I lost my Dad at a young age and grew up with my Mom as the breadwinner and homebuilder. She worked as a school principal and raised us with love and attention. I grew up without any gender bias fully believing that a woman can do anything that a man can. It was quite late in life when I realized that gender stereotyping is commonly practiced. Women are perceived to be weaker than men and specific roles are attributed to males and females.
I had my awakening when I served at the forefront in shepherding the tax reform that shifted the taxation of cigarettes and beer from ad valorem to specific taxation. The policy was solid but the messenger was more vulnerable than the message. I had to go though tongue lashing, bashing and harassment in both Houses of Congress. In dismay, Prof. Winnie Monsod observed, “I bet they would not do this to you if you were a man.” Gender inequity has always been on my mind since then. I always lost in situations when the choice was between a male counterpart and me.
The gender gap in the Philippines is evident in the degree and quality of women participation in the labor force. Only half of women aged 15 and over are in the labor force compared to nearly 8 out of 10 working-age Filipino men. Women tend to be employed in vulnerable sectors such as family work, self-employment and services in informal economies where there are limited opportunities for social mobility, adequate protection, and compensation. The study of Albert and Vizmanos reported disparities in their compensation. Men tend to receive higher compensation than females in similar occupations.
The unequal opportunities for women tend to be higher in the political sphere. Prof. Monsod cites that women only hold 20-25% of elective positions in the Philippines. The 2020 Global Gender Gap reported a decline in the political empowerment of women in thecountry. There are fewer women in the Cabinet from 25% in 2017 to 10% in the 2019. There are lesser women in Congress and one female Senator has been in prison for several years.
Japan took an affirmative action by adopting “Womenomics” in 2018. The advocacy was based on the belief that harnessing the potential of women will improve not only the performance the nation but the quality of their lives. An act to promote gender equality in the political field was enacted. However, the law was found not to have significant gains. Females only constitute 10% of Diet members in the House of Representatives and 20% in the House of Councilors. The number of Japanese female lawmakers is much lower than the global average of 25% (Japan Times, June 2021). The slow progress has been traced to the lack of requirements and sanctions in the law. Political parties have no legal obligations to promote gender equality. In addition, infrastructure to support working women such as child care centers is inadequate.
Schools are no exception to gender stereotyping. It was ordinary to have a greater number of mothers attending our parenting workshops with only a sprinkle of fathers. I needed to have a serious discussion with Mayor Rex Gatchalian to rename the “Nanay-Teacher” program into the “Nanay-Tatay Teacher” program. Of course, female teachers outnumber the males and we thought of having an affirmative action for male teachers.
We have been living through gender inequities in our everyday life. We laugh at jokes that disparage women. Misogyny is practiced by the highest leader in the land. We accept comments such as “Babae kasi” (They are women, that is why!) to explain recklessness in driving, long discussions, and emotional response to problems. But the unique characteristics of women should equally be recognized. They lead through inspiration and transformation of attitudes and values. They are selfless and strive to put the welfare of others above their own. They establish an emotional bond between themselves and others through empathy. They are humbler and great empowers. Women can be braver as in the case of Maria Ressa. “Babae kasi!”
There should be no competition between males and females. What we need is a more deliberate effort to think that women are equally special, competent, and talented.