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1. Introduction

It was only in the late 1980s when women concerns started to take root within the Philippine trade union movement. Though each one had very particular beginnings, basis of organization, and traces the tradition in the initial attempts two to three decades ago, most of the women-oriented structures that flourished were formalized only in the past five years. And they are scaling new heights.

The profound changes the Philippine society is undergoing have created impact on the struggle of the Filipina workers for gender equality. The modernizing society and consumerism are spawning new cultural values that reinforce the concept of women as objects. Globalization and free market economics are sacrificial altars for women workers "valued" for their social skills, dexterity and patience for routine work, docility as well as for their cheaper value of work. Macho culture still permeates the supposed venue for workers’ empowerment – the labor movement. And sad to say, the cultural bondage on women still refuses to break despite the onslaught of gender programs, the broadening of feminist perspectives and the assumption of country’s presidency by a woman.

These are challenges that will continue to confront the Filipina worker in her struggle for equality in the workplace, in the trade unions, in the communities and in the society as a whole. However, there are already numerous gains that a Filipina can use as inspirations and steps to higher level of actions. Women are asserting themselves in national and local governance. Politics is slowly being deconstructed from being a "man’s business." Civil society engagements have men and women leaders as co-equal. Union leadership and militance are no longer an exclusive sphere of beer drinking men. Women committees are now being organized and gender programs were institutionalized in some trade unions.

For the organized women committees in the labor movement, the task at hand is still threatened by internal weaknesses, cultural and political issues. Indifference within the target constituencies precludes organizational development and women integration. Old and traditional issues against women can easily rear their ugly heads again. The women leaders interviewed for this paper are in agreement that the changing times require new frameworks and approaches.

This article presents the context and issues confronting Filipinas as women workers and as trade unionists, identify the gains and limitations of their work on gender equality, and pose new perspectives of work.

This paper is based on the experiences of individual women workers and women committees from three (3) labor centers four (4) private sector federations, one (1) urban poor alliance and two (2) public sector federations. The experiences and various documentations of the Labor Education and Research Network (LEARN) Gender Program were also utilized. Interviews with women and men leaders were made while various publications and papers of the unions, the government, various NGOs were used as reference. Acknowledgment and deep gratitude to all the women who shared their stories to breathe life to this paper.

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

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