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The ‘gender gap’ and some questions

It’s a piece of good news, certainly, but also puzzling, if not at times contradicting reality.

I’m talking about recent news that the Philippines has just emerged as “Asia’s best performing country” in closing gender disparity this year, at least according to the 2013 Global Gender Gap Report.

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The Philippines has climbed three places—from eighth position to fifth—besting all other countries in Asia and even some in Europe and elsewhere.

Iceland remains at the top while Finland placed second. The remaining top countries are: Norway, Sweden, Philippines, Ireland, New Zealand, Denmark, Switzerland and Nicaragua.

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The World Economic Forum, which draws up the yearly report, noted that this is the first time the Philippines entered the “Top Five” in the list, ascribing the feat to “small improvements in the Economic and Opportunity sub-indexes.” The Philippines also ranked 10th on the Political Empowerment sub-index and “remains the highest-ranking country from Asia in the Index… being the only country in Asia and the Pacific that has fully closed the gender gap in both education and health.”

This is of course welcome recognition of the efforts of both governmental and nongovernmental bodies to elevate the status of Filipino women. The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), the lead policymaking and coordinating body on women and gender equality concerns, for one, says it is “elated that our efforts are now paying off.”

“Though this improvement in rank reflects that gender disparities are narrowing, we cannot be overconfident because the index does not show overall development levels which are still wanting,” the PCW said. “Efforts to keep children in school especially boys, to expand economic opportunities for women and increase women’s participation in decision-making positions need to be accelerated and sustained in all spheres (of) society as stated in the Magna Carta of Women (MCW),” the commission added.

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Observers though are still puzzled at the climb in rank achieved by the country given the still-abysmal status of women in the country especially in the field of health and of reproductive health in particular.

“Frankly, I don’t understand the standards they used,” remarks Dr. Junice Demetrio Melgar, executive director of the NGO Likhaan which has led the way in the fight for reproductive health and rights, specifically through the Reproductive Health Law. (Disclosure, I also sit on the board of Likhaan.) “To think that Filipino women continue to suffer the consequences of different forms of discrimination. Filipino women’s enjoyment of their human and sexual and reproductive rights continues to be obstructed. The current status of the RH Law is just one of our concerns,” added Melgar.

Melgar cites disturbing statistics: the Philippines has one of the highest incidences of unintended pregnancies (54 percent), teenage pregnancies, unsafe abortion (610,000 a year), stagnant contraceptive prevalence rate, and maternal mortality rate. “We’re one of the few countries that cannot meet MDG (Goal) 5 by 2015. In fact, with 221 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, we’re way, way behind our target of 52.”

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She likewise mentions the fact that “we have one of the most restrictive abortion laws (in the world). Even women seeking treatment for incomplete spontaneous abortions (miscarriage) are treated badly in public hospitals. Just imagine the harrowing experiences of those who had unsafe abortion. DOH and POGS (Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society) cannot even agree on the ‘gold standard of treatment’ for post-abortion care (DOH prefers the more effective, less invasive MVA or manual vacuum aspiration). Incidence of violence against women remains high.”

While Melgar concedes that “we do have improvements in healthcare,” she cautions that “the quality, affordability of services, and the proximity of health facilities continue to constrain our poor and marginalized women from enjoying their rights.”

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Their poor health situation “is very much interrelated to women’s economic situation and education,” Melgar adds. “Filipino women comprise almost 70 percent of our informal economy where workers do not enjoy the benefits their counterparts in the formal economy enjoy.

Underemployment and unemployment among women are also high. A high number of our women are in jobs that are low-paying, under poor working conditions both here and abroad.

Comments Melgar: “We may have more women in government. Unfortunately, this has yet to be translated into more pro-women policies and programs. Many of these women are/were more anti-women than their male counterparts.”

Indeed, while the number of women in public office has steadily been increasing (though not as fast as some would hope), many of our women elected and appointed officials have proven to be among the most difficult hurdles to overcome in the effort to bring about gender equality. This is seen not just in the vote on the RH Law (with women legislators being among the most vociferous opponents of the law) but also in the involvement of women in the current scandals concerning the PDAF and other government funds.

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Perhaps an antidote to the situation would be the whole-day forum next Tuesday, Nov. 12 called “Women Stepping Up: Conversations on Women Leadership and Empowerment.”

The keynote speaker will be Sen. Grace Poe, who topped the last senatorial elections, together with Peggy Rockefeller Dulany, founder and chair of the SynergoInstitute, an independent global nonprofit organization “dedicated to creating effective, sustainable and locally based solutions to poverty.”

The event likewise launches the Business and Women’s Network or BPW, and is cosponsored by the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.

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TAGS: gender gap, Global Gender Gap Report, nation, news, women issues, World Economic Forum
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