Inspiration and regret
There are inspiring reasons why Filipino women should salute themselves in marking International Women’s Day today.
Here are three to start with, among the other sterling achievers and movers and shakers: Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and Commission on Audit Chair Grace Pulido-Tan. All feisty, sharp and strong-willed, they are tasked to investigate and prosecute those behind the pork barrel scam that saw P10 billion in public funds slipping unconscionably, almost effortlessly, into private pockets.
“These women have changed the trajectory of Philippine politics,” a netizen once said of the formidable triumvirate.
But for all that, even as Filipino women may congratulate themselves for one more collective proof that gender is but an accident of nature and not a job qualification, there is still plenty of room for dismay and regret. Filipino women continue to be weighed down by disturbing realities underlining the perception that women, particularly young girls, continue to be seen as largely chattel and prey.
Consider the blood-chilling headlines on the rape-slay of female children—a six-year-old in Paco, Manila, a nine-year-old in Taguig City, and a toddler in Batangas province in the last two months alone, in a country where family ties are proudly trundled out as patently Filipino.
Elsewhere—in Cordova, Cebu, in Navotas, in Davao, and in a school in Mandaluyong—cybersex dens have turned up to be flourishing enterprises, a lucrative way to peddle Filipino children to pedophiles abroad.
In fact, data from Transparency International indicate that 100,000 of the estimated 800,000 involved in the Philippines’ sex industry are children and minors.
Most appalling is how a number of these children are taught to act out the clients’ sex fantasies by their own parents or guardians.
How has this country come to this pass? Two women presidents and countless amended and gender-sensitive laws later, women and children are still treated as merchandise to be sold, or as witless wards subject to the whims and presumed wisdom of older authorities, usually male.
This might explain why the Supreme Court continues to hold the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act hostage almost a year since its approval by elected members of Congress who finally passed it after 14 years of contentious debate.
The justices who voted to extend indefinitely the120-day temporary restraining order on the RH Law chose to believe the bishops and other anti-RH parties who insisted that it would promote abortion and open the floodgates to women’s promiscuity, as if women were children who needed to be restrained and shielded from their own nature.
The landmark law, now indefinitely frozen, would provide free contraceptives and maternal health services to impoverished women, an acknowledgment that although birth control is legal and widely available in the country, it remains out of reach of many poor women, especially those living in remote areas.
The RH Law also mandates sex education in schools, a subject that would teach children, among other lessons, to respect their bodies and protect themselves from the predatory touch of errant kin and strangers.
Freezing the RH Law withholds from women their basic right to reproductive and maternal health and exposes their children to misinformation that could lead to early pregnancy or sexual abuse.
Burdened by poverty, poor women with more mouths to feed than their household can afford are consigning their children to the same marginalized fate they are enduring—a downward spiral that translates lack of education into lack of opportunities and choices.
That the six-year-old rape victim in Paco is the third of seven children and that so many mothers have resorted to selling their children through the Net are harsh indications for everyone to come to grips with: that despite global celebration, International Women’s Day has yet to translate into a true day for women, one that honors the choices that would shape and change their lives.
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