Author(s): Marites D. Vitug
Women in the Philippines encounter sexist attitudes in several areas of science. Eloida Racelis graduated among the top ten in her class of 200 forestry students. Although the men in her class treated her with respect, while working in the Philippines' Department of Environment and Natural Resources she has met men who think forestry is their "exclusive turf." Racelis says, "There's a feeling, verbalized by men, that desk bound research is fit for women because it's not as tough as being out in the field." She has heard remarks from her male staff about "being patient with me because I am a woman. . . .They think that we are moody and whimsical, subject to a lot of mood changes."
However, in biology, pharmacy, and chemistry, women dominate the membership rolls of the National Research Council of the Philippines. The high rate at which women are branching out in science conflicts with a culture where "machismo is strong and the idea of 'woman for the home' is reinforced by Catholicism." Though there are many women in science, they have difficulty in reaching the highest levels and most powerful jobs.
Some elements of Filipino culture are very helpful to women's advancement. The educational system provides great opportunities, and members of the extended family may help provide for children while a mother begins a career or an advanced degree.
At the earlier stages of education, women feel optimism about the number of possibilities for their future. Women's numbers are increasing in the male-dominated area of mathematics. Young girls at the chief feeder high school for the country's science undergraduate training school are "catching up," according to the school's director, who explains that "their survival rate is higher because they are more conscientious."
Vitug writes that "As Filipino women enter fields that were once male turf, they make their way in spite of a series of cultural barriers. One female teacher and graduate student of physics experiences delays when ordering lab equipment. The delays do not occur when her male assistant places the order, prompting her to believe those at the lab equipment company may not take her seriously. The same teacher/graduate student was discouraged from entering electrical engineering because "males are usually preferred by industry." Men often pass up low-paying research jobs for high-paying industry jobs, because private corporations prefer to hire males. This leaves few options for women but to go into research and academia.
As in Turkish culture, men "are traditionally believed to be [the] main breadwinners" and "[there is emphasis on] the biological role of women--to bear children." This reduces women's "marketability and bargaining power for jobs." As a result, women usually experience a slower start in their scientific careers, with women holding entry-level jobs significantly longer than men. Women's careers usually top off at middle management, mostly because "trying to combine the roles of wife, mother, and professional had made it impossible for them to compete on an equal footing with males." Difficulties for working women are increased by the lack of organized day care. Relatives, even if supportive, may live some distance away.
The patriarchal system of the Philippines is seen as a serious drawback to women's advancement. At the start of their Catholic marriage, women are advised to be subservient to their husbands. Men are seen as the head of the family and in turn become the leaders of the community. Women follow as volunteers and "work around issues of their household interest," writes Vitug. In education, boys are seen as inherently better in mathematics and science, and girls are not "viewed as capable scientists."
Women could be helped if the government would begin to look at national priorities with "particular attention to women's needs" or make "a conscious effort to look at gender issues." A new secretary of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is said to be more sympathetic to women's concerns and supports plans for enhancing the participation of women in science and technology. A new database on women in science has been addressed. Although these plans sound good, the limited resources of this developing country may delay the fulfillment of such plans. Vitug closes by noting that, "In the meantime, Philippine women in science are relying on their own energy to overcome the hurdles they face."
--abstract by Juliet Midgley