Written by Julius Ryan Umali.
With two female Presidents in tow, it looks like we can boast of being a country where women can aspire to serve in government and succeed. But the milestones aside, the current situation of women in Philippine government is wanting. With this year’s Women’s Month coming on the heels of an important national election, it is important that we consider how we can improve the quality of women’s participation in politics as we look at the important milestones as well as the current picture of how women fare in government.
In the much-celebrated People Power Revolution of 1986, a woman and self-proclaimed supportive wife ascended to the presidency to topple a two-decade dictatorship. Corazon Aquino, the first female president of the country, went on to be featured as TIME’s Woman of the Year. But she’s not the only woman to have been president of the Philippines. In another People Power Revolution fifteen years after, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rose to become the second woman president of the country. Before that, she was the first woman vice-president.
Long before these milestones, there was Elisa Rosales-Ochoa of Agusan, who ran and won a seat at the House of Representatives in 1941. This was four years after Filipino women overwhelmingly favored in a plebiscite the law that allows them to vote in elections. After independence (1947), it was the Pangasinense Geronima Tomelden-Pecson’s turn to become a first―as first woman senator of the Republic. She eventually became the first woman to become a member of UNESCO’s executive board.
But the strides that women made in government are not limited to the executive or the legislative. As early as 1913, Natividad Almeda-Lopez became the first woman to be admitted to the Philippine Bar and practice law. She went on to become the first female judge in 1931, six years before the country voted to allow women to vote. In 1973, Cecilia Muñoz-Palma rose the ranks to become the first female justice of the Supreme Court, and in 2012, Maria Lourdes Sereno was appointed to become the first female Chief Justice in the country. She is also the only female Chief Justice in Southeast Asia.
These big names aside, a more modest account of women in government can be had from the most recent (2014) figures from the Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA). Looking at these figures, we can see where the quality of women’s participation should be improved.
Women occupy only one-fifth (20%) of all elective positions in the country. That’s a meager 3,360 positions for women versus the whopping 13,407 for men. From the highest to the lowest levels of government, men outnumber women in elective positions, but the greatest disparity exists in the position of vice-governor, where men outnumber women by 58 seats. In the Senate, 25% or 6 of 24 seats are occupied by women; in the House of Representatives, its 26%, or 60 of 234 seats.
If men outnumber women in elective positions, women outshine men in their sheer number as government personnel―59% of the total. There are also more women (70.8% of all women personnel) serving in national agencies relative to other levels, compared to men (56.2% of all men personnel). But the most remarkable is the fact that 93.3% of all women personnel serve in career positions, versus just 84% among the men. This means that more women are in permanent positions, versus those among men.
Quality trumps quantity
Is electing more women in office the solution? Quantity does matter, but the ultimate measure of success is that they can meaningfully participate in politics and government. This means not merely being in government, but more importantly, it means making a more lasting impact on their fellow women.
Julius Ryan Umali is an alumnus of the University of the Philippines Diliman. This article was first published on the University of the Philippines Halalan 2016 blog and can be found here. Image credit: Wikipedia Commons.