Sen. Risa Hontiveros: 'Sexism has reared its ugly head again'

'I'd like to remind the Director-General that our empowerment does not come at men’s expense.'
by Yvette Tan
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TL;DR: The government should be strengthening laws to ensure the safety of Filipino overseas workers, not saying that women should not be sent abroad.

We like to think that we treat men and women the same in the Philippines, especially since we're high up on the Global Gap Gender Index (Number one in Asia-Pacific and number seven worldwide as of last year, to be exact). And though we may not have that big of a gender wage gap than other countries, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Director-General Guiling Mamondiong's recent statements show that in the Philippines, gender is anything but equal.

TESDA head says women should stay home and serve their husbands:

"Hindi bale kalalakihan sa atin mapunta sa ibang bansa, pwede naman rin mag-asawa doon. Hindi ba? Pero 'yung kababaihan natin dito, pinapadala sa ibang bansa para gawing alipin lamang (It's okay for the men to go abroad, since they can marry there. Isn't that right? But our women, they are being sent abroad to become slaves)," Mamondiong said in a memorandum of agreement last week.

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He's also been quoted as saying, "When the women are empowered, they become more powerful, not just in the workplace but [also] at home. Halos wala na silang oras sa kanilang mga asawa dahil sila nga ay powerful. (They don't have time anymore for their spouses because they are powerful)."

Shocking words from a government official who heads the agency that is meant to provide training to equip more Filipinos with marketable skills. His words are upsetting, especially to a woman. Senator Risa Hontiveros said as much in a statement responding to Mamondiong's words:

"It was quite shocking," Sen. Hontiveros says in an interview with Cosmo.ph. "I asked him to clarify what he meant, considering that he's one of our government officials and very publicly, he stated what seemed to be a wrong-headed notion about women and our role in national life…I think [he's] sending out a very wrong message about the role, especially of our overseas Filipino women, given that there's that trend of feminization of migration.

"What he said was not the most empowering message at all."

Director-General Mamondiong's statements seem ill thought-out, and are stopgap at best in terms of guaranteeing the safety of Filipino women who work overseas. What’s more, he doesn't explain how, should his recommendations be followed, to ensure that families are well-fed if these women stay home. Even more distressing, he says outright that a woman's role in society is to be subservient to men. We all have a relative like this; we try to avoid him or her at parties.

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The government guarantees women's safety?

Instead of putting the burden on the OFWs for their safety, it's the government that should be guaranteeing its citizens fairness and safety when working overseas. Hontiveros said, "Even here in the Philippines, [and more so] when they're far from home, women can suffer not only from unequal treatment (and) discrimination in terms of equal opportunity employment, but also, the danger of sexual and other gender-based violence, including in the places of work, especially for…home-based workers, domestic workers, but also other overseas women working in different sectors.

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Hontiveros added, "The protective aspect of the work of our embassies and our consulates is very [important.] Hopefully, our government, through our embassies, [can] make stronger, clearer representations to the host governments that we expect them to provide safe working conditions for our nationals there, including our women, that they not be double jeopardized by unsafe working conditions, hazardous working conditions, including those that expose us to rape, to sexual harassment, and other abuses." 

We need more laws that protect women

Sen. Hontiveros is a staunch advocate for women's rights: "It's really a multi-faceted work, and the shocking, saddening thing is that aspects that we thought we already won and consolidated in the past…are endangered pala. [Our rights are] under attack; we have to protect them. We have to fight for parts of them all over again because the situation of sexism and misogyny has really reared its ugly head again…"

Last year, she introduced three bills called the "Tres Marias bills" that aim to strengthen our anti-rape and anti-sexual harassment laws and introduce a new concept of gender-based electronic violence, as well as the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act to address sexual harassment on the streets and from strangers: "Once we win the laws, we have to make sure they’re actually implemented, and here, the ball is in the court of the executive, so for me, engaging the administration—[led by] a very strong and often overreaching president—is also a political work as a woman because…in the atmosphere that his style of leadership creates, [it is necessary for us to] double our efforts to say that women [should be] treated as equals [and] should not be targeted for persecution because of our sex and gender. He has sort of made that a special crusade all over again," she says.

Senator Hontiveros' statement contained a short, but striking message for Director-General Mamondiong, which applies to everyone—men and women—who still think that a woman’s freedom is dependent on the goodwill of a man. "We are not your servants," she said.

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"On behalf of Filipino women, especially those who work abroad, I'd like to remind the Director-General that our empowerment does not come at men’s expense."

Follow Yvette on Twitter  and Instagram.

The writer also reached out to Director-General Mamondiong, who did not return correspondence.

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