FFE Magazine

Philippine HiStory Today: The right to suffrage, empowering the Filipina



Hello! Sorry if I’ll start this session with a little rant. My wife, the doctor (that’s how I call her, although she isn’t a doctor), has just outright scolded me about taking my maintenance meds. I know she has a point, but I don’t like conflicts in the family at all. I do occasionally ‘forget’ my meds, but I do make up in the next meal. It’s just I mind when she raises her voice, crosses her arms and when she looks at me below the rims of her glasses.


Well, that was the look that kind of did it for me, to tell you the truth… the look that led us to our first date. But no, that’s not the kind of history, we’re talking about today! We’re focusing on women in this hiStory-telling session — specifically, on a moment in history when the tides were turned in their favour.


Filipinas today are very much empowered. The Philippines holds the fifth place in the world’s ranking of nations in terms of gender divide. Out of all countries in Asia, the Philippines is also the most advanced when it comes to giving women a vast range of opportunities in the economy, education, politics and health. Actually, senator Loren Legarda represented the Philippines in last week’s Global Forum for Women in Parliaments in Belgium and received an award on behalf of our country. Perhaps the highest marker that indicates we have finally set men and women in equal measure is the election of women to the presidency — and we have done so twice.


However, Filipino women were not always given the same opportunity as men. Even today, there are communities and traditions that still dictate who a woman should marry or how she should dress. One of the greatest hurdles women had to face in the past century was the struggle for their right to vote, and this is what we will be tackling today.


More specifically, we will be talking about one day which turned the odds in favour of the Filipina and helped launch their campaign for suffrage.


The date is 7 December 1933: the day women were granted their right to vote.


Women’s role in the pre-Spanish and Colonial period


While we’re on the subject of suffrage, or the right to vote in a democracy, let’s talk about how women were regarded by our ancestors. You might be very surprised to know that our women ancestors have already held the highest positions in their communities alongside men.


Before the Spaniards came, women were entitled to land and property, allowed to trade, held high-status positions like healers and astrologers (some of the wisest people communities considered during that time) and even became village chiefs.


Babaylan, pre-Spanish village spiritual leaders and healers, were often women

Babaylan, pre-Spanish village spiritual leaders and healers, were often women


When the Spaniards came the role of women was limited to the home. Their rights weren’t totally thrown out the window, but the opportunities accessible to them were not at par with men. Women in rich families could study, but they were limited to learning household chores, honing their musical talents and other such exercises.


This was the institution. But among Filipinos, especially when revolution was already ripe in the air, women were able to hold top positions. Consider Gabriela Silang and Melchora Aquino who have been heralded as heroes of the revolutionary cause and followed by men among the ranks.


Both women and men have participated in the fight for independence. But in the fight for greater democracy and equality in the road to full independence during the American era, women have taken up the banner alone for the majority of the time.

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