99 years to go
In a lecture last Wednesday to Chinese professors, I boasted about the Philippines being consistently among the top 10 nations when it comes to closing the gap between men and women in terms of empowerment and opportunities.
That very same day, only a few hours after the lecture, I read a news item about our having dropped from 8th place last year to 16th in the latest Global Gender Gap Index, which is produced annually by the World Economic Forum.
I quickly downloaded the full report and found that we still did quite well. We are still the Asian country with the highest rank; the second highest, Laos, trails far behind at 43rd. We are doing well in health (women having an average life expectancy five years more than men) and in education (at the tertiary or college level, females outnumber males, accounting for 57 percent of enrollment). The problem is that more countries around the world are doing better than we are and overtaking us for the final score.There was also one indicator where we fared worse than in the previous year, and this is in political empowerment. In the President’s Cabinet, female representation dropped from 25 percent to 10 percent between 2017 and 2019; among legislators, the already low percentage of women dropped further, although ever so slightly, down to 28 percent. All these figures show how there might be a disconnect in the way women’s status improves in various spheres: the economic, the social and the political.
The first time I visited China back in the 1980s, I was impressed, from the moment our plane landed, to see a woman driving one of the mini-trucks to pick up luggage. In the days that followed, I saw women bus drivers, women in construction—in other words, women were very visible in the economic field.China had clearly gone a long way from the time of my paternal grandmother, born and raised in China. She never got formal education, and had her feet bound as a child with tight cloth bandages that cut off the blood circulation and kept the feet tiny. In effect, these “lotus feet” crippled the women, limiting their mobility.But the emancipation of Chinese women in the economic and social spheres has not been matched in politics, the leadership in government still overwhelmingly male—older men if we want to be specific.
Among the 153 countries that participated in this Global Gender Gap Index, four Nordic countries were at the top: Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden.
Asia remains a problematic region, especially East Asia where the countries may be economic tigers, but fare poorly in the Global Gender Gap Index. In this latest report, China ranked 106th, South Korea 108th and Japan 121st.Note that the United States only ranked 53rd; when you think about it, it does lag in political empowerment. It has never had a woman president, while we’ve had two.
Lack of female representation means slower strides in legal reforms needed to give women more opportunities. Even in the Philippines with its fairly high rank in the Global Gender Gap Index, we still see budgets for contraceptives being slashed each year by the likes of Sen. Vicente Sotto, such that he is now being accused of “reproductive coercion.”Look around in your own circles and workplaces to see how much female empowerment, or disempowerment, there is. At the University of the Philippines, during a recent rally protesting recent decisions by the Board of Regents, there were placards asking why there was only one woman in the 11-person board, hinting that the governance problems at the university were somewhat linked to macho power.As I often point out when writing about these statistical indices comparing countries, we should keep local contexts in mind. Sure, we may have more females than males in high school and in colleges and might take pride in the results of another study, Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment), showing that among 15-year-old students, our females did better than males in reading and in science, and were about equal to males in math. But then the same report shows that our students ranked lowest among 79 countries in reading, and second to the lowest in math and science.
The Global Gender Gap Index gives an estimate each year on the length of time still needed for the world, as a whole, to close the gaps between males and females. Their assessment this year: We will need another 99.5 years for the world to close the gaps. There’s reason to gasp at the gaps.