Give women an equal chance to lead

‘Juana, Desisyon Mo ay Mahalaga’
Privilege Speech for Women’s Month

Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Chair, Senate Committee on Women, Family Relations and Gender Equality
March 9, 2015

Mr. President, esteemed colleagues,

I rise today on a matter of personal and collective privilege to welcome the start of Women’s Month, which has been celebrated throughout the month of March since 1988. On March 8, we also join the rest of the world for the observance of International Women’s Day. This celebration has grown from its humble beginnings throughout the decades. It traces its roots to the early 20th Century when working women started to stand up and protest against low wages, unfair labor practices, and poor working conditions that they had to endure during that time.[1] Now, the United Nations officially recognizes International Women’s Day as an occasion to recognize the contributions of women to societies the world over.

This year, the Philippines celebrates Women’s Month with the theme, ‘Juana, Desisyon Mo ay Mahalaga sa Kinabukasan ng Bawat Isa, Ikaw Na!’ No less than our Constitution recognizes the role of women in nation-building, and declares the fundamental equality of men and women before the law. The Magna Carta of Women, a landmark law we enacted in these halls, promotes the full participation and equitable representation of women in all spheres of society, particularly in the decision-making and policy-making processes in government and private entities. Notwithstanding these declarations, women still remain a minority in traditionally male-dominated fields.

For example, women continue to be underrepresented in the realm of politics. In this very chamber, only 6 out of 24 senatorial seats are occupied by women. We may have loud voices and thus give you all the impression that there are more than six of us. But we are just six, and that is just 25 percent. In the Lower House, there are only 79 women legislators out of 289 seats, comprising only 27 percent of our House of Representatives.[2]

In local government, the percentages continue to fall based on the 2013 election results, with only 22.5 percent of gubernatorial posts and 18.5 percent of vice gubernatorial posts occupied by women. Further, only 20.86 percent of municipal mayors elected in 2013 were women.[3] This means that in our local executive positions, only one out of five are women.

Of course, we must not discount the top positions that women currently hold in our government. The Chief Justice of our Supreme Court, the Ombudsman or woman, several members of the Cabinet, and heads of other government agencies are women. The percentage of women as ambassadors and consul generals has risen from 28 percent to 35 percent between 2002 and 2010.[4]

These are the kinds of achievements we wish to highlight in this Women’s Month, to prove that women thrive and excel in leadership roles. This year’s theme pays tribute to all the women leaders who continue to make their mark, effect positive changes, and inspire others to do the same. It aims to highlight the key roles of women and their accomplishments in leadership and decision-making, as well as to encourage more women to participate in policy-making at all levels. As the last quarter of 2015 ushers in the period of filing for candidacy for next year’s election, I take this opportunity to urge ‘Juanas’ to heed the call of public service, and political parties to include gender-related issues in the agenda.

We already had two women presidents and quite a number of women senators. This shows that Filipino voters recognize that women are capable and qualified to run the affairs of the state and draft laws to govern us. But how can we increase women’s representation when only a few of us are given the opportunity to actually run for public office? When you look at slates of political parties during elections, sometimes you will see only one or two women among their candidates. I do not believe it is intentional to limit women’s participation, but the fact is, political parties tend to be content with token representation. We can and must change this.

Mr. President, the Philippines is one of the best places in the world to be a woman. Here, women are not boxed into traditional roles, but are generally afforded equal opportunities as our male counterparts. We have achieved victories in the fight for gender equality but there is more work to be done. We must continue to work towards leveling the playing field by increasing the meaningful participation of women in leadership roles and spheres of policy and decision-making. Those of us in leadership positions must make an effort to mentor women leaders. We must also work on ensuring that men accept women as equal partners. The great work that many women have done can only be meaningful if we ensure that the future generation continues to pave the way for more women to work hand-in-hand, side-by-side with men. On a last note, Mr. President, I would just like to update the chamber that your Committee on Women has continued to hold hearings on practices and laws that discriminate against women, and in the next few days we will sponsor said measures. Thank you. #

[1] http://www.pcw.gov.ph/event/2015-national-womens-month-celebration
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] http://www.pcw.gov.ph/event/2015-national-womens-month-celebration

Senator Pia: ‘Juanas’ should heed the call of public service, and political parties must include gender-related issues in the agenda.

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