Uphold our rights, women tell male-dominated Congress

Fritzie Rodriguez
Uphold our rights, women tell male-dominated Congress
'Even if we’re not the majority, our voice can still be powerful. So we need to shout it out, so other members of the Congress can hear us.'

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines’ male-dominated Congress should pass more laws that uphold women’s rights, advocates said as the Philippines marks 18 “days of activism against gender violence.”

“If there are more of us, we can push for women’s agenda better,” said the chairperson of the House committee on women and gender equality, Bulacan 4th District Representative Linabelle Villarica.

“Even if we’re not the majority, our voice can still be powerful,”  added Emmeline Verzosa, executive director of the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW). “So we need to shout it out, so other members of the Congress can hear us.” 

Villarica and Verzosa spoke on Tuesday, November 25, in an event that highlighted the role of legislators – women and men alike – in pushing for equality and empowerment.

Titled “Moving Forward with Women’s Rights,” the event came as the Philippines marks 18 days against gender violence – beginning with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25 and ending with the Anti-Trafficking Day on December 12. (READ: PH laws: Not a man’s world)

During Tuesday’s event, the advocates aired their concerns as women remain a minority in Congress. Only 27% of lawmakers in the 16th Congress are women. Of the 57 standing committees, only 7 are chaired by women.

Villarica added there is a lack of participation among legislators, women and men alike. “There are 48 members in this committee, but we see only a small number of active members attending, two of whom are males.”


Women in Congress, however, have not always been vocal about their cause.

“In the beginning, a lot of women in Congress were reluctant to speak upon women’s issues,” recalled Rina Jimenez David, a journalist and women’s rights advocate. “They felt that they were in a learning curb. They didn’t want to highlight a special status as women. They wanted to earn their credibility as legislators first.”

This was after the EDSA Revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

David recalled how a certain man in Philippine politics also helped their advocacy. “He was the honorary feminist in the House,” she quipped. It was the late Senator Raul Roco, who authored laws on women in nation-building, anti-sexual harassment, anti-rape, and child and family courts.

Eventually, David said, the post-EDSA Congress saw a “remarkable series of laws addressing gender-based discrimination,” including violence against women and children, and exploitative practices.

These changes came not only through government’s efforts, but more importantly, through collaboration with non-governmental organizations and women’s groups.

Here are some of the landmark laws on women the country has seen in the past years:

  • 1989: Law against discrimination against women in the workplace (RA 6725)
  • 1990: Anti-mail order bride law (RA 6955)
  • 1990: Law establishing daycare centers to every municipality and barangay (RA 6972)
  • 1991: Women in nation-building law (RA 7192)
  • 1995: Law providing assistance to women in micro enterprises (RA 7882)
  • 1995: Anti-sexual harassment law (RA 7877)
  • 1997: Law redefining crime of rape (RA 8353)
  • 1998: Law providing assistance and protection to rape victims (RA 8505)
  • 2000: Solo parent’s welfare (RA 8972)
  • 2003: Anti-trafficking in persons (RA 9208)
  • 2004: Anti-VAWC law (9262)
  • 2009: Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710)
  • 2012: Responsible parenthood and reproductive health law (RA 10354)

David, however, warned that a lot of “discriminatory provisions” in existing laws can still be used against women. Women’s rights advocates, alongside PCW, are calling for the revision or removal of these provisions — in addition to creating new laws.

The women’s legislative agenda for the 16th Congress, for one, includes efforts to enact a magna carta for women in the informal economy, and to revisit existing laws or pending bills on prostitution, marital infidelity, premature marriages, sexual harassment, and the Family Code.

Advocates also urged the government to look at the gender rights of “unserved populations” such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, young single parents, persons with disabilities, and ethnic groups.

Today’s male-dominated Congress, advocates added, can tap more legislators like Roco.

‘Mainstream gender’

“The major problem in Congress is that it hasn’t not mainstreamed gender equality in its work and processes,” Villarica argued. 

She shared that committee referrals of bills directly related to women are not always referred to the committee on women and gender equality. “There should be a joint referral, at least,” Villarica suggested.

She added that there used be to a lack of coordination between the House of Representatives and the Senate regarding counterpart bills. “But this is now being addressed. Hopefully this can help fast-track bills.”

Villarica cited the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as an example. She wants women issues to be given equal importance in the deliberation on the BBL. Villarica also wants an investigation into how the gender and development (GAD) budget is being spent by the government. 

“How come we cannot tell the exact amount of the GAD budget of the House?” she asked.

Women’s rights advocates within the Congress hope that significant progress can be made before the 16th Congress ends.

To achieve this, they advise the government to do more consultations with those affected the most by the lack of gender-responsive laws: Women. Rappler.com

Support the 18-day campaign to end violence against women. How can more people help? Tell us your ideas and stories. Send them to move.ph@rappler.com

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