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How Many Filipino Women Have We Elected into Public Office?

The number of Filipina politicians has risen, but they still remain a minority group.
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Good news: More Filipinas are becoming involved in public service. The not-so-good news: They still make up just one-fifth of the government.

From business to politics, it’s true that women’s representation is growing in various fields. On the latest World’s Billionaires List by U.S. magazine Forbes, for example, two Filipinas were included for the first time.

The number of women billionaires all over the world also grew significantly over the years. From only 91 in 2010, it more than doubled to 243 in 2019.

The same is true for women in the corporate scene. A Grant Thornton study in March 2019 said the Philippines leads in Asia with the highest percentage of Filipinas in senior management—at 37.5 percent.

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This same trend is seen in the public sector. The number of elected women has steadily risen in recent years in the Philippines, with a small exception in 2004 when it slightly dipped by 2.6 percent based on data from the Commission on Elections (Comelec). In 2016, women made up 21.5 percent of all elected officials—the highest in the past seven election years.

More women also took courage to run for public office in the 2016 elections compared to the previous years. The percentage of women candidates was the highest then, at 19.4 percent. These posts include all elective positions in both the executive and legislative branches of the government, as well as those in local government units.

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But while more women are now actively taking part in politics, they still belong to the minority.

The Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), a non-profit organization of lawmakers from Southeast Asia that works to improve human rights in the region, revealed on International Women’s Day that the number of women in the parliament is “very low” across Southeast Asia—with Timor Leste as the highest at 33.8 percent and Thailand as the lowest at just 5.3 percent. The Philippines ranks second, at a little over 30 percent.

Teddy Baguilat, a board member of the APHR and district representative of Ifugao, called for stepping up “efforts to remove barriers to women’s participation and close the equality gap.”

But gender equality is just one aspect of why there is a big need for more women elected in the government. A bigger reason should be because women politicians tend to champion and enact laws that benefit women, simply because they know and share the same challenges with them.

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In fact, a study by American political scientist and Georgetown University professor Michele Swers in 2002 revealed that the gender of Congress representatives “is politically significant and does indeed influence policymaking.”

In the Philippines, the most recent law seen to benefit women is the Expanded Maternity Leave Act, which grants employed women in the government and private sectors 105 days of paid maternity leave. It was signed into law in February this year.

The Safe Spaces bill, which the Senate ratified also in February, likewise protects women from gender-based street and public spaces harassment. Both were sponsored by Senator Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel.

The state of women representation in the Philippines may still be far from what is ideal to achieve true gender equality, but the progress in recent years—albeit small—is a good start.

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About The Author
Pauline Macaraeg
Esquire Philippines
Pauline is Esquire Philippines’ data journalist. Follow her on Twitter @paulinemacaraeg.
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