According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2018, the Philippines was ranked eighth among the 10 best performers.
Rebecca Caidic Antig, a house help working in Manila, is a relieved mother. She is already imagining a bright future for her sons, aged 8 and 5. Her confidence stems from the recently passed Bill by President Rodrigo Duterte, which makes tuition charges free at all government-run colleges and universities (it is already free from kindergarten to grade 12th at all public schools). “In majority of our households, wives typically tend to look after finances. Women also actively set up businesses and are encouraged by the family to do so. So yes, this decision by the government is heartening,” she said.
The Philippines is already doing better than many other developing nations in Asia in gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2018, the Philippines was ranked eighth among the 10 best performers. Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Nicaragua, Rwanda, New Zealand, Ireland, and Namibia are the other countries on the list. In the study, 149 countries were tested for economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The report also took into consideration skills gender gaps related to artificial intelligence (AI).
Today, the Philippines is the only country in Asia (and second to New Zealand in the Asia-Pacific region) to achieve this ranking. Almost 97% of the female population of the country is literate and the most common field of study is Business Administration and related courses.
As a social norm, the Philippines follows a matriarchal system. Long before it was colonised by Spain, Filipinas inherited property, were religious leaders, and even joined military forces as combat soldiers. These norms have over the years influenced the Philippines society in which women have a greater say. They have an equal share in family inheritance and access to use, control, and ownership of assets.
Mothers practically run the house and are highly regarded in families. Take for instance, the way Filipinas popularly write their name — the woman’s name, followed by her mother’s maiden last name and then the father’s last name.
“We have no concept of dowry. It is usually the groom who shoulders the wedding expenses, though these days, sometimes, both the parties share,” said Xyris Saldivar Tapia, a homemaker living in Manila. “The usual practice when a guy asks for a girl’s hand in marriage is that the guy’s family sets a full course meal (at the girl’s house or at a restaurant) for the girl’s family. This is called ‘pamanhikan’ and it is to show that their son will take care of the beloved daughter. In the Philippines, you don’t ask a girl to marry if you can’t afford it.”
Changing times have also brought much cheer for female employees. Patricia Rose Aquino, a young lawyer and mother, is happy with the recent rule of 105-day paid maternity leave, with an additional 30 days of leave without pay. “Since childhood, we are groomed to be self-reliant. If one has children, then rest of the family members pitch in with childcare,” she said. A study by McKinsey Global Institute states that gender equality in the labour force can add to $28 trillion to the global economy by 2025.
IT professional Patricia Palea Ong agrees, “I have been working for nearly 14 years now in both Filipino and multinational companies. In my career, I have been given leadership roles which have influence on strategy and decision-making in the organisations I have been a part of. The Philippines is also a safe country for women. Respecting women in general is second nature to the Filipinos, thanks to our matriarchal society. It provides a conducive environment for overall well-being.”
Almost one million women are employed in the retail and service sector. The government’s labour department has now banned companies from forcing female employees to wear high heels (anything more than an inch).
Across the globe women are expected to look attractive for better sales. The Philippines, on the contrary, let its women workforce reach places without the support of what a shoe lends.