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Free MRT rides for Women's Month
Women line up as they avail of free MRT ride at the MRT North Ave Station in Quezon City on March 8, 2021 as part of the commemoration of National Women’s Month. The pandemic has increased the occurrence of domestic abuse, shrank job opportunities and widened the gender gap in the labor force.
The STAR/Michael Varcas

The pandemic is tough for all but Filipino women are carrying an even heavier burden

Lovely Ramos (Philstar.com) - March 18, 2021 - 11:21am

A version of this essay was first published on the Philippine Strategic Forum, a content partner of Philstar.com.
 

The Filipino woman’s quest for independence and security is a lasting reflection of socio-political and economic pains at historical conjunctures. The colonization and commodification of her body during the colonial period and the continuation of the feudal-patriarchal system despite the nation’s independence have ultimately shaped a society that greatly challenges her access to livelihood, resources and equal rights.

Today, we see how these same struggles intensify in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Domestic abuse is increasing, job opportunities for women are shrinking, more workers are being forced to endure abysmal labor conditions as unjust wages and the gender gap widens due to pandemic-induced recession and the lack of concrete, pro-poor, pro-women response to it.

The burden of care and unpaid domestic labor

More than 50 million women are pushed toward extreme poverty due to job loss. Job loss rates are twice as high for women than they are for men. In October 2020, the Philippines recorded the lowest Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) at 58.7% with women’s LFPR shrinking more compared to men. Despite the relaxation of community quarantine measures late last year, only 45% female adults in the Philippines were looking for or were able to secure a job, as compared to 72.3% who wanted to work. 

For the female sector, economic precarity is not just part of the new normal, it is a longstanding problem that has consistently bruised their place, participation and rank in the labor force. Yet apart from the industrial downturns caused by COVID-19, dropping out of labor is also attributed to the high burden of care and unpaid domestic work that women are forced to deal with now more than ever.

Women were already spending an average of 26 hours per week looking after children (versus 20 hours per week for men) prior to the pandemic, but the United Nations suggests that this number has now risen by 5.2 hours, which is tantamount to a full-time job of doing unpaid childcare.

Apart from the daily chores, distance learning has indeed created a significant amount of additional work for mothers.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5, Target 5.4 acknowledged the need to value the care economy in addressing gender inequality and abuse: “recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies, and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.” However, specific targets related to the distribution and recognition of unpaid work are not clearly defined. 

The Philippines may have a proposed House Bill 8875 that legislates a salary for stay-at-home mothers, yet beyond compensation, what women need now are long-term national policies and public services that can fully empower them in all aspects such as equipping and incentivizing assistance to distance learning, giving them access to free, quality healthcare and refining laws that would protect them from unjust working conditions.

Long-term risks and exploitation heightened by distance learning

The modular classroom setup forces parents to become facilitators and part of this task means learning the subjects and tools themselves. However, in a recent survey by a group of advocates called Movement for Safe, Equitable, Quality and Relevant Education (SEQuRE), only 42.7% of parents said that they were confident about how they give school lessons to their children due to lack of time, knowledge and most of all resources to address the demands of modular classes.

Meanwhile, 71.6% of online distance learners reported that there were instances when their attendance suffered due to problems in gadgets, internet connectivity or cost of online learning.

The national government remains undeterred when it comes to the "no vaccine, no face-to-face class" policy to contain the spread of the virus. And yet one aspect is still at risk: the health of teachers. Out of 1,395 teachers surveyed by SEQuRE, in which 83% are females, 46.7% believe that the Department of Education’s preparations have not been adequate to protect their physical health particularly in terms of ensuring their safety in the distribution and collection of modules.

The negative impact of the health and economic crisis on household dynamics and education further exposed increasing exploitation of women and children. The Department of Justice reported a 264% increase in online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSEC) during three-month quarantine period from March to May 2020, a significant leap from 76,651 OSEC cases reported in 2019 to 279,166 last year.

Before COVID, 41% of children’s abuse online was said to be facilitated by biological parents, desperately crawling their way to survival. But now, more female teenagers are lured into pornography and cyberprostitution to raise funds for distance learning expenses.

Moving forward

In addressing women’s lower participation in the labor force, low quality of education, violence and abuse, sex trafficking and this health crisis during these times, public health reform is a must. National agencies should not be derailed from providing a scientifically-based response to COVID-19, which includes education, aggressive mass testing, contact tracing, and efficient treatment. With the Department of Health’s 2021 budget reduced by 26%, the availability of a vaccine does not promise inclusive and equal recovery especially in a country where even the most basic health services are not accessible to all.

Economic assistance, programs and policies should be centered on providing livelihood and financial assistance to women workers hardly hit by lockdown and recession, but there’s also a great need to enhance support for working parents with childcare responsibilities. Expanded paid parental leave or sick leave, genuine academic ease and access to medical and care services are some important foundations that can help them start and slowly gain momentum.

The pandemic brings fear to every community and vulnerable sector most especially women and children, but it also demands concrete development policies that would mitigate the paralyzing effect of pandemic-induced economic uncertainty. As long as the same oppressive systems worsen the place and status of women in the society, the struggle continues. — Philippine Strategic Forum

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Lovely Ramos is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Philippine Studies, major in Foreign Relations at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Her fields of interest include migration, feminism, social studies and the indigenous peoples.

COVID-19 PANDEMIC DISTANCE LEARNING GENDER PAY GAP INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S MONTH PARENTING
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