A Century Later, Filipino Women Remain in Grip of Poverty, Injustice

by Anne Marxze D. Umil

MANILA — March 8 this year marks the 100th year since the declaration of International Women’s Day. But women are still vulnerable especially in times of crisis. Under the Arroyo administration, data show that many women still suffer from many forms of injustice.

In a survey conducted by the Center for Women’s Resources or (CWR), women have five wishes: food, employment, social service, good governance and freedom from violence.

However, the government’s poverty alleviation program seems like a failure. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 22.6 percent of 92 million Filipino are living below $1.00 a day and 51 percent or 9.4 million families said they are poor.

Data gathered by the CWR show that there is a worsening crisis in unemployment. According to the National Statistics Coordinating Board (NSCB), in October 2009 alone, there are almost 38.2 million in the labor force, of which 7.1 percent or 2.7 million are unemployed. This rate is much higher than the 6.8 percent unemployment rate in October 2008. There are 366,200 additional Filipinos who lost their jobs in one year.

But independent estimates by the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) reveal that there are 4.2 million or 11 percent unemployed Filipinos. This is much higher than the NSCB’s statistics since the government changed the definition of unemployed in 2005. According to the KMU, the government considers as employed those in the category of own-account, domestic household and unpaid family workers. This, the KMU said, effectively trimmed down the growing unemployment rate.

This increasing unemployment rate also results in a big number of families who are living below the poverty line. The 2009 research of CWR revealed that more and more mothers tighten their belts to ensure that their family would have food on the table. Food expenses eat up almost the whole budget of the family. More families are also skipping meals to make ends meet.

The CWR’s survey also reveals that 77.61 percent of women have more than one job; 18.91 percent accept subcontracted work while 23.36 percent are selling food and other commodities to augment their income. Thirteen percent acquire debts to finance their expenses. A new coping mechanism of mothers to make ends meet is joining contests that offer cash prizes. Because mothers cannot afford to buy nutritious food, their children are undernourished.

The skyrocketing rates of utilities, prices of basic goods and services burden women. Rice, sugar and LPG are so expensive that many mothers cannot afford to buy these anymore. In the CWR survey, five out of 10 mothers said they cannot afford to buy rice. The price of rice, according to the monitoring of CWR, increased by 59 percent.

Two out of five families do not have access to electricity; one out of five do not have access to clean water; seven out of 10 poor families consume water from different sources such as rivers and dams.

Inadequate government social services affect poor women and their families. The havoc caused by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, which resulted in the loss of many houses worsened the situation of women. And the government’s response is far from adequate. The government’s housing budget remains at P3.5 billion ($76 million) for the year 2010, which according to CWR is grossly insufficient. From 2005 to 2009, the government admits it has a 195,000 housing backlog. In the year 2010, additional 655,000 houses are needed to be built. The Metro Manila Inter-Agency Committee on Informal Settlers estimates that it would take 10 years and a P30 billion ($651 million) budget to relocate the more than 500,000 families in urban poor areas and 75,000 families who are living in dangerous zones. This is equivalent to 305 units per day or 30, 859 units every year.

Existing housing projects are substandard and the poor could hardly afford the P1,000 ( $21.72) monthly amortization,especially those with unstable income such as vendors and street sweepers.

The government’s health budget is also not sufficient to provide for quality health services for the poor.

According to CWR, there are two deaths in every two hours due to complications in pregnancy and delivery. Eleven mothers die every day or 4,600 every year due to severe hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, sepsis, obstructed labor and abortion. Only 25 percent of poor pregnant women can avail of hospital services.

More and more health professionals opt to work abroad. There are 180,000 nurses working abroad leaving only 30,000 nurses working in the country. Many doctors also take nursing course so that they can also work abroad. This results to a ratio of one doctor for every 30,000 patients while there is one nurse for every 80 to 100 patients.

The budget for education is a pittance. Only 11 percent of the national budget was allotted to education while there are many enrollees in public schools. Teachers, books and classrooms are sorely lacking.

According to the data gathered by the CWR, there are 2.2 million children aged 6 to 12 who are dropouts. There are also 3.4 million out-of-school youth aged 12-15 for school year 2007-2008 alone.

Violence against Women, Violations of Human Rights

According to CWR, in 2009 there were 9,797 cases of violence against women. One to two children are also experiencing violence every hour. There are nine children being raped a day, while there are six to seven battered children a day.

There were 6,783 cases of domestic violence in 2009. The Department of Social Welfare and Development recorded 1,933 cases of violence against women. Data from CWR also show that in 2009, there are 3,251 rape cases, 33 percent of which victimized children.

Women are also not spared by the increasing number of human rights violations due to the implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya, the counterinsurgency campaign of the government.

Karapatan recorded 1,188 victims of extrajudicial killings from January 21, 2001 to December 31, 2009, 153 or 13 percent of the victims are women, 75 are children. Of the 205 victims of enforced disappearances, 31 or 15 percent are women.

The upcoming elections is a flashpoint. During the May 2007 elections, there were 229 women-victims of election-related violence.

Call to Action

“Every year we celebrate the victory of women’s struggle but celebration alone is not enough. This is clear in the data shown before us here by the CWR. We should continue to arouse, organize and mobilize so that we can get what we’ve all been aspiring for,” Judy Taguiwalo, UP Faculty Regent of the University of the Philippines Diliman, said during CWR’s presentation of the women’s situation.

According to her, the immediate goal of women should be to ensure that the president will step down from power in June 30, 2010. But what’s more important, she said, is to vote for candidates who are pro-people, pro-women and pro-nation.

According to Rep. Luz Ilagan of Gabriela Women’s Party, women should support progressive partylists, which will truly understands the plight of the masses and the need for genuine and meaningful change. (Bulatlat.com)

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