MANILA, Philippines – Alongside the chants protesting violence against women and children, there is a tone of celebration too.
In Mendiola, catchy drum beats accompanied representatives from different labor groups as they gathered Friday, March 8, to mark the 102nd celebration of International Women’s Day. The hundred-strong crowd waved flags and banners and chanted their signature slogans, calling for concrete actions to end discrimination and violence against women.
But the rally was a celebration of victories too, with women’s groups hailing the passage of the controversial reproductive health law, the Kasambahay bill, and the ratification of Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. They said these milestones showed a promise of progress in improving the conditions of women in the country.
Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) youth coordinator Nice Coronacion said this year’s demonstration celebrates the achievements of the women’s movement and reinforces their commitment to keep pushing for gender equality.
But the fight is far from over. Despite the successful passage of the RH law – after fierce opposition from the Catholic Church and more than a decade languishing in legislative chambers – the implementing rules and regulations are yet to be promulgated.
“We stage demonstrations to push for the basic rights we have not yet achieved,” Coronacion said. “At the same time, we do this to maintain the momentum on what we have done so far.”
A persistent issue: Violence
Although themes for women’s day vary every year, one particular issue persists: violence against women. Coronacion said the call to protect women is repeated every year because of the difficult systemic and behavioral changes needed to effect change.
In her message for International Women’s Day 2013, UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet said ending violence requires “changing attitudes and making headway towards equal rights, equal opportunities and equal participation, especially in decision-making.”
“Discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century,” she added.
Women’s groups in the Philippines noted a worrying trend: despite numerous laws to protect women and children, cases continue to increase.
According to the Center for Women’s Resources, there were 5,180 reported cases of rape in 2012, which translates to a woman or child being raped every hour.
CWR also reported 11,531 cases of domestic violence in 2012, translating to about one case every 45 minutes and 25 seconds.
Women’s group Gabriela also reported that of the 471 cases reported to the organization from January to September 2012, 42 involve abuse by “men in authority” – members of the military, police, judges, diplomats, priests and politicians in power.
Marlene Sindayen of APL said the current measures to protect women lack teeth.
“Most people are not aware that there are laws to protect women and children,” she said. “Worse, cases like rape are still blamed on the woman. We need gender-sensitive officials to help women especially at the barangay level.”
Aside from calling for an end to violence, protesters also want an end to gender discrimination.
Several international organizations say it’s good to be a Filipina – the Philippines ranks among the top 10 gender-friendly nations in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2012 Global Gender Gap Index.
The report showed the Philippines in the Top 10 countries with female legislators, senior officials, and number of years with a female head of state.
A more recent report released March 7 by global auditing firm Grant Thornton showed the Philippines ranking first in terms of share of female corporate executives in senior positions.
The WEF report though noted gender gaps still exist in economic and labor participation.
Although the figures were encouraging, Coronacion said women are still limited by patriarchal power structures.
“If you look at the power structure in the basic unit of society – the family – it’s still dominated by the male figure,” she said. “Wives and daughters still defer to the male authority. They still ask for permission to do things they should be free to do on their own.”
Women’s issues in 2013 polls
The March 8 celebration also became a venue to talk politics and the May 2013 elections.
Several politicians made an appearance in the Gabriela rally in Liwasang Bonifacio, among them Bayan Muna Rep Teddy Casiño and former Antique Gov Salvacio Perez, who read a statement sent by Sen Loren Legarda. Both Casiño and Legarda are running for the Senate in May. Team PNoy candidates Sen Koko Pimentel and Grace Poe also sent representatives to the event.
Leaders of labor sectors in APL’s Mendiola rally acknowledged the importance of the upcoming polls in advancing women’s issues if the right leaders are elected.
But they also warned against politicians who woo voters with big words and empty promises.
“Some politicians might jump on the women’s rights bandwagon in a bid to gain voters,” Coronacion said.
“What is important for us are their plans and platforms. We will support them if their proposals carefully consider the impact on women,” she added. -- Rappler.com