What Does Women Empowerment Look Like in the Philippines

December 25, 2019

Have you ever wondered how it would be like to live in a country where women thrive, are respected, and empowered?

Most of us dream of that society where equality is no longer seen as a threat but instead, it is encouraged. But sadly, despite the history of women fighting for it, inequality and distress still prevail in this day and age. And these unfortunate circumstances are more evident in third-world countries like the Philippines. Filled with hopeless stories of injustice, the Philippines is still a country where girls can’t go to school, where modern slavery is practiced, and where empowered women are mocked for their courage to speak up in their fight for women empowerment.

It seems that women empowerment in the Philippines is not present at all. But there was a time in history that the Philippines exudes the true essence of women empowerment.

Women Empowerment in Pre-colonial Philippines

During pre-colonial Philippines, women bore cultural significance. Women held positions of power, such as datus and babaylans (Visayan) or catalonans (Tagalog). Their cultural and social power were derived from society’s popular belief that they had supernatural powers to protect and guide them.

Believed to have black magic, female datus had the power to harm their enemies. They believed that female datus had the power to cast magic with curses, from enslaving someone’s mind to causing sickness, to even bringing instant death by touch or breath.

The babaylans were believed to have had unlimited powers from nature, used for both healing and ill intentions. They were powerful female figures in pre-colonial Philippine society. Because of their powers of healing and ability to attack black magic, they influenced society and were held in such high esteem.

Because of these female figures, women empowerment in the Philippines were evident during the pre-colonial times. There was a time when the Philippines was believed to be a matriarchal society where women were highly respected and seen as valuable components of society. And then, this pre-colonial women empowerment changed when the Spaniards came.

Matriarchal beliefs were dismantled and replaced with Western teachings that gloried patriarchal norms. This placed women on a lower pedestal, revoking their power to speak and practice women empowerment. The Spaniards depowered the female datus and babaylans using the religion we patronize now. The fall of the babaylans was the start of destruction of women empowerment in the Philippines.

Today’s Women Empowerment in the Philippines

At present, the Philippines is a country that hasn’t outgrown the culture of colonial patriarchy. After centuries of being colonized, the norms are still embedded in our society. Until now, we can still feel the fall of babaylans—or the fall of Filipina women.

Watch the news or scroll through social media platforms and you will see how women empowerment in the Philippines is lacking. You will see news about the president disrespecting a woman on national television. Walk in the streets and you will experience assault by being catcalled.

History still lingers in our society. Centuries of imposed patriarchal beliefs has shaped our society to devalue women and see them as a threat to power—like how female datus and babaylans were.

But even in the midst of this, you can see glimpses of women empowerment in the Philippines. Women are imposing their right to speak out. They are calling out those who mock them for being empowered women. Bills about women empowerment are being studied for the safety and greater good of women, not only for this generation for the generations of women who will follow us. They are fighting to be heard and respected.

One day, though the road is still long, the Philippines will regain its female voice as long as Filipinas never stop fighting.