Women in Governance

Article excerpt


(A speech delivered on March 8, 2005 at the U.P. Visayas during the celebration of the International Womens Day)

FILIPINA women, how far have we come? Have we advanced in governance, in access to power structures and positions of leadership?

How many women have occupied the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Office of the Ombudsman? Zero!

It appears that although a multitude of women work in public service, not many occupy positions of authority nor control. This inequality between women and men in the sharing of power at all levels of decision-making must be changed if we are to advance womens interests. The proverbial glass ceiling still exists, and it must be shattered. It is a creation of a male-dominated culture meant to hinder womens progress into the higher echelons of power; a deceitful impediment known as discrimination. As mandated by our Constitution, and as a party to many human rights treaties, our government is bound to eliminate discrimination against women, not only in law but also in practice.

A Century Of Struggle For Equal Rights

It is therefore fitting that as we celebrate Womens International Day, we find ourselves in the cradle of the countrys feminist movement. By Proclamation No. 622, Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared the Year 2005 as the Centennial Year of the Feminist Movement in the Philippines. According to research conducted for the commemoration of the Centennial, it was here in the Visayas, that women played a crucial role in womens quest for equal status and suffrage.

From the years 1909 and 1924, while most Filipinos existed in the belief that women were inferiors of men, a small group of women endured indifference, ridicule and contempt for daring to claim the right to be educated; to manage their own property and business without permission from their husbands; to earn a living under humane conditions, without prejudice to their motherhood; to vote for their own political leaders; and to run for public office themselves.

In 1905, a certain Concepcion Felix, had organized a group of women, that focused its work on social issues and the improvement of womens welfare, known as the the Asociacion Femenista Filipina. She circulated a letter calling for a meeting of all women. Many responded to this letter. One of them was an articulate young Ilongga named Pura Kalaw Villanueva. In 20 October of the following year, Pura convened a large gathering of women and organized the Asociacion Femenista Ilonga.

Asociacion Femenista Ilonga commenced what would become a 30-year long struggle for the right to vote, and the right to run for political office. It inspired the establishment of organizations like the National Federation of Womens Clubs in 1921 and the Philippine Association of University Women in 1928 whose foremost objectives included the passage of a law that would extend the right of suffrage to women.

Finally, their concerted action paid off. A provision was integrated into the 1935 Constitution, declaring that the right of suffrage a right previously exercised exclusively by male citizens "shall be extended to women, if in a plebiscite which shall be held for that purpose, not less than three hundred thousand women possessing the necessary qualifications shall vote affirmatively on the question."

On 30 April 1937, Plebiscite Day, 447,725 "yes" votes were counted. Leyte, Iloilo, and Cebu would bring in the biggest number. Even then, it seems there existed a tradition of political activism among the women of Negros.

Filipinas were the first women in Asia to be granted the right of suffrage. In a sense, Filipino women have always been at the forefront of the feminist movement. For instance, this right was granted in 1937, long before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 10 December 1948, which provided for the equality of men and women before the law and the prohibition on discrimination. …