Logo SAVE - Sisters against violent extremism

18. Oktober 2005

Girl from the Philippines © Harry Boer


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

© The Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Filipina © Harry Boer


Philippines - Proud to be a Pinay*

“When you educate a man, you educate an individual. When you educate a woman, you educate a generation.”

– proud words from one of the staunch advocates for women’s rights and one of my idols, Dr. Winnie Monsod of the University of the Philippines. I have never been in her class but I had a chance to have lunch with her after the awarding ceremonies of the Ayala Young Leaders and since then she has left an indelible mark on me. Witty, brutally frank and smart as hell, she has been the face of the new Filipino woman in the country – fearless and in control. And she is not the only one.

The Philippines has never had a lack of women movers and shakers. Two women have risen to the presidency in the Philippines in the last fifteen years. Corazon Aquino, the first female to ascend to the presidency in the country’s history, was elected after the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos amidst charges of criminal wrongdoing. Fifteen years later, Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo succeeded Joseph Estrada, who had been accused of corruption and plundering the Philippine economy. Not only is it rare for a woman to be elected president, but it is also least expected in countries like the Philippines that have a long history of patriarchy, oligarchy, and subordination of women. Yet, time and time again, Filipina women are at the forefront of change and societal transformation in the country. Unfortunately, because of this belief, Filipina women have become a little bit complacent and blinded.

We catch ourselves acquiescing to the idea, "Filipina women are the most liberated in the world. They hold the purse and are put on a pedestal. And such personal freedoms! Imagine, no bound feet as in China, no bride burning as in India, no walking several paces behind a man as in Japan. Who could ask for more?"

But there is much, much more to be done. For hidden behind the polite superficialities and societal success, lies a deeply rooted secret of women in the Philippines. An issue has been silently tearing away the confidence and self-esteem of countless of women. The truth is, even after the seemingly empowered state of Filipinas, they still fall prey to domestic violence. According to the January 2004 of the Social Weather Stations, 2 million women in the Philippines are battered. For certain this does not reflect the actual number of women who are abused since most women do not report the cruelty inflicted to them. To make matter worse, despite the physical, psychological and emotional abuse that they suffer, many women choose to remain with their husbands or partners. The reasons are many, such as some still being wholly dependent on their spouses for support, the traditional values instilled by society like family honor and the concept of ‘hiya’[1] , and the fact that divorce is prohibited both by law and the Catholic Church in the Philippines. Even the laws are still patriarchal. Under the Revised Penal Code (Article 333 & 334), adultery is illegal if committed by married women, but NOT if committed by married men. A man can be punished only for concubinage, which is more difficult to prove. Adultery also carries a heavier penalty than concubinage.

The bottomline is that Filipino women still have battles to fight in order to be accepted as a quintessential person in Philippine society. I am of the opinion that the best protection any woman can have against the brutality and injustice around her is courage. For if the greatness of the Philippines as a nation is the sum of what ordinary citizens DO, then the success of it is the recognition of what Filipinas CAN.

And as Winnie reminds me, “it is my generation’s turn to make sure that this happens.”

Jenny Lind Elmaco, 25, is a young Filipina pursuing her postgraduate studies in Austria. Prior to her stint in WWB, she worked for Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as Presidential Staff Officer VI. She is an awardee of the three most prestigious student awards in the Philippines: Jose Rizal Model Student of the Philippines, Ayala Young Leader and the 2002 Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines.

* Pinay is a colloquial term for a Filipina.
[1] ‘Hiya’ means shame. This is a strong societal practice in the Philippines which is characterized by the hiding or covering up of family burdens and problems, even at the sake of the suffering of its members, in order to preserve the family honor.


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