A couple of days ago ABS-CBN reported that the incoming 14th Congress will contain 53 women, the highest number in Philippine history. Women will therefore occupy 22% of the seats in the 236-seat House.
The 2007 result is part of a steady increase in female representation in political life since the fall of the dictatorship.
The percentage of women in the 10th Congress (elected in 1992) was 11%; in the 11th (elected in 1996) it was 12%; and in the 12th (elected in 2001) it was 18%. I don’t have data for the 13th Congress, elected in 2004.
These high figures (by Asian standards) are at least partly explained by dynastic politics—8 of the 53 women elected in 2007 (15%) are wives of incumbent congressmen who have just served their third and final terms. Still, that is becoming a less important factor—the PCIJ has estimated that in the 12th House fully 45% of the female legislators were replacements of relatives previously in the House.
More important than the dynastic element is the high status of women in wider Philippine society. Women are better educated than men, with a combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio of 106% (the corresponding figure for Afghanistan is 40.9%).
In business, women are particularly visible, with 58.1% of administrators and managers being female. Of the 85 countries ranked for this indicator in the 2005 Human Development Report, the Philippines was ranked in first place.
Returning to politics, whichever side had won in the 2004 Presidential election, the Philippines would have had a female president, since if the opposition had won, Loren Legarda would have acceded to the presidency on FPJ’s death in December 2004.
Which brings me to my last point: assuming that Gloria sees out her current term, by 2010 the Philippines will have had a female president for 15.5 of the 24 years since EDSA, 65%.
I wouldn't claim that women enjoy equality in the Philippines, or anything near it. Despite the impressive achievements noted above, the Philippines performance according to the 2006 Human Development Report’s “gender empowerment measure” is only average. Still, I think anyone with experience of other Asian countries will agree that in almost all walks of life—politics, journalism, business, NGOs—women are far more visible and active in the Philippines than in its neighbors. That’s a cause for celebration and hope in my book.
Notes: Data on 10th to 12th congresses from PCIJ, The Rulemakers.