BAGUIO CITY – The need to recognize women’s rights was brought to fore by a male-dominated society where males traditionally enjoy preferential treatment in various aspects of the community. Since then, international bodies have pushed for the integration of programs that aim to achieve gender equality in all fields of society, governance and economy.
The idea of gender and development is not simply an advocacy topic but more importantly it is a national economic issue that can directly impact a nation’s income levels. The following statements are excerpts from the World Economic Forum’s rationale on its gender parity program:
Women make up half of the potential human capital available in any economy, and the efficient use of this talent pool is a key driver of competitiveness.
“Achieving gender equality is obviously necessary for economic reasons. Only those economies who have full access to all their talent will remain competitive and will prosper. But even more important, gender equality is a matter of justice. As a humanity, we also have the obligation to ensure a balanced set of values,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF is an organization that gathers the world’s business and political leaders that aim to discuss how to improve the world’s economic state.
The Global Gender Gap report by the WEF released last year cited that healthy and educated women are likely to have healthier and more educated children, creating a virtuous cycle for any community or country. When the number of women involved in political decision-making reaches a critical mass, their decisions – which take into account the needs of a wider segment of society – lead to more inclusive results. The report further noted that companies that recruit and retain women, and ensure that they attain leadership positions, outperform those that do not.
Forerunner in gender equality
The Philippines, having elected the first female president in Asia, is one of the countries that has been adamant in championing gender equality both in the private and government sectors. The country’s chief legislators and executives have passed and approved enabling laws that will promote and institutionalize gender issues within government activities, programs and processes. In fact, the Philippines is the first country in Asia and the 16th nation in the world to adopt a National Action Plan (NAP) on United Nations Resolutions on Peace, Women and Security. The Philippines ranked 9th out of 135 countries and the only Asian country to enter in the top 10 of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report since 2006.
One of the most recognized gender mainstreaming efforts is the conscious allocation of government funds for gender and development activities. Five percent of a government instrumentality’s budget should be allocated and spent for gender and development activities duly identified as focus areas. The Department of Budget Management has even noted that the budget development process should become more “gender-responsive”. This means that there should be real and conscious effort towards integrating gender and development activities within the budget allocations of government instrumentalities.
Republic Act (RA) No. 7192, or the “Women in Development and Nation-Building Act,” set into motion the allocation of a certain percentage of official development assistance for gender concerns. The law has likewise been the starting point of what is now known as the Gender and Development (GAD) Budget Policy, which was initiated in the 1995 General Appropriations Act, that specifically mandates all government departments, bureaus, offices and agencies to set aside at least 5 percent of their total budget appropriations on gender and development.
Gender equality: a challenge in CAR
As noted earlier women leadership is critical in achieving a more inclusive economic growth since women are expected to champion women rights and issues. However, the Cordillera remains a region characterized by a bias towards male leadership, but this gender gap is slowly narrowing as more women in the private sector as well as in regional line agencies of the government have occupied key leadership positions.
Women participation in local policy-making and leadership remains to be weak. By reviewing the region’s list of elected officials, one can easily conclude that leadership and policy-making are dominated by males. In the Cordillera region, there are no women among the governors, only two of the members of congress are women, one female vice governor and of the 75 municipalities, only 9 are women. It should be noted that the province of Abra has more women leaders compared to other provinces in the region. Their congress representative, vice governor and seven mayors are women.
In several instances, evaluation and implementation reports on internationally-funded programs infer that tradition and culture has something to do with this apparent inequality in local politics. In 2007, a portion of the evaluation report submitted to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) noted that gender issues were not within the consciousness of most of the implementers of development projects in the region.
A more recent monitoring report on the 2nd Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resource Management Project (CHARMP2) even stated that “Cordilleran women have limited opportunities for political participation, both in the indigenous and government structure.” It noted that the traditional governing body among indigenous communities is the council of elders, constituted of male members. The report further stated that exclusion of women is so severe that when council meetings are being conducted, women are not allowed to even walk by, much less participate. “Their sole contribution toward these meetings is the preparation of food for the event.”
At the barangay and municipality levels of government, the national trend holds true with very few women taking up leadership positions. Men simply became symbols of strength and were traditionally expected to take on leadership roles. The impact of culture and tradition on the bias for male leadership cannot be understated.
This, however, does not necessarily mean that there is an active effort to exclude women in leadership positions. Some foreign observers even noted that Cordillera women are not excluded from leadership positions and productive activities on the basis of gender. The male bias engrained in culture and tradition is simply difficult to overcome. Voters have been hard-wired to choose leaders, consciously or unconsciously, on the basis of strength and might.
This is where the five percent budget allocation of government entities, especially local government units (LGUs), can be properly utilized. More than simply conducting seminars and meetings, LGUs need to take concrete steps in instituting processes that actively monitor progress of GAD-related policies and informing the public of the importance of gender equality in economic growth.
By making a paradigm shift from GAD as simply an advocacy to GAD as potential economic growth driver, LGUs can find a renewed motivation for pushing policies that encourage GAD best practices. LGUs can institute policies and push legislative agenda that range from non-discrimination in hiring to maternity and paternity leave regimes to programs encouraging women’s participation in economic life. The WEF said that government policy is critical for shaping the type of ecosystem that facilitates women’s economic participation, and governments should institute policies that encourage women to work and make it easier for them to do so. By KEVIN PHILIP D. GAYAO