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The role of women in the Philippines (Filipino: Kababaihan sa Pilipinas) is explained based on the context of Filipino culture, standards, and mindsets. The Philippines is described to be a nation of strong women, who directly and indirectly run the family unit, businesses, government agencies and haciendas.
Although they generally define themselves in the milieu of a male-dominated post-colonial society, Filipino women live in a culture that is focused on the community, with the family as the main unit of society, but not always as this is a stereotype. It is in this framework of Philippine hierarchical structure, class differences, religious justifications, and living in a globally developing nation wherein Filipino women struggle for respect. Compared to other parts of Southeast Asia, women in Philippine society have always enjoyed a greater share of equality.
Some pre-colonial social structures of the Philippines gave equal importance to maternal and paternal lineage. This bilateral kinship system accorded Philippine women enormous power within a clan. They were entitled to property, engage in a trade and could exercise their right to divorce her husband. They could also become village chiefs in the absence of a male heir. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Filipino women could also achieve status as medicine women or high-priestesses and astrologers.
Although Christian values were supposed to be spread through the population, missionaries and priests soon realized that they’d be better off adapting their doctrine as much as possible to the local customs, rather than trying to impose it. Although the concept of gender equality existed in the Philippines during the pre-Hispanic era this changed when the Spaniards came and patterned the image of the Filipina to a meek and submissive individual. As it happened all over Asia, women in the Philippines were expected to become caring and nurturing mothers for their own children and take care of most household chores. Also a trait found all over Asia was the preference of most families to have male children instead of females.
During the last part of the colonization of the Philippines, Isabella II of Spain, introduced the Education Decree of 1863 (10 years before Japan had a compulsory free modern public education and 40 years before the United States government started a free modern public school system in the Philippines) that provided for the establishment and for the building of at least two free primary schools, one for the boys and another school for the girls, in each town under the responsibility of the municipal government.
American Philippines Women
When Spain lost the Spanish–American War in 1898, the Philippines was ceded to the United States of America. The U.S.A. introduced a new public education system which retained opportunity to every child regardless of gender.
Through the American-patterned school system, Filipino women became professionals, although most of them and their male counterparts opted for making use of their former education roots and expressed themselves in Spanish or Tagalog. According to the Monroe Commission on Philippine Education: “Upon leaving school, more than 99% of Filipinos will not speak English in their homes. Possibly, only 10% to 15% of the next generation will be able to use this language in their occupations. In fact, it will only be the government employees, and the professionals, who might make use of English.”
Marriage Relationships With Filipino Women
Courtship and relationships in the Philippines are conservative in nature. The man will have to court the woman and prove his love for her before he can win her heart. Sometimes the courtship period would last for years. This however, is a very old fashioned idea. In the bigger more urbanized cities, this conservative courtship idea is not so emphasized as much. Parents prefer their daughter to be courted in their home, so they can have a chance to know the man. It is during the courtship period that the man would put his best foot forward to create a good impression on the woman and her family. Generally, the man is being measured on his being a gentleman, ability to respect the woman’s family, and servitude (the extent of what he was willing to do to prove his love for the woman). Usually, the woman is courted by several men and will have to choose the best from among her suitors. Courtship and relationships remain the same for rural and urban areas despite the modern western influence.
Culturally in the Philippines, divorce is viewed as negative and destructive, because of a tradition that emphasizes that the family is the core social unit, especially for the Filipino wife. Divorce is not perceived as a solution to any matrimonial-related problem because it hinders the development or progress of the basic community unit. Therefore, husband and wife are obligated to fix any problems within the boundaries of the marriage.
Women in the pre-colonial Philippines enjoyed nearly equal status with men. Prior to colonization, both men and women could get a divorce for the following reasons: failure to meet family obligations, childlessness, and infidelity. Children, regardless of gender, and properties were equally divided in a divorce. Since a man needed to pay a dowry to the woman’s family, she was required to give it back should she be found at fault. If the man was at fault, he then lost the right to get back his dowry.
In the Philippines, society valued offspring regardless of gender. Female children were as valuable as male ones, mainly because they recognized that women are as important as men. Parents provide equal opportunities to their children. Filipino daughters can also go to school like Filipino sons, Filipino daughters can also inherit property like Filipino sons, and Filipino daughters can also become village chiefs like Filipino sons.
In 1994, the John and Lorena Bobbitt case, in which a wife cut off the penis of her sleeping husband, seized the attention of media in the Philippines, which reported that a similar incident had occurred in Cebu the previous November. The Bobbitt case was reported at a time when Filipino feminist groups were protesting against prostitution, the practice of mail-order brides, and marital rape. In 2008, a similar case in Pasig City was reported.