“Imagine a world where every woman and girl can go to school, live free from violence, have the freedom to make decisions and choices of their own, and receive equal pay for the same work.” –

Looking back at the past years, women were not given equal rights, opportunities, and privileges as their male counterparts as they have today. Even though women make up over half of the population and although their contribution to society has clearly been immense, an inequality still remains between the fulfillment of their needs, on one hand, and the services and protections afforded to them by the state, on the other.

If we take a look back at the past years, the institutional empowerment of women can be traced as far back as the Marcos regime with the creation of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women on January 6, 1975 through Presidential Decree No. 633. Now called as the Philippine Commission on Women, this advisory body to the President and the Cabinet continues to serve as the national machinery for integrating women into the economic and socio-cultural fabric of the country.

Shortly after, later administrations followed suit in acknowledging women as priority, with President Corazon Aquino’s Philippine Development Plan for Women; President Fidel V. Ramos’ Gender and Development Budget and his administration’s grant of full representation of women in the Social Service Commission; President Estrada’s Philippine Agenda for Women Empowerment; and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Framework Plan for Women and Magna Carta for Women (MCW) which prohibits the discrimination against women and recognizes, promotes, and protects their rights. Aside from the MCW, the Philippines also called for the inclusion of gender equality and empowerment of women as a stand-alone goals in the post 2015-development agenda at the United Nations.

In short, women of today almost share equal status with men. Women are now making their mark in different fields with the devotion, commitment, and hard work shown by them to excel in their area of expertise. Based on the Global Gender Gap Report 2013 of the World Economic Forum, the Philippines ranks 5th out of 136 countries with the score of 0.783, succeeding Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Moreover, Philippines is the only country in Asia and the Pacific that has fully closed the gender gap, specifically, in education and health.

As stated in the international rankings above, Philippines still continues to monitor the status of women and implement laws and programs to empower them and promote gender equality. Empowerment of women is necessary for the achievement of sustainable development. Further, women’s empowerment raises the level of participation, which enables women to make decisions based on their own views and perspectives.

What remains to be done?

Obviously, even though significant development has been made in the status and welfare of women over the last hundred years, many challenges still remain.

First and foremost, while gender equity in education continues to improve, women still lag behind men in the employment area- despite a rise in the percentage of professionally licensed women in the year 2010 at 63.7% over men’s 36.3%. Although there’s more professionally licensed women than men, men’s employment in 2012 is still significantly higher at 78.4% over women’s 50.4%. This trend clearly highlights the fact that even though there are more educated women than men, women still remain seriously under-tapped in this growing economy.

An even more critical concern is the continued violence against women throughout the country. There are still various cases and reports of continued violence against women. However, a commendable achievement one must acknowledge is that the Philippines is now no longer in the infamous Tier 2 Watch List Status. Instead, we are now at Tier 2 Status in the Global Trafficking in Persons Report. This means that our international partners now recognize the vigorous efforts both civil society and the government have made to combat human trafficking at home and abroad.

In terms of health, our maternal mortality ratio still remains high at an alarming 221 per 100,000 live births. Meanwhile HIV rate have also been alarmingly increasing with a 37% rise of documented cases in the past two years.

And, last but not the least; the Reproductive Health (RH) bill has become extremely vital for this nation. Passing the RH bill would empower women in deeply significant ways, especially those in the poorest sectors with the highest fertility rates. The reproductive Health Bill would allow those women to make all-important choices for themselves and for their families. More importantly, the RH Bill is not only a health measure, in the end, but an anti-poverty strategy that ultimately hopes to empower and set them free.

Even though Philippines has surely came a long way in empowering women across the country, there are still a lot of things to be done. How about you? What do you think needs to be done?