Thursday, November 23, 2006

Here's to women

Let us treat men and women well; treat them as if they were real. Perhaps they are.—Ralph Waldo Emerson

THE Philippines is probably the only country in the world where men call their women “commanders.” We thought all along that this is just a ruse by husbands to get into the kulambo after coming home reeking of booze until the World Economic Forum (WEF) released its gender gap report on Wednesday saying the Philippines ranks high—the only developing country—with those countries who give power and equality to women. And it’s a distinct honor for a country that has always been ranked lower in other measurements related to “competitiveness,” “economic freedom,” and “ease to do business” by several international institutions.

Besides the Philippines (ranked No. 6), countries in the top 10 include Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Germany, New Zealand, Denmark, United Kingdom and Ireland, in that order. These countries are on the honor roll for closing the gender gap between the sexes in four areas—namely, economic participation and opportunity (the outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment), educational attainment (access to basic and higher level education), political empowerment (representation in decision-making structures), and health and survival (life expectancy and sex ratio).

In short, while the Philippines is not as rich as these Nordic and European countries, our country has come a long way in terms of economic, political, educational and health opportunities to both men and women. In that aspect of life, the Philippines has come of age.

It used to be that parents would only send their boys to schools and the girls to the marriage altar. Not anymore. In fact, there seems to be more girls than boys in high-school and college campuses. An initial assessment of the country’s chances for attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015 has shown that it is in gender equality in school where the Philippines has excelled, even before reckoning time. Moreover, women are now represented in all levels of government and layers of the corporate world.

At the same time, women live longer than men these days!

WEF’s Gender Gap Index report, therefore, is a fitting tribute to Filipino women, who, for a long time, have been carrying the heavier burdens of saving this country from economic damnation.
Now, to say they are carrying the “heavier” load would probably make the Filipino machos in our midst shudder. But statistics do support this assertion. If one looks at our economic statistics more closely, one would realize that more than 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product is accounted for by the “globalized” sector of the Philippine economy.

We are talking here of the export sector (the bulk of which is electronics), outsourcing and overseas employment that have been propping up consumption. Many of the warm bodies in these economic sectors are women.

In the last decade, the Philippines has been sending more and more skilled professionals, which account for the double-digit growth rates in remittances. More than 60 percent of these newly deployed overseas workers are women essentially because developed countries need an ever-increasing number of nurses, caregivers and therapists (careers still dominated by women) to care for their graying population.

If one looks closely at the country’s national income accounts, one could see that “personal consumption expenditure” accounts for more than 70 percent of the country’s GDP or the value of goods and services produced, traded and paid for within the country’s borders.
Inasmuch as the Philippine overseas employment has been “feminized” it’s easy to assume that women have significantly helped in sustaining the jobs in factories, offices and shopping malls.
Indeed, the authors of WEF’s gender gap report did not write the report out of sheer sentimentalism. They prepared it with real economic sense in mind.

Said Laura Tyson, dean of the London Business School and one of the principal authors of the report: “Our work shows a strong correlation between GDP per capita and the gender gap scores. While this does not imply causality, the possible theoretical underpinnings of this link are quite simple: countries that do not fully capitalize effectively on one-half of their human resources run the risk of undermining their competitive potential. We hope to highlight the economic incentive behind empowering women in addition to promoting equality as a basic human right.”

It’s one facet of our economic development that the Philippines needs to nurture. And it’s not only because we love our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters, but also because it makes so much economic sense for all men and women to do so.

And certainly, despite the plaudits given us by WEF, we need to do more to address the remaining gender gaps especially in issues like domestic violence and rape, among others.
The past few years we have made great strides in legislating better protection for women—against sexual harassment in the workplace, against domestic violence, and against discriminatory provisions in civil law.

Yet by the very nature of our economic strategy of encouraging the wholesale export of workers, we still have to mainstream protective measures for Filipino migrant women. Trafficking in women, especially in minors, becomes easy because of weak enforcement despite tougher laws against trafficking per se and against passport falsification. Each day hundreds of minors are lured by syndicates to nonexistent jobs in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, especially, given falsified passports to hide their true age, and then shipped off to brothels—from where, often, the only way to freedom is a perilous escape. No wonder they come back with broken bones, and worse, broken spirits, if not in boxes.

Unless we can address fully these outstanding issues, we cannot completely bring out the champagne over the WEF report. Yes, we’ve joined the ranks of First-World countries, but we keep dark secrets that must be purged decisively.

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