Women decry weak implementation of laws
When Alma Abraham decided to become a union leader in a foreign agribusiness corporation in Mindanao, she knew that the concerns of her fellow women workers should be her top priority.
Like her, they often face health and economic risks because of the weak implementation of laws meant to ease their life, said Abraham, who has been working at Sumitomo Fruit Corp. in Compostela Valley for the last 15 years.
While the world celebrates March as International Women’s Month, Abraham and other women like her have yet to fully enjoy the positive changes brought about by the women’s movement.
Women in the poverty sector are still woefully lacking access to their rights, said anthropologist Mary Racelis, a professional lecturer at the University of the Philippines and a research scientist from the Institute of Philippine Culture.
“While the poverty situation affects both men and women, it is the women who bear the brunt day to day of addressing the problems of hunger, education, health, well-being, and the security or safety of the family,” Racelis said.
And while the Philippines has been regarded as having one of the most advanced women’s movement in Asia with 35 existing national laws supporting women’s causes, a range of structural, political and cultural weaknesses in society prevent their effective implementation, noted Jojo Guan, executive director of the Center for Women’s Resources.
“The Filipino women’s movement has been here for 50 years or so. In fact, women’s struggle for rights can be traced back to the days of the Katipunan,” Guan cited.
Abraham confirmed this. “A number of workers in our factory are pregnant women, some of whom are close to their due dates. But still, they have to go to work or risk losing their job as contractual workers,” she said.
There’s also the lack of safety gear that would have protected them from hazardous chemicals that they’re exposed to, Abraham added.
Mothers also have to grapple with the rising prices of basic services and medical needs on a daily wage of P365.
On top of that, female union leaders in Mindanao fear for their lives because of Red-tagging or being linked to communist rebels, a witch hunt facilitated by the extension of martial law in the region, Abraham said.
In depressed areas in the city, women face forced relocation amid aggressive reclamation projects, said Maria Fe Hullipas, an urban poor leader in Aroma Compound, Tondo, Manila.
Although families evicted from the Smokey Mountain garbage dump have been given temporary space at the Aroma Compound housing project in Vitas, Tondo, they have been threatened with demolition orders since 2018.
Impending reclamation projects on Manila Bay bring with them the prospect of displacement and possible relocation to Cavite, which thousands of families in the area have been resisting, Hullipas said.
Both Racelis and Guan see evictions and resettlement as two of the major threats confronting urban poor families, with women bearing the brunt of displacement from their homes.
Finding alternative sources of livelihood in a relocation site isn’t easy, said Racelis, adding that families survive in the city “by selling small items on the sidewalk or in the market, washing clothes for wealthier families in the neighborhood, being a manicurista (nail salon worker), etc.”
It is the women who “carry the burden of somehow surviving and feeding their children and elderly parents everyday. Which probably lead to high stress and who knows what levels of mental illness,” she added.
“Every household has a mother or a daughter who play an economic role. What happens if we alienate them from their patterns of livelihood?” Guan asked.
Hopefully, landmark legislation on women’s health such as the Reproductive Health (RH) Law of 2012 and the recently signed Expanded Maternity Leave Law (Republic Act No. 11210) would prove helpful to women, but only if they are closely monitored on the ground, said Guan.
“The new maternity leave law is laudable, but we need to closely guard its implementation so companies and employers will strictly comply with it,” she added.
For Racelis, the RH law must address the Philippines’ record of having one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Asia.
“While implementation of the RH program has improved significantly since the passage of the law, still too many women lack the information or incentive to seek family planning services,” Racelis said, citing cultural taboos and inconsistent support from the local government that must be factored in during health information campaigns.
“There’s a contradiction as well,” noted Guan, “because on the one hand, we have a reproductive health law but on the other, public hospitals are being privatized and access to birthing centers and facilities especially in the barrios have remained poor.”
With two months left before the midterm elections, advocates for the rights, welfare and development of women are pinning their hopes on the next congressional leaders to improve the plight of Filipino women and map an agenda for gender equality.
Fortunately, women are now in a unique position to raise their voices against violence, economic instability and misogyny through their ballots, said Guan.
Female voters accounted for 51.6 percent of voter turnout in 2016, according to the Commission on Elections. At 22.9 million, the women who turned out to choose the country’s leaders in 2016 can also make a big difference in the May elections, Guan said.
They can start by voting against a macho culture that translates to “guns, goons, gold, and now girls,” she added.