The other day I dropped by our school’s Gender Studies and Development Center and had a brief chat with a good friend of mine, who also happens to chair the center. We had exactly the same observation on the progress of empowering women at the grassroots level here in the Philippines, and in Dumaguete City in particular—it’s moving at a snail’s pace.
The Philippines, being a developing country, is made up mostly of rural areas with people firmly shackled to the old ways of life. By this I mean that gender roles are strongly defined. In several barangays—our villages or districts in the Philippines—women have held on firmly to the concept that their place belongs in the household while men must solely be the breadwinners of the family.
This has resulted in women becoming very dependent on the incomes of their husbands or male family members, which has made it even harder for the typical grassroots Filipino family to get by as we enter the threshold of a global financial crisis.
The efforts of the government and non-governmental organizations to re-educate and retrain women to engage in economic activities that will not only help them put food on the table but will also empower to have a hand in making decisions, have produced negligible impacts considering that the women’s liberation movement reached the shores nearly thirty years ago.
The biggest obstacle so far has been, surprisingly, women themselves. While re-educating young men on the changing roles of women has already been in place in schools in some cities, more efforts are needed on women who firmly believe that they must sacrifice their careers so as to take care of their families.
The task may sound simple but it really is a tall order. In the coming 2010 national elections, many of us who are involved in advocacy of women’s empowerment are encouraging more and more women to join policy-making and decision-making bodies in order to advocate the cause at a greater level. We want women leaders who know what “gender equality” truly stands for and those who know that the first step in attaining that is by breaking the gender stereotypes that are so prevalent in developing countries.
We see that this is one of the best ways by which we will be able to mitigate the impending effects of the looming financial crisis. If more and more women are empowered and if more men will support their wives and daughters in their economic pursuits, more money will be in circulation. Money, after all, is the fuel of the economy.