Women workers are disproportionately affected by the ongoing mass layoffs, work rotation and other flexibility schemes. In the two industries that have been greatly affected by the global crisis – “electronics and garments” – women workers are the overwhelming majority. The country’s top two exports are electronics and, apparel and clothing accessories, accounting respectively for $2.6 billion and $181 million in revenues as of September 2008 according to the National Statistics Office. About 18% of exports are sent to the US and then 14% to Japan, both of which are in recession.
With the crisis getting deeper, the double burden of women workers becomes heavier. The traditional coping mechanism of the workers and the poor is the safety net of family relations but this unduly relies on the unpaid work of women. The double burden means women are exploited as cheap labor in the factories and then utilized as unpaid workers in the home.
The government must provide the safety net of social protection so that workers and the poor do not rely exclusively on the coping mechanism of family relations and women are not weighed down by the heavier double burden. A pro-labor and pro-women bailout package is needed is to alleviate the burden of the crisis on the feminine shoulders of women workers.
Yet the government is deaf and blind to these demands. In fact it is making big fuss out of its false claim that Pilar has overtaken Pepe, that Filipino women have overtaken men in terms of development. A presumptuous government study claims that women have surpassed men in health, education, and income, and that sooner or later it is Filipino men who will clamor for equality and demand its own ‘National Men’s Month’.
This study asserts women have gained higher achievements than men in all three dimensions as indicated by the higher than one levels of Gender Equality Ratio or GER for health (1.0248), education (1.0583) and income (1.2299) in 2003. In fact, the advantage of women in the income dimension grew bigger as the GER in income increased from 1.1170 to 1.2299. This is probably one of the reasons why the theme of the government’s commemoration of Women’s Month is “Babae, Yaman ka ng Bayan!” (Women, You are the Wealth of the Nation!)
The truth is that the study merely highlights women’s achievements in those areas but it hides the bigger picture of the state of inequality between men and women in the Philippines. It also contains chauvinist innuendos, or a sexist joke at its worst, by challenging the egos of men that they are outperformed by women. This exposes the fact that the government hardly understands the essence of women’s struggle for equality.
The awful truth is that around 51.4 percent (or 15 million) of Filipino women are not active in the labor force compared to the 78.9 percent (22.9 million) labor force participation rate for men.
Assuming that 4 million of these women aged 15-19 are still studying and the 2.5 million aged 60-80 above have retired, there remains 8.5 million women aged 20-59 who are not active in the labor force.
These women are a big chunk of the labor force that are doing fulltime household work — unrecognized by society because the value of what they do remains invisible in the country’s income accounts. Likewise, they are not counted in unemployment statistics. There are only 929,000 unemployed women accounted for in October 2008.
These numbers indicate that more than half of Filipino women aged 15 and above are without their own income. So how can these invisible women be considered “yaman ng bayan” (wealth of the nation) when in fact they are without their own source of income.
Moreover, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), women are paid lower wages compared to men, and this is the trend worldwide. Despite the fact that there is no discrimination on women in terms of wages policies in the country, majority of women workers are found in the service sector, education, finance, health and social work where wages are more often than not below minimum, without benefits, with worse working conditions and the type of work are mere extensions of their household chores. To add up to these is the recent lay off of around 40,000 workers, mostly women, due to the global economic crisis.
The same goes in the health aspect. While it is true that women live longer than men, there are also 11 women who die in childbirth everyday according to the recent study by the United Nations Children’s Fund. Pregnancy and childbirth complications remain in the top 10 killers of women in the country. In relation with this, it is estimated that 800 women die yearly due to complications of unsafe abortion. Around 3,000 women yearly are reported raped and the trend is going up. Another 3,000 women die of breast cancer yearly, and another 2,000 of cervical cancer.
Thus women workers demand: (1) subsidy for displaced workers from the government; (2) tax refund for all wage earners; (3) expansion and reform of the public employment program; (4) extension of health care coverage for displaced workers; and (5) moratorium on demolitions and evictions.
Aside from these, we demand the passage of the Reproductive Health bill. The Reproductive Health bill answers the problem of high maternal mortality that is bound to escalate in times of crisis.
Without the Reproductive Health bill, reproductive health services will remain beyond the reach of poor working women.
To fund this vastly expanded social program, the entire PhP700 billion (USD14 billion) debt servicing budget must be reallocated.
Furthermore we demand the reversal of the policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization which is at the root of high prices of goods and the deterioration of public services.