according to the National Statistics Coordination Board. Girls are better in literacy rates and national achievement tests while boys are underperforming in school and are dropping out. But this, not the picture we want to create and absolutely not that of gender equality.

Being better-educated and having a larger income takes its toll on women as they are often expected to do full-time home and child-care duties aside from doing full-time work as a professional. This is a perfect example of multiple burdens among women, which explains that all is not fair in love at all. Research further shows that women who are highly paid are often in unequal partnerships, thus making women more vulnerable to domestic abuse. 

The social fabric has remained tainted by the arrogance of male power. Based on the preliminary findings of the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), one in four (26%) of married women aged 15-49 has experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence by their husband or partner. 

Despite the magnanimity of legislation to protect women and children against violence over the years, the reports are disappointing. Compared to 20.1% of women in 2008 aged 15-49 years old reporting having ever experienced physical violence at age 15, in 2013, the proportion stayed at 19.6% (Table 2). Sadly, most of this violence is at the hands of closest family members, partners, or parents. This can be attributed to the traditional belief that men are more powerful than women and that spanking is a form of discipline.

Table 2.Percentage of Women aged 15-49 who experienced physical and sexual violence since age 15, 2008 and 2013

Figure 7.Percentage of Women Age 15-49 Who Have Experienced Various Forms of physical  and Sexual Violence, by Current Age, 2017

Experience of violence in the home for both girls and boys can affect how they conduct themselves as adults, for this reason, any violence toward children should be cause for concern and is part of the reason why violence against women and children laws were passed.  Figure 7shows further some data on the type of violence women aged 15-49 experienced, captured in a more recent survey in 2017. This is alarming, considering that the statistics are far from decreasing.            

Ways Forward

Several challenges still remain in the promotion of gender equality and gender-responsive governance in the country. The Filipino woman may be fortunate enough to be in a community that has been very vigilant in fighting for equality, for she is not alone in this worthy cause. Numerous civic society groups are organised, pushing for gender-responsive reforms and are instrumental in the enacting of the laws that are supposed to protect women and assume their roles in society. 

The legal frameworks have been laid down, and several laws are still in the pipeline not just to protect women but as well as those of other gender orientations. Perseverance in continuously pushing for legislative work will enable women to reach their full potential, however difficult this may be, knowing that the Congress is male-dominated. Thus, legislators must be educated on the significance of gender equality in laws. It will still be a long game to play for females to participate in the highest level of decision-making in the legislature.

Giving women choices in pursuing careers beyond unpaid household work and dependence on their partners releases them from economic bondage. This will also address some abuses in relationships as well, enabling women to be partners rather than subordinates. Getting an equal share of the pie in household work, like home care and child-rearing, are simple but empowering ways to begin. Pass laws that would criminalise domestic violence and decriminalise prostitution to prevent the sexual exploitation of women just like in New South Wales, Australia. 

Strict implementation of laws and campaigns against sexual harassment in the workplace will encourage inclusivity and equal opportunities. This can be achieved by creating a culture where women have treated equals and with respect. Continuous training on gender sensitivity as well as the legal impediments of harassment may help in this aspect. Acknowledging women in various fields who have shown exceptional work, not because of their gender but because of their significant contributions, is a manifestation of gender mainstreaming. Eliminate gender stereotyping as well in the mass/social media and textbooks.

There is so much more to be done to close the gender gap, to protect and promote women’s rights, but there are concrete steps that have already been taken. Sustainable efforts through collaboration of the government and private sector are also evident.  A nation that does not take care, uphold the rights, and fully support women – is a nation that is not whole. (Angara, 2018). As the late Beatle John Lennon once said in his song entitled, Woman, “Women really are the other half of the sky.” It’s a ‘we’ or it ain’t anything.”  The Philippines is a good place for women to be in, despite it all. Being a woman in the Philippines is not so bad compared to the conditions borne by women in some neighbouring Asian countries. There is no one-child policy which favours sons, no bride price and other customs that put women at a disadvantage from birth and jeopardise their survival through adulthood, and so the story continues.


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