On the eve of International Women’s Day, there was good news in the Philippines for what was once called the weaker sex: for the second time, a woman topped the graduating class of the Philippine Military Academy. Setting a record since the PMA began accepting female cadets in 1993, women also account for eight of the top 10 in this year’s graduating “Salaknib” class.
Gender equity is one area where the Philippines has ranked high globally. One issue that pulled down the country’s ranking in the past years was the lack of a law promoting reproductive health. The enactment of the RH law has hardly helped; opponents of the measure have found an ally in the Supreme Court in suspending its implementation indefinitely.
Full RH law implementation, however, is one of the priorities in the socioeconomic agenda of President Duterte, so perhaps millions of impoverished Filipino women may yet have what their more privileged counterparts have long enjoyed: the freedom to space childbirths and plan the size of their families, and access to reproductive health services – one of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
Beyond the RH battle, impoverished Filipino women also need heightened awareness about the rights they enjoy under the law. The country has passed several tough laws protecting women from discrimination, harassment and domestic violence as well as promoting women’s welfare through livelihood programs and improved access to education, health and other basic services. But many women are unaware of those laws, and there are government officials who defy the law by refusing to assist battered women.
Despite such problems, Filipino women have much to celebrate today, International Women’s Day. Women in this country are in all sectors, becoming president, chief justice, lawmaker, CEO, fighter jet pilot.
The glass ceiling in the PMA is just one of the many that have been broken by Filipinas in the past years. The challenge is to make gender empowerment felt all the way down to the grassroots. Like economic growth, women power must become inclusive.