2024 Nat'l Women's Month: Focus on struggles, progress toward gender equality in the Philippines

In a forum, DOST-PCAARRD highlighted the importance of gender mainstreaming

An online panel discussion on Monday, March 25, hosted by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD) tackled the ongoing struggle and progress for women's empowerment in the Philippines.

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(Screengrab from DOST-PCAARRD)

The forum featured Dr. Carolyn Sobritchea of the Oxfam Filipinas, an international organization that advocates for equality, justice, and ending poverty.

She has specialized in conflict studies and women and gender studies for her master of arts and development studies degree at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University. She also worked with the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) as a supporting gender specialist.

In her speech, while she addressed the importance of integrating gender equality throughout research and development (R&D) initiatives, she highlighted the ongoing struggle for women's empowerment in the country.

When asked why women are still underrepresented in leadership positions despite their high participation rates in initiatives, she answered: "That's the problem of the country. I don't understand why women are always present but still not given leadership positions" in a mix of Filipino and English.

"At the barangay level, women attend meetings and are part of committees, but they are not given the opportunity to lead," she added.

The Philippines has recently been ranked as the 19th most gender-equal country in the world out of 146 countries, according to the "2022 Global Gender Gap Index" report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Based on the report, the index measures gender equality based on factors such as economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment, wherein the country has long been considered the "top gender-equal nation" in Southeast Asia.

However, this is where she noted that despite ranking high in the UN global gender equality index, there is still a "great deal" of poverty in the country.

She stressed that despite strides forward, prevalent issues like domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, and sexual harassment still persist.

"We always say women's empowerment, but these problems are still high, the gender issues that were prevalent in the early days were still our problems today's problem," she said.

Sobritchea then proposed that the prevailing gender issues from the past that still exist today could serve as a potential research focus for DOST-PCAARRD.

"So I always say, two steps forward, one step backward. And maybe you are the younger generation, which will be a challenge for you because it's been over the years," she added.

Meanwhile, another speaker at the event was the current president of the University of the Philippines (UP) Center for Women's and Studies Foundation, Incorporated Jeanette Kindipan-Dulawan.

She had previously worked with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) as the chairperson for its technical panel for gender and women's studies.

Dulawan, during her talk, highlighted that there is also evidence that "we (Philippines) still need to work on closing the gap of gender disparity."

Precisely in terms of the lack of women's political participation and representation in leadership roles, with many women being relegated to the sidelines or serving as replacements for male family members.

"As for the realities in terms of one, the women's political participation, either they are the bench warmers or at the same time they are also the replacements for fathers and brothers because they are done as elected officials," Sabrachea said.

"Are their voices included in the majority voice?" she asked.

Moreover, Dulawan stressed that it cannot solely focus on women because numerous intersectionalities contribute to the marginalization and discrimination of women, girls, and other marginalized groups.

"There are many policies pushing for women's rights, and there are still many social and gender issues that we really have to contend with," she said.

Dulawan pointed out that it is still important not to view one woman as representative of all women.

"There are many proactive women who deserve recognition. However, if we look at history, we can see that there has been a persistent gender gap and inequality, and that is women and girls are still underrepresented in various sectors," she added.