This is a question that many Filipinos have asked today. It’s our 121st Independence Day since we were colonized by Spain, but it feels like we are far from it. Could you blame your countrymen, especially with countries like China seemingly having a firm foothold here as of recent? But since we’re a democracy and have the freedom to vote, religion, expression, and so on, many never really questioned the country’s status.
As women, though, do we really have the freedom we all deserve?
In the Philippines, we put high regard for women—our ancestors were healers and warriors, and we are often referred as “the light of a home.” Despite that, some of our basic rights have also been ignored for far too long.
Today, the conversation around sexual health has become more open, but women aren’t free to make decisions for their bodies. There are still conservative Filipinos who believe our bodies should stay pure until marriage, shaming us if we participate in premarital sex. Abortion is also still illegal in the country.
According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, physicians and midwives who perform abortions can be imprisoned for up to six years. Women who undergo it will also receive the same prison time. This basically means that you can’t terminate your pregnancy even if it’s high-risk or the baby was conceived via rape. It doesn’t help that our country’s age of consent is 12 years old, meaning it’s not considered statutory rape when you have sex with a minor. That’s downright disturbing.
When it comes to rape and sexual harassment cases, there are still victim-blaming incidents. People still say women shouldn’t wear anything provocative, and shouldn’t drink with men—they also refuse to acknowledge that rape happens because rapists exist. We can’t even walk in the streets freely without the fear of someone harassing us or following us home. It’s equally disappointing when you see fellow women start this conversation, masking their misogyny with concern. On top of that, our president is using rape as a punchline in a gross attempt to “make people laugh.”
Hopefully this will be mitigated with the passage of the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act which criminalizes “cat-calling, wolf-whistling, unwanted invitations, misogynistic and sexist slurs, persistent uninvited comments or gestures on a person’s appearance, relentless requests for personal details, statements of sexual comments or suggestions, or any advances, whether physical or verbal, that is unwanted and has threatened one’s personal space and physical safety.”
But when abuse happens in a marriage, women still aren’t allowed to file for divorce. Some of our government officials, as well as the Church, still believe marriage should be unbroken and that the only way to dissolve it is through the arduous process of annulment.
The discrimination of women also extends in the workplace where they have lower salaries. And, despite giving men and women equal opportunities, 76 percent admit they deal with prejudice on a daily basis. These include being passed over for promotion, being talked over, and being told they are too “bossy” when they are assertive.
If your definition of “independence for women” is simply having the same opportunities as men and a voice in society, you’re not looking deep enough. We obviously still have to do work in dismantling the patriarchal system that’s been oppressing us and other sexual minorities, and giving men the power to make decisions for us.
How can we say we’re free when we’re still fighting for the rights we deserve?
On the other hand, we are fortunate to have politicians, women’s rights advocates, and feminist allies who are getting the message across to ensure our voices are heard and laws are passed. But true independence can only be achieved once we collectively acknowledge the problem and do something about it—we can’t just sit and be comfortably ignorant about what’s happening around us.
And yes, that last statement isn’t just directed at women’s rights. You could say the same about our country’s situation as a whole.