Cover Artwork by Kryss Rubio

The Philippines stands as one of the highest-ranked countries in terms of the gender parity. Yet, here’s why we should celebrate—but also question—the veracity of this report

The Philippines is renowned for a plethora of reasons, among which is a surprising, yet hopeful, reason to get excited.

Among the majority of Southeast Asian nations (and countries across the globe), the Philippines stands proud as one of best-ranked in terms of gender parity. Our matriarchal system has put us above the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in terms of gender parity. It’s an important win—one that finds its roots back in the pre-colonial era.

“In my experience, the Philippines has indigenous roots in matriarchal systems,” Clarissa Delgado, educator and CEO of Teach for the Philippines, explains. “As a disclaimer, it's hard to paint a brush across the 7,600 islands of diverse ethnicities and ethnolinguistic heritages. Still, perhaps there is enough to say that many were and remain matriarchies.”

Unlike most other countries in Southeast Asia, pre-colonial Filipino women were given the opportunity to engage in trade, fight as warriors, and even hold positions as babaylans [spirit guide] or religious leaders. Even the popular Visayan creation myth, Sicalac and Sicavay, finds the first man and woman borne from the same bamboo stalk. In this legend, woman was not created for nor after man, rather both were seen as equal partners in creation.

Despite the centuries-long colonisation of the country, the Philippines seems to have kept this ideal fairly intact. As with all societies, nothing is perfect, but for 2021, the country finds itself ranked with the same score as France on the Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR).

Published by the World Economic Forum, the GGGR assesses the scores of over 150 countries in terms of gender parity. This is according to four main aspects that include economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment, and health and survival. The Philippines ranked as 18, 39, 34, 33 out of 156 countries respectively, earning a total ranking of 17 out of 156. 

Of course, having been standardised, the report lacks the nuance of Filipino culture, as experienced by those who live in the community. Not everyone may feel the high ranking that the GGGR has granted our society; and while the numbers for 2021 are encouraging, the current pandemic is another determining factor for the possible widening of the gender gap.

See also: International Women's Month: 11 Filipino Women Who Made History

Women in the Philippines

According to the GGGR, the Philippines has virtually closed both gaps relating to educational attainment and health and survival. In fact, the report shows that women are more likely to be enrolled in secondary and tertiary education than men. “Typically in the Philippines, boys drop out at a faster rate than girls,” Delgado says. “If anything, we can discuss having stronger male role models who highlight and celebrate completing their education.”

Our women’s educational advantage seems to be translating well into labour participation too. In the Philippines, 50.5 per cent of legislators, senior officials, and managers are women, leaving the rest (49.5 per cent) to the men. Sixty-nine point two per cent (69.2%) of firms have female majority ownership, while only 30.8 per cent are male-majority. A 2002 article by Wilson Lee Flores points to a proud bevvy of female business leaders such as National Book Store founder, Socorro C. Ramos, Rustan’s matriarch, Gliceria Tantoco, and Ayala matriarch, Mercedes Zobel McMicking.

Speaking on her own experience, Tatler Philippines Managing Director, Irene Martel-Francisco says: “I never really had to think of myself as a female or male business owner. I was [simply] comfortable in doing [my job] so I never really looked at it as a challenge.” Having started as an entrepreneur at the tender age of 19, Martel-Francisco has gained the business savvy that comes from years of leadership: at restaurants, commercial malls, and now in lifestyle. “I never thought [to myself]: what would a man do in my place?”

Despite this, both Delgado and Martel-Francisco admit that much needs to be done in order to truly close the gender gap in the Philippines. For one, GGGR points to the lack of women in “parliament and ministerial positions”. Though the country has already had two female presidents, the majority of politicians still remain to be men. “Many of the senior managers that I meet, even up to CFO roles, are women. Our Lower and Upper Houses also have representation. However, I will point out that Board roles and CEO positions are still predominantly male-dominated,” Delgado adds.

Sectors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are currently still male-dominated. The pandemic doesn’t help to close these gaps either, and the added burden of gender stereotypes and expectations will only further the divide.

“The pandemic is going to impact a lot of mothers,” Martel-Francisco points out. “It’s [usually] going to be the woman who stays home to rear the children and take care of education. And the man will most likely carry on with a job. [In fact], I know several career women who have made the decision to stay home and help their children with online learning.”

Equity and Expectations

It seems clear that despite the Philippines’ high rank, there is still much that can be done in order to protect and provide for our Filipinas. “Equity extends to the home, not just the workplace,” Delgado points out.

Aside from the expectation that mothers will automatically be their children’s educator and caretaker amid the pandemic, the Teach for the Philippines CEO also points to other unfair perspectives that impact our women. “Mental and emotional burdens on women are under-discussed,” she says. “[There is] an expectation that to be understanding is to be a woman. At home or in the workplace, others can be disorganised or unreasonable, but women should know better and be the bigger person. I would very seriously challenge all of us to broaden these expectations of responsibility to all adults regardless of gender.”

There are also very stereotypical, limiting beliefs about gender norms; this is perhaps best encapsulated by the Maria Clara-esque attitudes that are expected of Filipino women. “I hope that new examples of Filipinas, like Hidilyn Diaz, Nesthy Petecio, and Margielyn Didal can help push us towards an understanding that a woman’s worth can come from what she can do rather than what she looks like,” Delgado says.

See Also: Hidilyn's Gold Win: Why It Means More To Filipinos Than You'd Think

While it’s a proud moment for Filipinos to be able to celebrate a gender triumph, it’s obvious that much more needs to happen in order for us to truly close the gender gap. It’s no surprise, however, that this will likely take some time (and plenty of adjustment on the part of our collective consciousness). For today, we celebrate how far Filipinas have come. Tomorrow, we continue to fight for them.

See also: Filipina "It" Girls: 5 Empowered Young Women To Know This 2021

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