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Women power unleashed

March is Women’s Month and this is a good time to think about how far women have progressed in the Philippines, resulting in much good for our nation.

In October 2013, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released a study that ranked the Philippines 5th in the world when it comes to women empowerment, behind Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Completing the top 10 are Ireland, New Zealand, Denmark, Switzerland and Nicaragua.

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According to Saadia Zahindi, the WEF Head of Gender Parity and Human Capital, the rating shows “where women enjoy the most easy access to education and health care. It is also where the women are most likely to be able to participate fully in the country’s political and economic life.”

The Philippines is the only Asian nation on this list. It is a tribute to our women leaders that we have gained so much in letting women power go forward, rather than backward, during this millennium.

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Women’s role

Former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani, who spoke during the 4th UN World Conference on Women in 1995 put in perspective women’s true role.

The 1900s, she said, heralded the Industrial Age. This was when physical strength was necessary. Consequently, men had an advantage over women.

The 2000s, on the other hand, was going to be the Information Age. This needed a different set of abilities.

Superiority in areas like multi-tasking, sensitivity, discipline, and attention to detail would be valued more than physical strength. Based on previous studies, women seem to have the advantage over men in these areas.

Therefore, Shahani argued that women should be given at least as much power as men, which was not happening at that time.

Taking inspiration from her speech, the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (of which I was a member) embarked on progressive programs to achieve this objective.

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Given the recent ranking of the Philippines received, it appears that much progress has been made.

Model

But much more has to be done. A model that rural women can follow is the Kababaihang Barangay ng San Miguel, Bulacan (KBB). It initially embarked on a swine dispersal project and later committed to grow one million mango trees in Bulacan.

This group won in 1984 the United Nations Award for having the Best Rural Women Project in Asia. Because of its beneficial impact on the poor and its sustainability, it then garnered the top award in 1989.

However, since the mango trees were not certified, the inferior mango varieties fetched lower prices.

Last year, the KBB led the Kapampangan Development Foundation in launching its “One Million Certified Fruit Trees in 10 Years” project.

Here is an example where “letting women power go” can achieve inclusive growth in a sustainable way.

Remaining difficulties

Honorary President Trining Domingo of the Rural Women’s Congress, which has 220 member organizations in 41 provinces, cautions that despite the advances, rural women still face great difficulties, such as lower pay, more difficult access to resources such as credit and training and discrimination.

The challenge is for the local government units and the Department of Agriculture to embark on a comprehensive program that will address this issue, especially in the less progressive and poorer rural areas. This will largely contribute to inclusive growth.

(The author is Chair of Agriwatch. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail [email protected] or telefax (02) 8522112).

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TAGS: Business, column, ernesto m. ordonez, women power, women’s month
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