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Women and the Political Process

June 5, 2013

Women and the Political Process

Charles Parsons Historical Ballroom

US Embassy

5 June 2013

The role of women in our society has continuously evolved through the years. As more women have gained access to education, more have also joined the workforce, even participating in work and activities previously considered exclusive for the male populace.

In the Philippines, women have been part of the political process many decades ago not only as voters but also as leaders elected to government posts. We have had two women presidents and we had our first woman senator in 1947. Furthermore, the incoming 16th Congress will see the most number of female legislators in the Philippine Senate with six lady senators.

Women empowerment has been the call of leaders and various women’s rights groups in almost every part of the world. The Philippine Senate has crafted many gender-sensitive laws as well as measures that uphold the rights of women.

One of the serious challenges in our society relative to gender is violence against women.

Based on official figures compiled by the Philippine Commission on Women, the number of cases of violence against women (VAW) reported to the Philippine National Police rose from 3,687 cases in 1997 to 15,104 cases in 2010. Although there was a slight decrease in 2011, with 12,948 cases of VAW reported to PNP, we take note of the fact that there are many thousands more left unreported as some victims would rather avoid the stigma of public ridicule.

The United Nations categorizes violence against women as the most pervasive human rights violation. It can come in the form of physical violence, sexual exploitation, trafficking in women, emotional abuse, rape, discrimination in the workplace, sexual harassment, among others.

We crafted measures to put a stop to these forms of violence. In 2003, we have successfully ushered the passage of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, and a year later, the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act was enacted into law. We also pushed for the passage of the Magna Carta of Women to ensure that the rights of women are guaranteed by the State.

We recognize the significant efforts being undertaken by the Philippine government to curb violence against women, particularly those related to human trafficking, which is why the US government upgraded the Philippines’ status from “Tier 2 Watch List” to “Tier 2”, which means that the government is doing significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards stated under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

We can do more and better than this, especially with the recent enactment into law of the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act. We worked hard for the passage of this measure and we have ensured stronger efforts against human trafficking through this law.

As perpetrators become more innovative in their actions, so should our government be more deliberate in its efforts to strengthen policies, improve on enforcement, and enhance inter-agency coordination, both at the local and international level. Thus, the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act covers attempted trafficking and accessory or accomplice liability; provides protection to trafficked victims; and establishes a permanent Secretariat to the country’s anti-trafficking efforts, among other strengthened provisions. Through this law, the days of human traffickers are already numbered.

I am also pleased to share with you that the Domestic Workers Act or Batas Kasambahay was finally enacted early this year. This is a major step in according decent working conditions, fair compensation, and sufficient benefits to almost two million Filipino domestic workers in the country most of whom are women.

These laws have undergone the arduous process of legislation, some even taking several congresses to be enacted. The Domestic Workers Act was a measure I first filed during my first term in 1998 and it took almost 15 years to become a law.

The presence of women legislators in the Philippine Senate has been helpful in creating a more gender-sensitive congress and in uplifting the plight of women through legislation.

For instance, the relation of gender to climate change is an issue that we want to address.

Women and girls account for 52% of the world’s population, over 100 million of which are affected by disasters annually.

According to a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, women made up 90% of the 140,000 people who died in a 1991 hurricane in Bangladesh. African-American women made up the majority of those killed and injured by Hurricane Katrina in the United States, and in the 2006 tsunami that killed scores in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, male survivors outnumbered the female survivors, in a 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 ratio.

During these times of disaster and economic stress, women are the primary caregivers as well. They bear the burden of caring for the sick. They also carry out much of the household workload in the aftermath.

Despite these, women have been silently and effectively on the frontline of disaster prevention and climate change adaptation efforts.

It was never easy to push for measures on climate change adaptation especially because climate change used to be an alien subject, a phenomenon that was considered best left to scientists who understood it better. But I had to make the people and even my fellow legislators understand that climate change affects our lives and our most fundamental needs. It is an all-encompassing threat to our basic human rights—food, potable water, shelter, decent livelihood and life itself.

To address these issues, we have legislated the Climate Change Act of 2009, the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, and the People’s Survival Fund Law to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce disaster risks in our communities.

Women are powerful agents of change and their presence in the legislative process is crucial to building a more harmonious society. But legislation is just one phase in the overall effort to uplift the plight of Filipino women and achieve gender equality and women empowerment. Our laws need to be strictly and faithfully implemented.

Women leaders serve as inspiration to the female populace. But more than that, we are here to empower all women, who are agents of solutions, indispensable holders of valuable knowledge and skills, and able leaders from the grassroots level to the global stage.

Thank you and good day.