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Women in the Philippines

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Women in the Philippines

Women in the Philippines
A modern-day Filipina wearing casual attire.
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.418 (2012)
Rank 77th
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 99 (2010)
Women in parliament 22.1% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 65.9% (2010)
Women in labour force 49.7% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index[1]
Value 0.7832 (2013)
Rank 5th out of 136

The role of women in the Philippines is explained based on the context of Filipino culture, standards, and mindsets. The Philippines is described to be a nation of strong women, who directly and indirectly run the family unit, businesses, government agencies and haciendas.

Although they generally define themselves in the milieu of a male-dominated post-colonial society, Filipino women live in a culture that is focused on the community, with the family as the main unit of society, but not always as this is a stereotype. It is in this framework of Philippine hierarchical structure, class differences, religious justifications, and living in a globally developing nation wherein Filipino women are respected well by men. Compared to other parts of Southeast Asia, women in Philippine society have always enjoyed a greater share of equality.[2][3][4][5]


  • Pre-colonial status 1
  • Colonial Philippines 2
  • American influence 3
  • Contemporary roles 4
    • Urban setting 4.1
    • Rural and tribal clan setting 4.2
    • Marriage and relationships 4.3
    • Filipino women and work 4.4
    • Filipino women and Philippine politics 4.5
  • Filipino women in art 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Pre-colonial status

Some pre-colonial social structures of the Philippines gave equal importance to maternal and paternal lineage. This bilateral kinship system accorded Philippine women enormous power within a clan. They were entitled to property, engage in a trade and could exercise their right to divorce her husband. They could also become village chiefs in the absence of a male heir. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Filipino women could also achieve status as medicine women or high-priestesses and astrologers.[5][6][7][8]

Colonial Philippines

Although Christian values were supposed to be spread through the population, missionaries and priests soon realized that they'd be better off adapting their doctrine as much as possible to the local customs, rather than trying to impose it. As it happened all over Asia, women in the Philippines were expected to become caring and nurturing mothers for their own children and take care of most household chores. Also a trait found all over Asia was the preference of most families to have male children instead of females.

During the last part of the colonization of the Philippines, Isabella II of Spain, introduced the Education Decree of 1863 (10 years before Japan had a compulsory free modern public education and 40 years before the United States government started a free modern public school system in the Philippines) that provided for the establishment and for the building of at least two free primary schools, one for the boys and another school for the girls, in each town under the responsibility of the municipal government.

American influence

When Spain lost the Spanish–American War in 1898, the Philippines was ceded to the United States of America. The U.S.A. introduced a new public education system which retained opportunity to every child regardless of gender.

Through the American-patterned school system, Filipino women became professionals,[7][9] although most of them and their male counterparts opted for making use of their former education roots and expressed themselves in Spanish or Tagalog. According to the Monroe Commission on Philippine Education: “Upon leaving school, more than 99% of Filipinos will not speak English in their homes. Possibly, only 10% to 15% of the next generation will be able to use this language in their occupations. In fact, it will only be the government employees, and the professionals, who might make use of English.”[10]

Contemporary roles

Modern-day Philippine women play a decisive role in Filipino families. They handle the money, act as religious mentors, and can also make all the important family decisions.

Urban setting

In the past, firms and businesses generally hire Filipino women for less pay and secretarial functions. But at present, Filipino women are given the same opportunities as their male counterparts in the business realm.

Rural and tribal clan setting

Imelda Marcos, 2006.

In rural areas, the Filipino woman belongs in the home. The children approach her for money and help. She is the family's treasurer. She supports the children’s educational needs. For non-family members who require support, the wife is the person to be approached. However, the wife is neither the person who makes the final decision or the person who hands out the money.[2][11]

In contrast, however, Juan Flavier, a physician, an authority on community development, and a former Philippine senator, described in his book, Doctor to the Barrios, that "whether some (Filipino) men are willing to admit it or not"... "rural women in the Philippines wield considerable authority," the housewife in particular. This is especially if the housewife, who is often referred to as the Reyna ng Tahanan (Queen of the Home), is convinced of the benefits that will be gained from a certain practice such as the concept of family planning in the barrios. Flavier also mentioned that "In the Philippine barrio, the one responsible for the home" and its management "is the wife... she holds the key to... household... development."[12]

Marriage and relationships

Despite foreign influence, courtship and relationship in the Philippines is considered conservative. The man will have to court the woman and prove his love for her before he can win her heart. Sometimes the courtship period would last for years; this however, is a very old fashion idea. In the bigger more urbanized cities, this conservative courtship idea is not so emphasized as much. Parents prefer their daughter to be courted in their home, so they can have a chance to know the man. It is during the courtship period that the man would put his best foot forward to create a good impression on the woman and her family. Generally, the man is being measured on his being a gentleman, ability to respect the woman's family, and servitude (the extent of what he was willing to do to prove his love for the woman). Usually, the woman is courted by several men and will have to choose the best from among her suitors. Courtship and relationship remain the same for rural and urban areas despite the modern western influence.[13][14][15]

Culturally in the Philippines, divorce is viewed as negative and destructive, because of a tradition that emphasizes that the family is the core social unit, especially for the Filipino wife. Divorce is not perceived as a solution to any matrimonial-related problem because it hinders the development or progress of the basic community unit. Therefore, husband and wife are obligated to fix any problems within the boundaries of the marriage.[2]

It should always be noted, though, that pre-colonial women in the Philippines enjoyed equal status with men. Prior to colonization, both men and women could get a divorce for the following reasons: failure to meet family obligations, childlessness, and infidelity. Children, regardless of gender, and properties were equally divided in a divorce. Since a man needed to pay a dowry to the woman's family, she was required to give it back should she be found at fault. If the man was at fault, he then lost the right to get back his dowry.

In the Philippines, society valued offspring regardless of gender. Female children were as valuable as male ones, mainly because they recognized that women are as important as men. Parents provide equal opportunities to their children. Filipino daughters can also go to school like Filipino sons, Filipino daughters can also inherit property like Filipino sons, and Filipino daughters can also become village chiefs like Filipino sons.

In 1994, the John and Lorena Bobbitt case, in which a wife cut off the penis of her sleeping husband, seized the attention of media in the Philippines, which reported that a similar incident had occurred in Cebu the previous November. The Bobbitt case was reported at a time when Filipino feminist groups were protesting against prostitution, the practice of mail-order brides, and marital rape.[16] In 2008, a similar case in Pasig City was reported.[17]

Filipino women and work

Traditionally, rural and tribal women do all the household related chores, but the heavy works that require more strength is done by the husband. Now, the chore work is evenly distributed with the men doing just as much work as the women. The scope of their functions include cooking, cleaning, teaching the children, washing clothes, repairs, budgeting, and helping in the farm. The husband is the one who makes sure the farm would yield quality crops, so he does all the maintenance works. In some cases, where the husband needs help from other men, the wife would make sure that the men are fed, so she cooks food and bring it to the farm. The Filipino women, ensures that everyone is well fed, and this characteristics extends to the workers, relatives, or visitors.

In general, Filipino women find pride in their work. They do not find themselves alienated from their chores because they work with, around, and for their families. This family-oriented mindset gives them a sense of dignity and responsibility. The family and the children are the primary priority some Filipino women's life.[2]

Filipino women and Philippine politics

Corazon C. Aquino, 1992.

Compared to other countries, Filipino women have gained and enjoyed equal rights with men. They have become presidents, senators, congresswomen, mayors. They have served in government offices, and have held cabinet positions for presidents. Filipino women have proven that they are capable of carrying out responsibilities and tasks as well as their male counterparts. There are 48 women Representatives elected in the 15th Congress (2010 national election). They accounted for 21.6 percent of the total 222 Representatives as members of the Lower House. In 2010 Senatorial election, there were 14 women who ran out of 61 candidates (23.0%), of which two entered the top 12 winning senators (16.7%).[18]

However, the number of women who engage in politics are smaller compare to their male counterparts. This was primarily because engagement in politics is considered "dirty."

A recent study revealed that there is a re-emergence of the empowerment of Filipino women through the political process, just as they were prior to the arrival of conquerors from Spain. Philippine women are rediscovering their strengths. Filipino women had been successful in implementing policies by becoming executive staff members, advisers to politicians, and as advocates within non-governmental organizations.[7]

Modern-day Filipinas are making strides in electoral politics by initiating more female-oriented programs. They are performing well as leaders, although generally, Filipino women still often earn political seats by having fathers and husbands who are politically connected, a "dynasty system" that hinders other Filipino women from joining the electoral process. Other factors that prevent full-engagement of other well-qualified Filipinas from the Philippine political scene are the expense in politics and the importance of the family name.[7]

Participation of Filipino women in Philippine politics was encouraged during the Beijing Declaration in 1995 at the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women. In February 2005, however, a United Nations review on the progress of Philippine women and their role in politics revealed that despite "an increase in the quality of female politicians, there was not enough increase in" the number of women participants in government activities. From 1992 to 2001, Filipino women had been elected as local chief executives, functioning as mayors, governors, and captains of villages. One influential factor contributing to the increasing number of female politicians, is the elevation of Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as Philippine women Presidents.[7][9] ()()()()()(

Filipino women in art

In his paintings of Filipino women, the Philippine National Artist Fernando Amorsolo rejected Western ideals of beauty in favor of Filipino ideals.[19] He said that the women he painted have "a rounded face, not of the oval type often presented to us in newspapers and magazine illustrations. The eyes should be exceptionally lively, not the dreamy, sleepy type that characterizes the Mongolian. The nose should be of the blunt form but firm and strongly marked. ... So the ideal Filipina beauty should not necessarily be white complexioned, nor of the dark brown color of the typical Malayan, but of the clear skin or fresh colored type which we often witness when we met a blushing girl."[19]

See also


  1. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013". World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13. 
  2. ^ a b c d Clamonte, Nitz. Women in the Philippines, Compiled from Gender Awareness Seminars, developed and facilitated by Nitz Clamonte, (undated), archived from the original on September 28, 2007.
  3. ^ The Role and Status of Women, U.S. Library of Congress, (undated), retrieved on: July 11, 2007
  4. ^ Laya, Jaime C. and Michael Van D. Yonzon, Through the Years, Brightly: The Tadtarin; and Joaquin, Nick. The Summer Solstice, (undated),
  5. ^ a b Vartti, Riitta (editor), “Women writers through the ages; The Spanish era”, The History of Filipino Women's Writings, an article from Firefly – Filipino Short Stories (Tulikärpänen – filippiiniläisiä novelleja), 2001 / 2007, retrieved on: April 12, 2008, "...Filipinas (i.e. Philippine women) enjoy a reputation of power and equality compared to most of their Asian neighbors..."; "...The Spaniards of the 1500s were horrified by the revolting liberty and too high social status of the woman, mujer indigena, in the islands just conquered by them. Women could own property and rule the people, act as leaders of rites and ceremonies of the society, and divorce their husbands..."; "The Conquistadors and the friars quickly changed this with the European model, where women's place was at home and not in prominent positions. As a consequence, during hundreds of years, education was given only to upper class girls, who were trained to become beautiful, submissive, capable to stitch embroidery, and suitable to marriage. The nun institution offered the only possibility for a career and teaching was the only educated occupation allowed to them..."
  6. ^ Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines, Ballantine Books, Random House, Inc., March 3, 1990, 536 pages, ISBN 0-345-32816-7
  7. ^ a b c d e Shah, Angilee. Women's Political Role on Rise in Philippines. UCLA International Institute. Retrieved July 12, 2007.  (based on a lecture and election studies by Prosperina D. Tapales, professor of public administration at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines)
  8. ^ Proserpina D. Tapales (2005). "Women in Contemporary Philippine Local Politics" (pdf). UCLA International Institute: UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies. Retrieved July 12, 2007. 
  9. ^ a b Vartti, Riitta (editor), “Women writers through the ages; The U.S. Period”, The History of Filipino Women's Writings, an article from Firefly – Filipino Short Stories (Tulikärpänen – filippiiniläisiä novelleja), 2001 / 2007, retrieved on: April 12, 2008, "...They (i.e. Filipino women) were now, for the first time equally with men, accepted to study..."; "...Their problem was the resistance of the patriarchal society..."; "...The first woman president Corazon Aquino was elected to power..."; "Many women writers, especially those from the capital area, participated in the development of the media since the 1930s..."; "...In the turn of the 1970s began a period of cultural revolution, student movements and new rise of nationalism. For the women writers it meant social awakening, commitment and protest..."; "...The Filipinas now wanted to create their own images by themselves..."
  10. ^ "A Survey of the Educational System of the Philippine Islands", Monroe, Paul, 1925, pp. 24–25
  11. ^ "Philippines: The Role and Status of the Filipina". Encyclopedia of the Nations. June 1991. Retrieved July 12, 2007. 
  12. ^ Flavier, Juan Martin. Doctor to the Barrios, Experiences with the Philippine Reconstruction Movement, Chapter 10: Family Planning in the Barrios, New Day Publishers (1970/2007), p. 157, ISBN 971-10-0663-4.
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ Introduction to Philippine Culture
  15. ^ Filipino Wedding Traditions and Spanish Influence,
  16. ^ AP (January 24, 1994). "Bobbitts' Case Gains Infamy In Philippines". Cavalier Daily. Retrieved January 4, 2011. 
  17. ^ Kristine L. Alave (April 10, 2008). "Jealous wife cuts off husband's penis in Pasig City". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved January 4, 2011. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b Paras-Perez, Rodriguez. Amorsolo Drawings (excerpt available online) (1992), ISBN 94-91386-74-2 .

Further reading

  • "A Celebration of Herstory: Filipino Women in Legislation and Politics, Perspective, About Culture and Arts",, October 27, 2003 (Taken from the Historical Framework for the Centennial Celebration of Women in Politics and Legislation, sponsored by Ugnayan ng Kababaihan sa Pulitika, National Centennial Commission – Women Sector and Committee on Women, House of Representatives, BayView Hotel, Manila, June 25, 1998), retrieved on: July 16, 2007 (archived from the original on 2008-02-23)
  • Conlu, Prudencia V., "Role of Filipino women in fisheries community", Development of Fisheries in the Region: The Role of Filipino Women in Fishing Communities (presented by Professor Prudencia V. Conlu, Dean, College of Fisheries, University of the Philippines in the Visayas, Miag-as, Iloilo. Philippines), FAO Corporate Document Repository,, 1994, retrieved on: July 16, 2007
  • Creating a National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, Presidential Decree No. 633, Malacañang Palace, Manila,, January 7, 1975, retrieved on: July 16, 2007
  • "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century", Statement by Dr. Amelou Benitez Reyes, Chairperson, National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, Head of Delegation, Twenty-third Special Session of the General Assembly, New York,, June 5 to 9, 2000, retrieved on: July 16, 2007
  • Rivera PC (1979). "Women in development: the road toward liberation". Initiatives Popul 5 (3): 2–7.  
  • Philippine Legislators' Committee on Population and Development Foundation (Feb 1992). "Philippine laws and policies on the status of women". People Count 2 (1): 1–3.  
  • "Executive Order No. 348 of 17 February 1989 approving and adopting the Philippine Development Plan for Women for 1989 to 1992, 17 February 1989". Annu Rev Popul Law 16: 132, 551–4. 1989.  
  • Blake, Matthew. "The Role and Status of the Filipina, A Country Study: Philippines", The Library of Congress,, March 30, 2006, retrieved on: January 4, 2010
  • Philippines: Specific Commitments Made at Beijing, Beyond Beijing: Taking Root and Gaining Ground Asia Pacific Development Centre – Gender and Development Programme (GAD-APDC), (This report is based on the proceedings of the Legislative Symposium on the government's implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action held on September 29, 1997, Philippines. The Committee on Women, House of Representatives and the Philippine NGO Beijing Score Board co-organized the symposium. The Committee on Women has the mandate to conduct congressional oversight on the implementation of laws and international instruments affecting the conditions of the Filipino women. The Philippine NGO Beijing Score Board is the main NGO network working with the government to monitor the implementation of the Platform for Action. During the Legislative Symposium, the report of the government was presented by Aurora Javate de Dios of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women who is also the Philippine representative to CEDAW), 1998, 260 pp.,, retrieved on: July 16, 2007
  • Caoile, Gloria T., "In Celebration of Filipino Women", Tambuli Magazine,, retrieved on: July 16, 2007
  • Former President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR), Cites Role of Women in Nation's History and Development,The Manila Bulletin Online,, 2001, retrieved on: July 16, 2007 (archived from the original on 2008-02-25)
  • The History of Filipino Women's Writings, an article from Firefly – Filipino Short Stories (Tulikärpänen – filippiiniläisiä novelleja), 2001 / 2007, retrieved on: April 12, 2008

External links

  • National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, retrieved on: April 9, 2008
  • National Commission on the Role of Women,, retrieved on: July 16, 2007
  • Name of Organization: National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific,, retrieved on: July 16, 2007
  • Philippines, Women's Studies, Bibliography,, retrieved on: July 16, 2007
  • National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW), International Labour Organization,, February 6, 2004, retrieved on: July 16, 2007
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