Today’s presidential front-runner has astonished the world with his blatant disregard for women’s rights. But rather than being bullied into retreat, women leaders are now willing to stand up and fight. After all, in this country, female voters outnumber male voters by as many as 1.7 million votes.
In terms of gender empowerment, best-case scenarios would include the election of either Grace Poe or Mar Roxas for the presidency, and Leni Robredo for the vice presidency. Even as the candidates cling to their announced affiliations—Grace with running mate Chiz Escudero and Leni as vice president of Mar Roxas—we Filipinos, especially women, can root for our own.
Based on platforms, if Poe wins, we would expect her to push for improvements in women’s education and healthcare, and to act against gender discrimination of all kinds, as embodied in her impressive women’s platform. And should Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte win, having Leni Robredo—a lawyer and social activist who has had considerable grassroots immersion—as VP, could lead to her countering his strong man tendencies; the “malasakit” (compassion) to his “tapang” (courage).
The Davao Mayor, not particularly popular among feminists in general, has raised the ire of women’s rights protesters, who blocked traffic along Quezon City’s Timog Avenue last May 5 to show their distaste for Duterte and vice presidential front-runner Bongbong Marcos. The protesters scored what they perceived to be Duterte’s misogynist pronouncements and Bongbong’s candidacy, rooted in the “corrupt and dictatorial legacy” of his father, dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Their message: Don’t vote for those who violate human rights, especially those of women.
Winning elections remains a challenge for women politicians. Aside from the prohibitive costs, despite rules against extravagant expenditures, female politicians must also deal with the obstacles inherent in patronage politics dominated by their male candidates. Consider this: in the 2016 elections, in a field of five, Senators Grace Poe and non-starter Miriam Defensor Santiago, are the only two women running for the presidency. Camarines Sur representative Leni Robredo is the sole female vice presidential candidate and, of the 50 “senatoriables,” there are only eight women. Even then, only two—Risa Hontiveros and Leila de Lima—are expected to have a good chance of winning.
Of course, there has been some progress in recent years. We’ve made strides in women’s empowerment, for instance, with the passage of the Magna Carta for Women and the Reproductive Health Law. Indeed, the World Economic Forum (WEF) gender equality report for 2015 ranks the Philippines first in Asia and the Pacific, and seventh overall (out of 144 nations) in the world. Yet the voices of female politicians are lacking, as indicated by the fact that we rank very low for women’s political empowerment.