"The country still has a way to go as far as women’s political participation goes."
According to the United Nations (UN), for women to make a difference in society, there is a need for a critical mass of at least 30 percent of women working for such change.
The Beijing Platform of Action (BPA) from the United Nations Conference on Women is unequivocal in its provision on the critical importance of equitable and substantive participation of women in among others, politics. The BPA says, “Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspectives at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved.” The Philippines is a signatory to the BPA.
In the country, Section 14, Article II (State Policies) of the 1987 Philippine Constitution recognizes the role of women in nation-building, and ensures the fundamental equality before the law of men and women. Additionally, Section 14, Article XIII (Social Justice and Human Rights) makes it an obligation of the State to provide facilities and opportunities for women that will enhance and enable them to realize their full potential in the service of the nation.
Republic Act No. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women (MCW), the country’s law that serves as the framework on women’s human rights also has pertinent provisions. Section 11 states that, “The State shall undertake temporary special measures to accelerate the 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 to fully realize their role as agents and beneficiaries of development.” Lastly, Section 11 (e) provides incentives to political parties with women’s agenda. It also encourages the integration of women in the leadership hierarchy, internal policy-making structures, appointive and electoral nominating processes of political parties.
Some will say that the country has already achieved these since we already had two women occupying the Presidency. We have a woman vice-president, and VP Leni Robredo is not the first. Having women candidates during elections is no longer unheard of.
However, we need to understand that both women presidents came into power under exceptional circumstances. Former Pres. Corazon Aquino was elected because of the death of her husband Ninoy Aquino, and the EDSA people power revolt. Ex-Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s first term was because of the impeachment of then president Erap Estrada as she was then his vice president.
More importantly, if we look at the data, we will realize that the country still has a way to go as far as women’s political participation goes.
Data from the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) show that more women register to vote and more women actually vote than men in our past elections. For instance, for the 2016 elections, there were 28,052,138 (51.6 percent) women registered voters and 26,311,706 (48.4 percent) males.
Women voters’ turn-out has been higher by about 4 percent than males in the 2010, 2013, and 2016 elections. Female voters who voted averaged 50.63 percent of total number of voters. In 2016, 82.68 percent of women registered voters trooped to the polls to cast their votes.
The sad thing is these numbers do not translate to more women running for office, and eventually, elected. According to the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), from 1998 to 2016, there were only 16.1 percent to 21.44 percent women candidates. For the 2019 national and local elections only 20.16% of candidates were female. Moreover, the Gender & Elections, an official COMELEC publication indicated that from 1998 to 2016, only an average of 18.18 percent of FEMALE CANDIDATES win in elections.
Only a fraction of the total number candidates are women, and only a fraction of these women candidates actually win in elections. Indeed, Philippine politics remain to be heavily dominated by men. This is also an important reason why passing pro-women legislations is way more difficult than others, and why women’s needs and rights are significantly sidelined.
To correct the situation and fulfill the provisions of the BPA, the Constitution, and the MCW, there is an urgent need for Congress to pass a law that will increase women’s participation in politics and in political parties.
The House of Representatives’ Committee on Women and Gender Equality (HOR-CWGE) has recently passed at Committee level a bill that aims to promote women’s political participation and equitable representation in political parties. This bill provides incentives to political parties which have women’s development agenda and internal policies to achieve women’s substantial participation and equitable representation.
This important bill carries provisions that mandate a 40-percent gender quota in political parties’ decision-making structures, as well as in the number of candidates that political parties will field during elections. This means that both men and women are protected in terms of representation as neither can occupy less than 40 percent of positions in the parties and as candidates during elections.
Political parties are also mandated to have a Women and Gender Development Agenda. This is important because we need the political parties and especially its women members to understand women’s rights and gender issues. The Agenda will form part of the political parties’ programs.
Another important provision of the bill is the creation of the “Women in Political Parties Empowerment Fund.” This fund will provide incentives and support accredited political parties in implementing their Agenda and funding the campaign of their women candidates.
The bill still has a long way to go as it still needs to navigate the senate and the plenary deliberations in the HOR. Still, the passage of this bill is in fulfillment of the country’s international obligations and the mandates of the Constitution and MCW.
As the BPA says, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved without a substantial number of women occupying seats around the table where decisions are made.
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