September 13, 2014
Opening Remark of Senator Loren Legarda A Society
where Self-Determination of Women is Assured
World Assembly for Women 2014 Tokyo, Japan
The role of women in our society has continuously evolved through the years. As more women have gained access to education, more have also joined the workforce, more are participating in decision-making.
In the Philippines, our women play an important role. They are involved in all sectors of our society. In fact, they are present in more than a hundred countries around the world, caring for children and parents not their own, and operating businesses and industries as part of the force that drives the growth of the global community. We are sharing 10 million Filipinos with the rest of the world, and 60% of them are women.
Over the years, our women have assumed leadership roles. We have had two female Presidents. There are presently six women senators out of 24 and 75 of 287 members of the Philippine House of Representatives. Meanwhile, 22 percent of our provinces are headed by women governors and at the municipal level, 1 in every 5 mayors is a woman.
Indeed, women have ruled and continue to rule the Philippines, but challenges will never go away and in most communities, there are continuing barriers to women empowerment.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Report 2014 provides us with the following quick facts regarding MDG number 3, Promoting Gender Equality and Empower Women:
– Nations in developing regions have either achieved or were close to achieving gender equality in primary education. But in some regions, girls continue to face disadvantages in entering both primary and secondary school.
– More women hold paid jobs in non-agricultural sectors, but the increase is slow…from 35 percent in 1990, women’s access to paid employment in non-agricultural sectors increased to only 40 percent in 2012.
The safety of women is one pressing concern. The U.S. Department of State estimates that at least 300,000 women and 60,000 children are trafficked worldwide annually. The Philippines is considered as a source country for individuals subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Furthermore, estimates suggest that 50,000 to 100,000 Filipino women are advertised as mail order brides.
Statistics also show that 1 out of every 5 Filipino women aged 15-49 has experienced physical violence. In 2011, 15,104 cases of domestic violence were recorded by the Philippine National Police. This is alarming considering that it is significantly higher than the previous year’s figure of 9,485 cases.
These realities compel us to continuously search for measures that will protect our women at home and beyond.
The Philippines remains deeply committed to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform of Action, and the MDGs.
The Magna Carta of Women, our gender equality law patterned after the CEDAW, guarantees social, economic, civil and political rights of women.
The implementation of our existing laws, such as the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act, Domestic Workers Act, and Expanded Anti-trafficking in Persons Act, is crucial as well in strengthening the campaign towards protection and empowerment.
But there is another challenge that we must address… the vulnerability of women to disasters.
As disaster risks abound amid our fast changing environment, disasters affect yearly about 200 million people all over the world, half of them women or girls.
When Typhoon Haiyan lashed Central Philippines in November 2013, more than 3.5 million women and girls were affected, and 250,000 of them were pregnant and 169,000 were breastfeeding. Their distinct nutritional needs have made coping with disasters even tougher for them. Also, their displacement from their homes put them at greater risk of sexual violence and of falling prey to human traffickers.
Women are also the primary caregivers and carry out much of the household workload after a disaster.
These disaster impacts on women convey to us the importance of making gender-sensitive and risk-sensitive development policies, plans and programs.
We need to capacitate women as part of the overall strategy on disaster risk reduction and management. To empower women is to reduce their vulnerability to disasters.
A number of disaster resilience and recovery efforts led by women truly inspire. Like a female village chief who led her community of 600 families towards recovery after being affected by Haiyan. She prioritized setting up the village health center because providing health care is crucial after a disaster. She also mobilized her fellow villagers for cash-for-work projects and encouraged the entire community to do their part to make the village whole again.
In several other Philippine communities, women lead efforts in building resilience through rehabilitation of mangrove forests, tree-planting activities, solid waste management workshops, and other environment-friendly initiatives.
Women have a wealth of capacities that need to be harnessed. We need to tap these vital resources to achieve sustainable development, reduce disaster risks and promote resilience in our communities.
These are experiences I will only be too happy to share with you in this panel discussion.
 Wahlstrom, M. Project Syndicate: Women, Girls, and Disasters