Sorry, But There Is No Way The Philippines Is The Fifth Best Country For Women

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The World Economic Forum recently released its annual gender gap index showing the best places in the world to be a woman.

A lot of the recent buzz has been about the unusually high ranking of The Philippines, which at number five is the highest ranking Asian country. For comparison, the United States and the United Kingdom ranked at 23 and 18 respectively.

The report ranks 136 countries based on economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival.

While the Philippines has for the last several years been consistently ranked in the top ten, Rina Jimenez-David, a columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, found it "puzzling" that the island nation should be ranked so high, given a number of troubling statistics.

In the column, Jimenez-David spoke to Dr. Junice Demetrio Melgar, the executive director of Filipino reproductive health NGO Likhaan. who was equally confused. 

"Frankly, I don't understand the standards they used," said Melgar. "To think that Filipino women continue to suffer the consequences of different forms of discrimination. Filipino women's enjoyment of their human and sexual and reproductive rights continues to be obstructed …"

From the column:

Melgar cites disturbing statistics: the Philippines has one of the highest incidences of unintended pregnancies (54 percent), teenage pregnancies, unsafe abortion (610,000 a year), stagnant contraceptive prevalence rate, and maternal mortality rate. "We're one of the few countries that cannot meet [Millennium Development Goal] 5 by 2015. In fact, with 221 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, we're way, way behind our target of 52."

She likewise mentions the fact that "we have one of the most restrictive abortion laws (in the world). Even women seeking treatment for incomplete spontaneous abortions (miscarriage) are treated badly in public hospitals ... Incidence of violence against women remains high."

The issue isn't limited to reproductive health:

[Filipino women's] poor health situation "is very much interrelated to women's economic situation and education," Melgar adds. "Filipino women comprise almost 70 percent of our informal economy where workers do not enjoy the benefits their counterparts in the formal economy enjoy.

Underemployment and unemployment among women are also high. A high number of our women are in jobs that are low-paying, under poor working conditions both here and abroad.

Comments Melgar: "We may have more women in government. Unfortunately, this has yet to be translated into more pro-women policies and programs. Many of these women are/were more anti-women than their male counterparts."

The status of women in the Philippines is bipolar. On the one hand, the Philippines has one of the highest percentages of women on corporate boards and the number of progressive women's rights laws aimed at closing the gender gap is impressive. The everyday life of many women in the Philippines, however, is not good.

Patricia Tan Openshaw, a partner at Paul Hastings LLP, drove home the conflict for the women of the Philippines:

Notwithstanding the high percentage of Filipino women representation in corporate boards, together with the increasing number of women entering public service and the fact that the Philippines has had two female presidents, there is a greater number of Filipino women who have no access to employment opportunities due to more fundamental issues pervading Philippine society. Deep poverty remains widespread in the Philippines. Trafficking in women continues to thrive and poverty aggravates such situation. Violence against women is prevalent.

If one of the highest nations in the rankings has such serious issues, it calls into question the validity of the Gender Gap findings.

Here's the full map of the Gender Gap Index's rankings – Business Insider

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