[page-number of print ed.: 18]

4. The Filipino Women’s Movement in Contemporary Times

After the GABRIELA split, women’s organizations pursued the women’s issue in different directions. Corazon Aquino was installed as president in February 1986 (through a popular uprising known as the EDSA revolution) and quite a significant number of the organizations took upon themselves the task of promoting women-responsive policies and programs.

Groups such as Women Involved in Nation-Building (WIN) and the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DWSP) were established during the early years of the Aquino administration. WIN was formed on March 8, 1987 as a group asserting for the recognition of the women’s role in strengthening democracy and advancing economic and social progress. One of its major initial activities was the organization of a nationwide training on "The Filipino Women’s Guide to Winning Elections in the 90s" which was conducted in June 1991. Such initiative was not sustained in the following years but WIN developed other projects such as the Orientation of women’s issues for the Beijing Platform of Action (BPFA) and women and health trainings for local government officials. WIN also gave out a "Women in Nation-Building Award" and coordinated and networked with other women’s groups. 20

The Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DWSP) was also found in March 1987 as a national federation of women’s organizations which sought to address not only gender but class and national issues as well. As a partner organization of the Partido Democratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas or PDSP (Philippine Democratic Socialist Party), DSWP has been allotted a seat in the PDSP Central Committee and participates in PDSP decision-making process. DSWP has been extending technical assistance and livelihood programs to its chapters and has launched a project to increase participation of women grassroots leaders in politics. The latter has included activities such as education and training on women’s political participation, leadership skills training and crash courses on public speaking. 21

One major effort of women’s groups immediately after EDSA was the lobby for gender concerns to become integral to the formulation of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. An alliance between among organizations and coalitions, namely, the Concerned Women of the Philippines, Women’s Caucus, GABRIELA and the PILIPINA-led Lakas ng Kababaihan (Strength of Women) was formed for this purpose. For the first time, this alliance gathered women coming from all sides of the political spectrum. Simultaneous to lobbying and pressure politics, allies like Belinda Aquino and Justice Cecilia Munoz-Palma who were members of the Constitutional Commission pushed for the women’s agenda.

Only a provision recognizing "women’s equality with men before the law" was agreed upon by the Commission. Women’s advocacy for "equal rights of women with men in all spheres of economic, political, civil, social, and cultural life, including family life" apparently was not acceptable to the male-dominated Commission. 22

The women’s groups also lost the advocacy for women’s reproductive rights. Backed by a strong church lobby and the pro-life segment of the women’s movement, the provision recognizing the "right to life of the mother and the unborn from conception" was passed by the Commission (the provision on the right of the mother was included as a concession to the women’s lobby). 23 Advocacies around this issue, never-

[page-number of print ed.: 19]

theless, spawned the birth of a number of women’s health organization such as WomanHealth and the Women’s Healthcare Foundation.

The 1987 Constitution also provided appointive seats for sectoral representation in the Lower House of Congress, including women. During the 7th and 8th Congresses, women’s groups lobbied for feminists Teresita Quintos-Deles and Jurgette Honculada, respectively. Their appointments were blocked by the House Committee on Appointments. So far, only three women have been appointed as sectoral representatives for women. 24

The Aquino administration also marked the entry of NGO-PO personalities, including women, into government service. Among them were Solita Collas-Monsod, professor of Economics of the University of Philippines and member of AWARE who was appointed as Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority or NEDA, and Remedios Ignacio-Rikken, founding member of PILIPINA, appointed as executive director of the National Commission on the Role of the Filipino Women (NCRFW).

These two women spearheaded the formulation of the Philippine Development Plan for Women which was launched in 1989 as a companion document to the government’s development plan. The NCRFW also helped create "Women in Development Focal Points" in every agency of the government. 25

Another law affecting women’s participation in politics was the Women in Development and Nation-Building Act or Republic Act 7192 which ensured that development programs and projects and official development assistance funds are directed towards women in development. The law also provided women with equal rights to apply for loans and enter into contracts. A concrete result of the law was the appropriation of five percent (5%) of the budget of all government agencies for gender-responsive projects. 26

Still another landmark legislation passed was the Local Government Code or LGC of 1991. The LGC not only devolved functions and powers previously lodged with the national government to local government units but also provided for people’s participation in governance. Among the mechanisms instituted were NGO-PO membership in local development councils and local special bodies such as the Health Board and the School Board. Under the law, LGUs could also enter into joint ventures and cooperative arrangements with NGOs, POs and the private sector for delivery of vital services.

The election of sectoral representation, including women, has also been provided by the LGC. 27 Unfortunately, some quarters in government asserted that the implementation of such provision needed an enabling act. Hence, no election has taken place since 1991.

Despite gaps in the law and in its implementation, the LGC has drawn more and more POs and NGOs into the inner workings of local government. With the analysis that the LGC, if implemented to its fullest, will improve people’s lives in the communities, many NGOs and POs have not only made their stakes in critically cooperating with local government officials, but have also started seeking seats in local governments.

Women’s groups were also visible during the electoral season of 1992. A new alliance called Ugnayan ng mga Kababaihan sa Pulitika (UKP or Women’s Political Caucus) emerged during this time to support candidates (male and female) who could be counted upon to work for its political agenda. President Ramos, in fact, accepted UKP’s ten-point program with included the following provisions: uphold international humanitarian law, stop environmental destruction, penalize sexual harassment in the workplace and sex discrimination in hiring, support women’s livelihood activities, eliminate gender stereotypes and promote a non-sexist projection of women in culture and media, and, ensure that more women are appointed in all levels of policy-making bodies. 28 Such acceptance, however, has not been realized in full, as the Ramos administration has failed to deliver on its promises except for appointing welfare officers for

[page-number of print ed.: 20]

women overseas contract workers in labor offices abroad.

Under the Ramos regime, alliances of women’s groups have focused on policy formulation, on influencing the legislature to pass laws meant to protect women and upgrade their status in society. The Sama-samang Inisyatiba Para sa Pagbabago ng Batas at Lipunan or SIBOL, for instance, was established in 1992 to give such focus organizational form. SIBOL members span the broad spectrum of the women’s movement. Included in its roster as groups such as the WLB, KALAYAAN, PILIPINA, DSWP, WEDPRO, ISSA, WOMANHEALTH, MAKALAYA, CLD, and, SARILAYA. 29

In the past years, SIBOL has been preoccupied with the advocacy for an anti-rape bill. SIBOL’s proposals include several controversial issues – rape as a crime against persons instead of a crime against chastity, expanded definition of rape to include sexual acts other than penile penetration, recognition of the existence of marital rape – and have met stiff opposition from the male-dominated Lower House of Congress. The proposed bill has gone through both chambers of the legislature but has not yet been passed into law and is actually in danger of being severely watered down.

Aside from lobbying, women during the post-dictatorship period institutionalized the servicing of women through various NGOs. Networks of such NGOs were also built to coordinate and scale up capability programs for women. Examples of these networks include the WAND and the G-10. Despite differences in organizational focus and vision, these two networks formed DIWATA to jointly manage a Cdn $ 3.5 million grant from the Canadian International Development Agenda or CIDA. DIWATA was operational for five years and successfully implemented over 200 projects for women NGOs and people’s organizations. 30

Organizing of women along sectoral lines have also been undertaken. In the labor sector, quite a number of trade union centers and federations – Trade Union Congress of the Philippines or TUCP, Federation of Free Workers or FFW, National Federation of Labor or NFL – have consolidated their women members into women’s groups. The most recent to be established was the MAKALAYA of the Alliance of Progressive Labor or APL. In the peasant sector, the PAKISAMA has a women’s wing called the LAKAMBINI.

The proliferation of diverse types and levels of women aggrupation represents the dynamism of the Filipino women’s movement. One author classifies the present women’s movement along three general, though, not mutually-exclusive, strains (1) advocacy-oriented women’s organizations pushing for reforms in official policies and processes; (2) the ideological/political feminist organization, whose tradition is rooted in the mass movement, and (3) non-government organizations, providing specific services and education to grassroots women. 31

Disunity, naturally, leads to some negative consequences. Women’s groups in the country, however, are guided by the principle of "unity in diversity". This principle has been necessary considering that the women’s movement, over the years, have drawn into its fold, women of varying ethnic origins, class, ideology, and geographic location.

Amidst such heterogeneity, Filipino women advocates today, particularly those who profess to be feminists, "generally concur on the following points: (1) the distinctness of the women’s movement from the comprehensive political struggle; (2) the need to simultaneously address class and gender; and (3) the urgency of carrying both women’s practical needs (e.g livelihood as well as health and other social services) and strategic interests (e.g gender equality, self-determination, women’s empowerment)". 32

Strategies employed by these women groups have been many and diverse, particularly where engagements with the state or formal structures of governance are concerned. Groups identified with GABRIELA generally take on the national democratic stance that the state is merely an instrument of the ruling class and should there-

[page-number of print ed.: 21]

fore be seized through revolutionary measures. PILIPINA, on the other hand, has positioned itself for mainstream engagement, with some of its members strategically located for such. Other groups prefer to lobby for laws and policies or engage government through pressure politics.

Notwithstanding the divergence, the women’s movement today is, clearly, one of the most vibrant and dynamic players among Philippine social and political movements.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Oktober 2001

Previous Page TOC Next Page