Friday, January 19, 2007

Blurring Boundaries

In our Women Novelists class, we're required to respond to a given gender topic provided by our professor. Last week, we were asked to give our thoughts on the gender inequality in society as we perceive it, with statistical information to boost our arguments. This is the piece I wrote for the forum, which I'd like to think makes a nice stand against radical feminism and instead advocates for a more liberal, individualistic approach.

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I would like to think that, at least in the Philippines, there have been greater strides in the promotion of gender equality on a number of levels. For one thing, the fact that we have a female occupying the position of Head of State should make a rather clear statement on how women are viewed in our country. (Of course, whether or not she makes a good President is another matter entirely, and perhaps should not be discussed in this forum.)

There is also the idea that the gap between men and women as far as the labor force is concerned has also been considerably bridged. According to the Census Bureau, as of 2003, 54.1% of the average household income by household head is earned by women, compared to the 45.9% of income earned by men. Although the household expenditures is also relatively the same (perhaps a testament to the fact that women are also very good at spending what they earn? Haha), this may also mean that women are the ones handling the financial aspects of the household more often than men. Furthermore, the employment rate is also rather equal, with a 91.7% employment rate for men over the age of 15 and a 92.4% employment rate for women over the age of 15 - which means that there's little to no discrimination as far as gender is concerned.

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) comprise a large part of the workforce and are considered one of the major sources of income in the Philippines because of all the money the send back. Again, the gender disparity of those who work overseas are minimal: of the 1.33 registered OFWs - not counting those hiding out in dark corners, without proper documentation and travel papers - 50.3% are men and 49.7% are women. And these women who go abroad aren't exactly the stupidest of the bunch: 56.6% are educated up until high school while only 43.4% of the men have completed their secondary school education. However, the flip side is that the higher one goes up the academic ladder, the women slowly drop off the radar: compared to the male OFWs who hold postgraduate degrees (57.7%), women OFWs only number at 42.3%. However, even the gap between these numbers are hardly something to quibble about.

I remember reading in one of our newspapers that the reason why gender doesn't play a big role when it comes to the professional side of things, at least in the Philippines, is that because when you live in poverty, the traditional gender roles aren't as important as figuring out where your next meal will be coming from. And between gender propriety and food, human beings would rather have the food. Of course, this doesn't mean that gender roles have been thrown out of the window. Women, at least from personal observation, are still expected to know how to move around the house and to maintain a household; they are still expected to keep a modicum of modesty and maintain an untarnished (or at least only very slightly scratched) reputation, and to be subservient (or maintain an image of subservience) to men.

But then again, my best friend, who's a guy - and straight to boot - is completely anal about keeping his flat spic and span, to the point that even a speck of dust on the countertop is enough to give him apoplexy, and cooks the best salmon in ginger sauce that I've ever tasted. So maybe even these kinds of gender roles are slowly being reversed. There's still a long way to go, and gender inequality will exist as long as there are still people who believe that the woman's place is in the house instead of in the world, but I'd like to look at the glass half full and applaud the efforts made by individuals in breaking down the barriers between genders - whether it's on a professional or personal basis, on a global or local scale, and even just by knowing how to treat their fellow human beings, man or woman, with the respect accorded to every living thing.

* All figures quoted from Gender Quickstat, 3rd Quarter 2006, from the National Statistics Office (NSO). http://www.census.gov.ph/data/quickstat/qsgenderq3.html

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