For over 14 years, the Global Gender Gap Index has charted the relative gaps between women and men in the areas of the economy, education, health, and politics. It has served as a measure for policy and programmatic decisions to improve the status of women. Specifically, the Global Gender Gap Index has the following sub-indexes and ratios:

1.) economic participation and opportunity and ratio of female labor force participation over male value, wage equality between women and men for similar work, female estimated earned income over male value, female legislators, senior officials and managers over male value, and female professional and technical workers over male value;

2.) educational attainment and ratio of female literacy over male value, female net primary enrollment rate over male value, female net secondary enrollment rate over male value, and female gross tertiary enrollment over male value;

3.) health and survival and ratio of sex ratio at birth and female life expectancy over male value; and,

4.) political empowerment and ratio of females with seats in parliament over male value, females of ministerial level over male value, and number of years with a female head of state (last 50 years) over male value.

The Philippines has had a good run in the Global Gender Gap Index from 2006 to 2018: ranked 6th from 2006 to 2008, 9th in 2009 and 2010, 8th in 2011 and 2012, 5th in 2013, 9th in 2014, 7th in 2015 and 2016, 10th in 2017, and 8th in 2018. In 2019, the Philippines dropped out of the top ten and ended in 16th placed.

For the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) — the country’s national machinery for gender equality and empowerment — despite falling by eight notches from its place in the previous year, we still remain as the “top country in Asia in terms of closing the gender gap” and “the sole Asian country that made it to the top 20 tier.” Based on the Global Gender Gap Report, the Philippines is second in the East Asia and the Pacific region (after New Zealand which was ranked No. 1).

Comparing the 2018 and 2019 data, there was no change in terms of the Philippine ranking in the sub-index on economic participation and opportunity (14th) and improved ranking in the health and survival sub-index (from 42 to 41). At 98% for both women and men, literacy is universal. According to the report, 71% of women in comparison with 60% of men are in secondary education, while 57% women versus 43% men are in tertiary education.

However, the significant difference was in the area of political empowerment, from rank 13 (2018) to 29 (2019). Based on the report, the “political empowerment gap has widened considerably over the past two years, albeit from a relatively high base (score of 35.3%, down 0.063), causing the country to drop from 13th to 29th position.”

Supposedly, the dip in political empowerment was due to “the lower female representation in the cabinet, which declined from 25% to 10% between 2017 and 2019. Female representation in Congress also fell slightly, at 28% at the beginning of 2019.”

Nonetheless, PCW Chair Dr. Rhodora Bucoy said:

“The Philippines’ ranking may have dropped but this will not discourage but rather motivate us even more to work on breaking gender-based stereotypes and misogyny so that women are given equal opportunities with men… we will reinforce our partnerships with different national government agencies to ensure that educational, health, and economic services are provided to women. We will continue to work for the increased participation and representation of women in government seats, political parties, development councils and planning bodies, as provided in the Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act 9710).”

But at the end of the day, playing the numbers game is one thing (i.e. increasing the number of women in ministries, as legislators, and even as head of state) while having women transformative feminist leaders is another thing.

Foremost, getting more women into public office does not automatically ensure the feminization of political leadership or equalization of political representation. In fact, we must be cognizant of the reality that, more often than not, women in public office in our context is borne out of patriarchal politics — that which subscribes to patronage politics, familial and kinship ties, and tokenism in the political party machinery. There must be a way to resist this.

From the vantage point of theory, transformative feminist leadership (TFL) interrogates power as it folds in personal and psychological aspects of leadership. In this sense, TFL is not an individual-based leadership — it is intrinsically part of a social movement and supportive of collectives. Women helping women, actions toward harmonization and synchronicity but cautious about uniformity and singularity. This may be the key in transforming our own politics. It is all about deepening substance and movements so as to go beyond the quantitative increase of women in politics and focus on the qualitative transformation of power relations.

According to Shawna Wakefield (2017), the strategies for building TFL include modeling feminist purpose and principles, inspiring a shared vision based on personal and collective reflexivity, empowering and enabling others to act, challenging patriarchal norms and oppressive power, and encouraging integration of heart, mind, and body. At the same time, TFL espouses for a transformation of “male-stream,” patriarchal, and misogynistic politics.

TFL resonates well with women’s genuine empowerment. It charts the trajectory of substantive and meaningful equality, not just in terms of numbers but well beyond it. In this regard, maybe the feminist adage “women’s place is in the revolution” is the very notion of a counter-hegemony to masculinist authoritarian politics that we are hungry for. Women must be the real opposition.


Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University. She is also Program Director of Gender and Atrocity Prevention at the Asia Pacific Center for the Responsibility to Protect, University of Queensland.