“And the last man standing – is a woman!” Women and men all over the country rejoiced when Leni Robredo won the vice-presidency.
But the phrase “the last man standing” rang a bell for me. Maybe fifty years ago Carmen Guererro Nakpil, writing of Filipino women during the American Colonial Period, quoted Americans in the country as saying “The best man in the Philippines – is usually a woman!” Filipinas, she continued, were very ready for the new, more liberal outlook brought by the Americans, after 300 years of living under the Spaniards and the church. They learned English in a flash, flocked to take on educational opportunities, succeeded in various professions, voted, cut their hair, went dancing, and took their place in the world.
Nakpil did point out the dark side of the freedom of the Filipina – the support net held in place by other women, who worked as maids, cooks, yayas, and did not have such opportunities.
Nevertheless, liberation was in the air, and it seemed Filipinas were miles ahead of their American counterparts. But Americans would have their day too: oral contraceptives – pills – were cleared for use in 1960, thus enabling women to control the time and spacing of pregnancies. Soon after that Gloria Steinem started publishing Ms. Magazine, discussion groups blossomed, and women were off and running. The right of women to make personal choices regarding fertility and child bearing was upheld by the Supreme Court in a decision that made it illegal for state legislators to put limits on such choices. To see the impact of this, imagine that here in the Philippines, no city nor barangay would be able to ban the purchase of contraceptives, a right guaranteed by the Magna Carta for Women as well as the RH Law, within its boundaries.
One step forward.
But here we are in the 21st century and what do we see?
In the Philippines after 2 decades of struggle, the Reproductive Health Law was finally passed – only to be stalled for nearly two years in the Supreme Court. Earlier this year Congress defunded nearly 1 billion pesos in the budget line for contraceptives, leaving countless poor women unable to control their own bodies, and the number and spacing of their own children. The hormonal implant Implanon, probably the best of modern contraceptives as it prevents pregnancy for three years, is still under a temporary restraining order, preventing government health officials from distributing it. .
Then the Philippines elected a president who clearly considers women little more than objects for sexual attention – and makes public remarks which support a culture of rape and hostility towards women.
In the U.S. there are constant legal assaults on women’s contraceptive rights., including the right to buy contraceptive products. Congress has been threatening to defund Planned Parenthood, and most Republican presidential candidates pushed for this.
The rape culture in the U.S. is thriving too, as clearly seen in a recent case in which a convicted rapist was sentenced to six months in jail, with his father stating that prison is simply too much punishment for “twenty minutes of action.” And one U.S. presidential candidate simply does not know how to deal with his well-mannered opponent – who is a woman.
Two steps backwards.
Much of the world seems to be caught up in a powerful shift to the right, a return to the old, traditional ideas of male supremacy, open hostility towards women, frightening violence, racism. What happened to the victories of the 20th century? How long, and how much struggle, will it take to swing back – swing back and move forward? We are losing ground.
Notice that these losses to women as the world moves right are tightly tied to a shift in a sort of One Man/Strong Man rule – Hitler like – which goes along with an increase in violence and criminality, and the idea of Strong Men simply coopting the powers of all branches of government. Trump has already threatened to fire a judge he does not like. Duterte plans to reward people for killing SUSPECTED criminals: no trial needed, and congress better not investigate!
It’s an uphill battle but maybe Women in Power will help the situation!