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File:Young Filipinas of Marigondon, early 1800s.jpg

Young Filipinas of Marigondon, early 1800s. From Aventures d'un Gentilhomme Breton aux iles Philippines by Paul de la Gironière (1855).

The role of women in the Philippines is explained based on the context of Filipino culture, standards, and mindsets. The Philippines is described to be a nation of strong women, who directly and indirectly run the family unit, businesses, government agencies and haciendas. Although they generally define themselves in the milieu of a masculine dominated post-colonial Asian Catholic society, Filipino women live in a culture that is focused on the community, with the family as the main unit of society. It is in this framework of Philippine hierarchical structure, class differences, religious justifications, and living in a globally developing nation wherein Filipino women struggle for respect. Compared to other parts of Southeast Asia, women in Philippine society have always enjoyed a greater share of legal equality.[1][2][3][4]

Pre-colonial status

The pre-colonial social structure of the Philippines gave equal importance to maternal and paternal lineage. This bilateral kinship system accorded Philippine women enormous power within a clan. They were entitled to property, engage in a trade and could exercise their right to divorce her husband. They could also become village chiefs in the absence of a male heir. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Filipino women could also achieve status as medicine women or high-priestesses and astrologers.[4][5][6][7]

File:Boxer codex.jpg

A Tagalog woman (right) as depicted in the Boxer Codex of the 16th century.

Hispanic Philippines

During the colonization of the Philippines, the Spaniards relegated the Filipinas to a secondary position in society, while glorifying and assigning the Virgin Mary as a model for Filipino women. Spaniards and Catholicism tried to fix the native Filipino women's role to the church, the convent and the home,[4][5][6] but only succeeded slightly. The Filipino women were always aware of their importance, their power, and their equality with men. Two heroines made a great contribution to the Philippine liberation during the colonization, Gabriela Silang and Melchora Aquino.

American influence

When Spain lost the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Philippines was ceded to the United States of America. America introduced the public education system which provided opportunity to every child regardless of gender. The Filipino woman's rights were once again recognized like the pre-colonial times. Through the American-patterned school system, Filipino women became professionals.[6][8]

Contemporary roles

Modern-day Philippine women play a decisive role in Filipino families. They handle the money, act as religious mentors, and could also arrange the marriages of sons and daughters, striving to improve the family’s dynastic connections. The emergence of Corazon Aquino, Imelda Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as political figures shows that Filipino society have high regard on Filipino women, in spite of its male chauvinism.

Urban setting

In the past, firms and businesses generally hire Filipino women for less pay and secretarial functions. But at present, Filipino women are given the same opportunities as their male counterparts in the business realm. Most CEO positions are given to men, but there has been several vice presidents, managers, and other jobs where Filipino women are given equal opportunities with men. In some cases, Filipino women also run successful businesses and become CEO's.

In school, boys are often elected to organizational positions such as president and vice-president, while the girls are either members or holding treasurer positions. However, the trend has changed and girls more tend to be or even sometimes the only ones elected or nominated in all positions. This has been due to a change of mindset towards the female gender who are now regarded as more hardworking, well-versed, and dedicated than their male counterparts.

Since Filipino wife holds the money in the family, she has the access to the family's finances. Therefore, she has the ability to help her family when the needs arise. In most cases, her own family has a better chance of financial access rather than her husband's family. Generally, the husband do not really care about how his wife spends the money. His obligation is to bring money in the family, and it is the wife's obligation to budget the money. In few cases, the Filipino husbands may also give financial help to his family.

Rural and tribal clan setting

File:Imelda Marcos.jpg

Imelda Marcos, 2006.

In rural areas, the Filipino woman belongs in the home. The children approach her for money and help. She is the family's treasurer. She supports the children’s educational needs. For non-family members who require support, the wife is the person to be approached. However, the wife is neither the person who makes the final decision or the person who hands out the money.[1][9]

In contrast, however, Juan Flavier, a physician, an authority on community development, and a former Philippine senator, described in his book, Doctor to the Barrios, that "whether some (Filipino) men are willing to admit it or not"... "rural women in the Philippines wield consideratble authority," the housewife in particular. This is especially if the housewife, who is often referred to as the Reyna ng Tahanan (Queen of the Home), is convinced of the benefits that will be gained from a certain practice such as the concept of family planning in the barrios. Flavier also mentioned that "In the Philippine barrio, the one responsible for the home" and its management "is the wife... she holds the key to... household... development."[10]

Marriage and relationships

Generally, the Filipino wife is the treasurer in the family. She has the power of the purse. She makes crucial decisions that involves her family, her home, and her children. Filipino husband's responsibility is to provide for the family, while the Filipino wife ensures that their home and family are well taken care of. Filipino women takes pleasure in ensuring that her husband and children are well taken care off, not because she is obligated to do so, but because of her selfless love and devotion to her family.

Despite the western influence, courtship and relationship in the Philippines is considered conservative. The man will have to court the woman and prove his love for her before he can win her heart. Sometimes the courtship period would last for years. Parents prefer their daughter to be courted in their home, so they can have a chance to know the man. It is during the courtship period that the man would put his best foot forward to create a good impression on the woman and her family. Generally, the man is being measured on his being a gentleman, ability to respect the woman's family, and servitude (the extent of what he was willing to do to prove his love for the woman). Usually, the woman is courted by several men and will have to chose the best from among her suitors.Courtship and relationship remain the same for rural and urban areas despite the modern western influence.[11][1][2][3].

Culturally, divorce is viewed as negative and destructive in the Philippines, because of a tradition that stipulates and emphasizes that the family is the core social unit, especially for the Filipino wife. Divorce is not perceived as a solution to any matrimonial-related problem because it hinders the development or progress of the basic community unit. Therefore, husband and wife are obligated to fix problems within the boundaries of marriage.[1]

It should always be noted, though, that pre-colonial women in the Philippines enjoyed equal status with men. Prior to colonization, both men and women could get a divorce for the following reasons: failure to meet family obligations, childlessness, and infidelity. Children regardless of sex and properties were equally divided. Since a man needed to pay a dowry to the woman's family, she was required to give it back should she be found at fault. If the man was at fault, he then lost the right to get back his dowry.

In the Philippines, society valued offspring regardless of sex. Female children were as valuable as male ones, mainly because they recognized that women are as important as men. Parents provide equal opportunities to their children regardless of sex. Filipino daughters can also go to school as Filipino sons, Filipino daughters can also inherit properties as Filipino sons, and Filipino daughters can also become chief villages as Filipino sons.

Change, influences and interventions

In urban areas, single Filipinas have become liberal due to western influences. Although it is still culturally unacceptable for a single Filipino woman to ask a man on a date or to show interest in a man, Filipinas have learned to use body language to show their interest and openness to a relationship.

In rural communities, Filipinas are still not allowed to be too liberal. They are required to stifle their personality and sexuality, and should show a total lack of interest in intimacy with men to maintain reputation and self-respect.

Filipino women and work

Traditionally, rural and tribal women do all the household related chores, but the heavy works that require more strength is done by the husband. The scope of their functions include cooking, cleaning, teaching the children, washing clothes, repairs, budgeting, and helping in the farm. The husband is the one who makes sure the farm would yield quality crops, so he does all the maintenance works. In some cases, where the husband needs help from other men, the wife would make sure that the men are fed, so she cooks food and bring it to the farm. The Filipino women, ensures that everyone is well fed, and this characteristics extends to the workers, relatives, or visitors.

In general, Filipino women find pride in their work. They do not find themselves alienated from their chores because they work with, around, and for their families. This family-oriented mindset gives them a sense of dignity and responsibility. The family and the children are the primary priority in a Filipina's life.[1]

Filipino women and Philippine politics

File:Corazon Aquino 1992.jpg

Corazon C. Aquino, 1992.

Compared to other countries, Filipino women have gained and enjoyed equal rights with men. They have became presidents, senators, congresswomen, mayors. They have served in government offices, and have held cabinet positions for presidents. Filipino women have proven that they are capable of carrying out responsibilities and tasks as well as their male counterparts.

However, the number of women who engage in politics are smaller compare to their male counterparts. This was primarily because engagement in politics is considered "dirty."

A recent study revealed that there is a re-emergence of the empowerment of Filipino women through the political process, just as they were prior to the arrival of the ancient conquerors from Spain. Philippine women are rediscovering their strengths. Filipino women had been successful in implementing policies by becoming executive staff members, advisers to politicians, and as advocates within non-governmental organizations.[6]

Modern-day Filipinas are making strides in electoral politics by initiating more female-oriented programs. They are performing well as leaders, although generally, Filipino women still often earn political seats by having fathers and husbands who are politically connected, a "dynasty system" that hinders other Filipino women from joining the electoral process. Other factors that prevent full-engagement of other well-qualified Filipinas from the Philippine political scene are the expense in politics and the importance of the family name.[6]

Participation of Filipino women in Philippine politics was encouraged during the Beijing Declaration in 1995 at the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women. In February 2005, however, a United Nations review on the progress of Philippine women and their role in politics revealed that despite "an increase in the quality of female politicians, there was not enough increase in" the number of women participants in government activities. From 1992 to 2001, Filipino women had been elected as local chief executives, functioning as mayors, governors, and captains of villages. One influential factor contributing to the increasing number of female politicians, is the elevation of Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as Philippine women Presidents.[6][8]

Filipino women in art

In his paintings of Filipino women, the Philippine National Artist Fernando Amorsolo rejected Western ideals of beauty in favor of Filipino ideals[12] He said that the women he painted have "a rounded face, not of the oval type often presented to us in newspapers and magazine illustrations. The eyes should be exceptionally lively, not the dreamy, sleepy type that characterizes the Mongolian. The nose should be of the blunt form but firm and strongly marked. ... So the ideal Filipina beauty should not necessarily be white complexioned, nor of the dark brown color of the typical Malayan, but of the clear skin or fresh colored type which we often witness when we met a blushing girl."[12]

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Clamonte, Nitz. Women in the Philippines, Compiled from Gender Awareness Seminars, developed and facilitated by Nitz Clamonte, (undated), archived from the original on 2007-09-28.
  2. The Role and Status of Women, U.S. Library of Congress, (undated), retrieved on: 11 July 2007
  3. Laya, Jaime C. and Michael Van D. Yonzon, Through the Years, Brightly: The Tadtarin; and Joaquin, Nick. The Summer Solstice, (undated),
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Vartti, Riitta (editor), “Women writers through the ages; The Spanish era”, The History of Filipino Women's Writings, an article from Firefly - Filipino Short Stories (Tulikärpänen - filippiiniläisiä novelleja), 2001 / 2007, retrieved on: April 12, 2008, "...Filipinas (i.e. Philippine women) enjoy a reputation of power and equality compared to most of their Asian neighbors..."; "...The Spaniards of the 1500s were horrified by the revolting liberty and too high social status of the woman, mujer indigena, in the islands just conquered by them. Women could own property and rule the people, act as leaders of rites and ceremonies of the society, and divorce their husbands..."; "The Conquistadors and the friars quickly changed this with the European model, where women's place was at home and not in prominent positions. As a consequence, during hundreds of years, education was given only to upper class girls, who were trained to become beautiful, submissive, capable to stitch embroidery, and suitable to marriage. The nun institution offered the only possibility for a career and teaching was the only educated occupation allowed to them..."
  5. 5.0 5.1 Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines, Ballantine Books, Random House, Inc., March 3, 1990, 536 pages, ISBN 0-345-32816-7
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Shah, Angilee. Women's Political Role on Rise in Philippines. UCLA International Institute. Retrieved 2007-07-12. (based on a lecture and election studies by Prosperina D. Tapales, professor of public administration at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines)
  7. Proserpina D. Tapales (2005). "Women in Contemporary Philippine Local Politics" (pdf). UCLA International Institute: UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies. Retrieved 2007-07-12.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Vartti, Riitta (editor), “Women writers through the ages; The U.S. Period”, The History of Filipino Women's Writings, an article from Firefly - Filipino Short Stories (Tulikärpänen - filippiiniläisiä novelleja), 2001 / 2007, retrieved on: April 12, 2008, "...They (i.e. Filipino women) were now, for the first time equally with men, accepted to study..."; "...Their problem was the resistance of the patriarchal society..."; "...The first woman president Corazon Aquino was elected to power..."; "Many women writers, especially those from the capital area, participated in the development of the media since the 1930s..."; "...In the turn of the 1970s began a period of cultural revolution, student movements and new rise of nationalism. For the women writers it meant social awakening, commitment and protest..."; "...The Filipinas now wanted to create their own images by themselves..."
  9. "Philippines: The Role and Status of the Filipina". Ecyclopedia of the Nations. June 1991. Retrieved 2007-07-12.
  10. Flavier, Juan Martin. Doctor to the Barrios, Experiences with the Philippine Reconstruction Movement, Chapter 10: Family Planning in the Barrios, New Day Publishers (1970/2007), p. 157, ISBN 9711006634.
  11. Courtship in the Philippines
  12. 12.0 12.1 Paras-Perez, Rodriguez. Amorsolo Drawings (excerpt available online) (1992), ISBN 9491386742.


External links

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