By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman
ACCORDING to the latest Global Gender Gap 2016 report, we love our women. The Philippines ranked first among the Asian countries and seventh in the world. But it appears that there is discrepancy, because in reality, there are glaring gender gaps at home, in the workplace, on the streets and online, and in our laws.
Let us start with the freshest examples that show how we love to “love” the women of the Philippines. Men — okay, not all — love to commodify and objectify them; they love to crack rape jokes; and they love to reduce them to creatures that are “na-ano lang.” Men love it when they associate women with body parts, and call them by names.
This article, however, will not start and end with a list of rants about the hows and whys of equality. This is a treatise that aims to get attention and action. As in the plea of the feminist gentlewoman from the DIWA party list, Emmeline Y. Aglipay-Villar: there are issues that need to be tackled, heard, and calendared in Congress. We can start with the amendment of some of our existing laws.
ON DISCRIMINATORY LAWS
In “She for She,” a forum on women empowerment staged by the Embassy of France held on May 16, Ms. Aglipay-Villar mentioned three bills, all relevant to women, that have been put on the back burner. First, the 100-day maternity leave law that aims to extend the leave of new mothers (the existing law grants 60 days to those who had normal deliveries, and 78 days for those who had caesarean deliveries).
Then, there is also the proposal to expand the scope of the anti-harassment bill, which should “explicitly include harassments committed outside of work and school, whether physical, verbal, or electronic.”
Third on her list: rules on adultery and concubinage that need urgent revisions, too. The Unified Crime of Sexual Infidelity, which Ms. Aglipay-Villar filed, seeks to eliminate the “outdated and discriminatory division between men and women that is propagated by the split of adultery and concubinage,” she said.
Adultery is defined as a married woman having sexual relations with a man not her husband.
Concubinage, on the other hand, is defined as a husband who “has sexual intercourse, under scandalous circumstances, with a woman who is not his wife.”
The addition of “under scandalous circumstances” makes it much more difficult for a man to be found guilty of concubinage than it is for a woman to be found guilty of adultery. The justice system, for some reason, doesn’t treat cheaters equally.
“In jurisprudence, ‘scandalous circumstances’ is defined not just by bringing the mistress to social functions, it has to be more than that. Another ‘scandalous circumstance’ is if the mistress is cohabiting in the conjugal home of the husband and wife. These are very strict and ridiculous requirements. These are under the state of our Revised Penal Code that until now is a law and has not been amended. Whenever this is brought to the plenary — the House of Representatives is composed of 70% men — it is not discussed and taken up. I don’t know what the chances are for this bill to be passed in the near future,” she said.
If there is unfair treatment in marriage, there is also unfair treatment in health. One of the imminent dangers faced by women is the possible unavailability of contraceptives in the near future.
The Supreme Court affirmed a temporary restraining order that prevents the Department of Health from distributing contraceptive pills, which are also used to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome, a disease that afflicts women who have high levels of androgen (male hormones), causing them to have irregular periods, excess body and facial hair, and pimples. The disease is comorbid with diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, among others.
“If we want to create a society free from discrimination and the inertia of prejudice,” said Ms. Aglipay-Villar, “then we must create laws that champion equality, and we must support them for many beneficial and well intentioned bills die in committee archives because there was not enough public support for them to be calendared for discussion.”
Talks for these bills have been postponed, one surmises, because the Philippines is phallocentric. According to Emmeline Verzosa, executive director of the Philippine Commission on Women, women’s participation in politics and decision-making is still hindered by “reproductive roles and the conservative mindset including the belief that politics and leadership are not women’s spheres.”
A WOMAN IN A MAN’S WORLD
Usually an “all-boys club,” the Congress, said Geraldine Roman, representative of the first district of Bataan, “was nice except for some sexist remarks.”
“Some might think that this is not offensive, like: ‘Geraldine, I have to move from another seat because your legs are distracting.’ Or ‘can I touch your skin? It looks so smooth,’” said Ms. Roman, the first transgender woman to be elected to Congress. She was one of the guest speakers at an event billed “Unstereotyping Genders” organized by Unilever Philippines on May 24.
Ms. Roman added that she would rather have her colleagues focus on what she has to say — her ideas — rather than her looks. She added, not in jest: “You can distinguish if they are malicious. But they get over it, they get over how beautiful I am.”
To further demonstrate the hypocrisy she has to deal with, Ms. Roman recounted how her recent shift from the Liberal Party to Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan was met with sexist comments. “When I did it, I was called a ‘political prostitute,’” she said. On the other hand, male colleagues who did the exact same thing were praised for their “political savvy.”
Name-calling is not new. When women are assertive, goal-oriented, and go-getters, they are called “bitches” and “bitchy.” Men, on the other hand, are applauded for their naked ambition and aggression.
“It is ingrained in women that we need to be liked so we have to downplay our ambitions, lest you be perceived as rapacious or be called too hungry. But really, those qualities in a man are admired,” added Lynette Ortiz, the first woman CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, who was one of the guest speakers at “Unstereotyping Genders.”
With over 25 years of solid experience in banking — also a male-dominated industry — Ms. Ortiz has been harassed throughout her career. There were many instances when she was the lone rose among the thorns in a board meeting. Men would ask her to make coffee or to get out of the room. She refused to be cowed. She did not make coffee for anyone and she planted herself in her chair. “I said to myself: ‘I was not leaving this damn room.’”
Leena Nair, the first female chief HR officer of Unilever, the Dutch-British consumer goods company, shared her experience: “My mother was concerned that I was too ambitious,” she said.
Ms. Nair grew up in India and was often told that she was not strong enough and that she smiled too much. Twenty-five years with Unilever taught her three important things: have a thick skin, have a sense of purpose, and always have compassion. “I believe there is a special place in hell for people who do not help other people,” she said, smiling. (Ms. Nair paraphrased former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who said: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”)
According to the Unilever presentation that cited John Gerzema’s The Athena Doctrine: How Women (And the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, 58% of the 64,000 people surveyed in 13 countries believe that there would be more economic prosperity if more women were in power. Despite this positive outlook, the 2016 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report said that women might not reach economic equality in another 170 years. The future can’t come soon enough.