On Women’s Day, progressives want dignified work, access to social services

March 15, 2023

“This year’s International Working Women’s Day is a challenge for us to push these issues front and center, to confront the Marcos administration to address our demands as working women.”


MANILA — Zarah Calacat, wife of a jeepney driver, looked at the crowd as more activists began to arrive at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila today, March 8.

“It’s very hot and confusing,” Calacat, who was attending a protest action for the first time, told Bulatlat.

Calacat was among those who joined today’s commemoration of the International Women’s Day in the Philippines. She and her husband Antonio, a jeepney driver of 20 years initially did not want to attend as the latter was recuperating from cough, but having seen the impacts of transport strike to their struggle against the jeepney phaseout, they decided to still go.

“They will ask us to take a loan to be able to purchase that expensive modern jeepney. But in the end, they are the ones who will benefit,” she said in Filipino.

Protesters held a program at the Liwasang Bonifacio and later marched to Mendiola, where they were initially blocked by the police.

Earlier that day, leaders of the Women Workers United held a dialogue with the Philippine labor department to forward their calls for just pay and their rights to form a union.

The women’s day commemoration comes on the heels of months of increasing prices of basic commodities and the plan of phasing out jeepneys which threatens the livelihood of drivers and small operators.

Meanwhile, Gabriela criticized government officials for prioritizing the extension of their term limits and the lifting of foreign ownership in the country.

“This year’s International Working Women’s Day is a challenge for us to push these issues front and center, to confront the Marcos administration to address our demands as working women,” said Gabriela Secretary General Clarice Palce.

Women bearing the brunt of increasing cost of living

In a statement, Women Workers United said that joblessness is an all-time high, with seven in 10 Filipinos, mostly women, being driven into informal and precarious work.

Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat

Thirty nine-year-old Roxanne Escañan, a massage therapist, said that she needs to work at least three days a week to cover their household’s expenses.

Upon getting her salary, the first thing she would buy is food, and to save for her two daughters’ daily allowance to school. But of late, the rising cost of food is making her tighten her budget even more.

“One would think that cooking vegetables would lower the cost of food. But even that is proving to be more expensive,” she said.

Urban poor women from Tatalon, Quezon City are also experiencing the same difficulties of finding extra means to make ends meet.

Hannah Abrante of Tatalon Women’s Association said they only earn about P5 to P10 per bundle of rugs they make.

“We only want a livelihood where we can earn decently and still be able to take care of our family,” she told Bulatlat.

Meanwhile, Jacq Ruiz, spokesperson of the Kilusan ng Manggagawang Kababaihan said that “it has been a century since the first March 8 commemoration but the conditions of women workers remain at its worst in the Philippines.”

The group added that labor contractualization is shrinking worker’s pay and deprives them the right to join unions and participate in collective bargaining.

Ruiz said that out of fear of losing their jobs, cases of prevailing gender gap and discrimination, and work-related violence go largely unreported.

“Even if women make up half of the country’s workforce, their labor participation remain low, at 53.3 percent compared to 74.9 percent for their male counterpart. This means that their role in running the economy is still not acknowldged,” Ruiz said.

Rights violations

Gabriela said that Filipino women are also confronting red-tagging and harassment for speaking out against the sufferings and injustices they grapple with.

Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat

In a statement, Karapatan said women’s rights advocates have become “prominently in the roster of victims of human rights violations under the Marcos Jr. regime.”

The human rights group noted the disappearance of two women activists—Anakpawis member Ma. Elena Pampoza and Gabriela Women’s Party organizer Elgene Mungcal in 2022.

Other cases include the killing of a nine-year-old girl in Taysan, Batangas last July 18, 2022, and the massacre of Christina Jacolbe, a five-month pregnant daycare teacher, her 18-year-old daughter Everly Kee Jacolbe, and a family friend in Canlaon City, Negros Oriental on July 26, 2022.

Karapatan said that 160 out of the 812 political prisonees nationwide are women “who have been slapped with trumped-up cases and are unjustly imprisoned in various detention facilities across the country.”

Among those arrested under Marcos Jr. include Adora Faye de Vera, Atheliana Hijos, and Presentacion Saluta.

“There are many other women who have been victimized as they suffered economic and social dislocation due to aerial bombings, artillery attacks, militarization and the demolition of their communities,” said Karapatan, adding that there are also those who “slowly suffer and die, not from bombs or bullets, but from the insidious violence wrought by poverty in their daily lives.”

Karapatan said Marcos Jr. must be held accountable for violations of women’s civil, political and economic rights. (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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