A Celebration of Women: Accomplishments and Aspirations

Image credit:  forbes.com

The United Nations’ 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women has given me the opportunity to reflect on the contributions of women to history and society.  Women are powerful agents of peace and development, of stability and reconciliation, of economic growth and prosperity, of social justice and gender equality.  We are pioneers in medicine, science, law, math, the arts and literature.  We are builders of families and communities.  We are visionaries, innovators, and activists.  And yet, although so much has been accomplished as we celebrate the advancements women have made, particularly during the past century, there is still a far way to go in terms of our aspirations.

The Wage Gap

The Philippines fares very well with regard to the global Gender Gap Index, ranking 5th in the world in 2013 and in 2012 the International Labour Organization – a special agency of the United Nations – reported that Filipino women earn an astounding 105% of their male counterparts earnings.  The Philippines is doing a far cry better than the United States where, despite legislation in the form of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by a white male.  This translates to women earning 78% of a man’s wages.

Political Representation and Inclusion

Across the globe we need to increase women’s presence in the chambers of government.  Women must increasingly be included, and have a role, in policy formation and the decision-making processes in order to shape more equitable and sustainable societies.  When women participate in the executive, legislative, and judicial processes nations are strengthened and economies are able to flourish.  In the Philippines women’s political representation and inclusion is lagging behind the global Millennium Development Goals’ target of 50% parity in political representation.  Only 19.97% of elected posts were occupied by women as of 2013.

Legal Status

In matters of property rights, divorce, custody, and violence women continue to seek equality before the law.   In some parts of the developing world where women are property inheritors / holders, business women, and breadwinners they and their property –including  wages – are subjugated by the law to husbands and male relatives who are favored by the legal system.  Still, too many women are the victims of violence at home and in their communities and their protection has yet to be established or enforced.  The terrible truth is one in five Filipino women aged 15-49 are victims of physical violence and one in ten women is subjected to sexual violence.  In addition to physical trauma the majority of victims of violence against women report serious psychological consequences such as depression, anxiety and anger.  Fortunately the Philippines has sustained a public information campaign on violence against women and has taken legislative measures to prosecute the offenders to the full measure of the law including husbands and live-in partners.

Family Planning

Women’s autonomy continues to be undermined by antiquated religious doctrine and repressive governments who would deny women the right to limit, space, or prevent pregnancy.  When women have agency in terms of their bodies and reproductive health they are able to make decisions informed by their needs and desires.  With the authority of self-determination women can make choices to provide for themselves and their families and are able to avoid poverty and indigence.  Forty-nine percent of Filipino women utilize some form of family planning.  Of those women 37% are using modern family planning methods while 12 % continue to rely on traditional methods putting women at greater risk of having more children than they desire or are able to provide for and as Philippine society grows at 2% annually it is an ever increasing problem pressing on already overburdened and under-resourced social and environmental infrastructures.  Family planning is at the heart of sustainable societies and having access to the full range of modern methods means women have choice in planning their families.

Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by a nascent United Nations, was born in the aftermath of depraved human barbarity when the world leaders cried out for a charter, an agreement, that would establish what it is to be human and the dignity every human being is to be afforded.  The Declaration enshrined, and made sacrosanct, the rights of every man, woman, and child and lent itself to two successive generations of human rights that have expanded the identity of humanity beyond the scope of liberty and political rights.

It would be difficult to have a discussion of women’s rights without mentioning the framework of feminism.  While feminism accomplished a great deal in what are deemed the three waves, as well as women figures prominent in ancient, medieval, Enlightenment, and Victorian histories, today the word is synonymous with exclusion (of men) and infused with conflict when it needn’t be.  Feminism is a social movement, a philosophy, even an academic endeavor.  It advocates for women’s industrial, mental, political, social, and economic equality with men and is a legitimate and natural extension of human rights.  It is not about exclusion of one sex but the desire of the other to be fully included in society.

When all is said and done, human rights are the basis of our individual and collective dignity.  It is our morals and ethics that are the weights and measures of civilization and are what defines us as societies.  That we still strive for egalitarian community in this world is evidence enough that we continue to struggle with the idea of equality.   Women’s place in society is assured.  We are here and will continue to be.  Joined together with our like minded male counterparts our work is before us to achieve that ever elusive equality.