Wanted: More female candidates in 2016

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Political parties should field more women candidates in next year’s elections to help increase the voice of women in governance and policy-making, Sen. Pia Cayetano said yesterday.

Cayetano, who chairs the Senate committee on women, gender and family relations, made the call ahead of International Women’s Day tomorrow and the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2016 national and local polls in October this year.

“Despite all the gains that women have achieved in society, they continue to be grossly underrepresented in the realm of politics. There are only six women out of 24 members in the Senate, or 25 percent, and 79 out of 289 members in the House of Representatives, or 27 percent,” she said.

Cayetano said political parties can play a crucial role in bridging the gender gap in Philippine politics by giving women a better chance of getting elected to public positions.

“It is high time that we increase the representation of women in political parties. Moreover, political parties must espouse women’s issues as part of their party platform. This could help raise awareness and lay the foundations for developing a genuine ‘women’s vote’ in the country,” she said in a statement.

“We already had two women presidents and quite a number of women senators. This shows that Filipino voters recognize that women are as capable and qualified to run the affairs of state and craft laws,” she added.

Cayetano noted that women’s representation at the local level is even lower.

She said women occupy only 22 percent of gubernatorial posts, 18 percent of vice-gubernatorial posts, 18 percent of provincial board seats, 21 percent of mayoralty posts, 20 percent of city council seats and 20 percent of municipal council seats.

On the average, only one in five elected local executives is a woman, she added.

Citing records from the Commission on Elections, Cayetano noted that of the 44,326 candidates who ran for various national and local elective posts in the 2013 elections, excluding party-list groups, only 7,925 or 18 percent were women.

“Women make up half of our population and yet they occupy just one-fifth of government elective positions,” the senator said.

“This gender imbalance reflects why many of our laws are biased against women, or why women’s issues and concerns relating to family are often neglected,” Cayetano added.

Cayetano co-authored some pro-women legislation, such as the Reproductive Health Act, Magna Carta of Women and Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act.

She noted that in many industrialized and progressive countries, more women occupy government positions, including seats in parliament and local policy-making bodies. She also cited studies by the United Nations, which correlate democratic and transparent governance with women representation in government.

The senator urged political leaders to change what she sees as a token representation of women being tapped by political parties during elections.

“Giving women this opportunity is really one way of expanding the choices for the electorate and advancing reforms in our electoral and political system,” she added.

Likewise, the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) executive director Emmeline Verzosa said in a press briefing yesterday that despite a steady but gradual increase in women’s participation in policy and decision-making in government, “the current situation leaves a lot to be desired.”

“We hope that in the coming 2016 elections, the statistics may positively change. Women comprise half of the population and can contribute to national development and inclusive growth,” Verzosa said.

She also said that the commission is pushing to make penalties for marital infidelity equal for men and women, noting that the Revised Penal Code’s provisions on adultery and concubinage make it easier to punish women than their male counterparts.

Adultery involves a woman having sex with a man not her husband, while concubinage is committed by man who cohabits and has sexual intercourse with a woman not his wife.

She also noted that they are pushing for an anti-prostitution bill “because the current provision in the Revised Penal Code identifies a prostitute as a woman and criminalizes the woman. What we would like to do is to criminalize instead the users, the pimps, the bar owners – those who make prostitution a business.”

According to Verzosa, 2015 is a significant year for women in the Philippines and in the rest of the world as it marks the 40th anniversary of the PCW and the 20th year since the Beijing Platform for Action – the agenda to uphold gender equality, development and peace during the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women – was adopted.

Citing a 2014 World Economic Forum report, which ranked the Philippines as ninth in the world and the only Asian country in the top 10 that upholds gender equality, Verzosa noted that the country has overcome the gender gap in educational attainment and health and survival aspects.

“We now have the Magna Carta of Women passed in 2009 and other laws that cover various aspects of ‘Juana’s’ life and human rights and her entitlement to various programs and services in education, health, access to resources, decent jobs, safety and security, representation and participation, among others,” she said.

The PCW director also noted that women in the country enjoy an equal share in employment opportunities and are being provided assistance in micro, small and medium enterprises.

However, Verzosa said that the Philippines is still behind its goal of bringing down maternal mortality rates and that the increasing rate of teenage pregnancies is alarming.

“This is why the implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law remains a priority to ensure that the young, poor and disadvantaged women have access to all the services and the wide range of means to plan their families,” she said. – With Aurea Calica


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