Health has always been about more than drugs or treatments—it’s also about equality of access and of representation. This March, people all over the world are celebrating a subsection of the population whose health (among other things) has been compromised through a longstanding marginalization: women.
Women make up one of the few minorities that are numerical majorities. They typically outnumber men when it comes to demographics in most communities. Despite that, the oppression and marginalization of women has taken place in many a society for some time now. This March marks the best time to bring that and related issues to the forefront.
March is Women’s History Month in a lot of countries, including the US. In the Philippines, it is often referred to by the government as National Women’s Month and represents the time of year when women’s advancement becomes most important in the public consciousness.
The Legislative Designation of National Women’s Month in the Country
The Philippines actually took its cues for the celebration of women’s rights and representation from the United Nations. The UN preceded the country by declaring March 8 as International Women’s Day in its General Assembly in 1977. The Philippines did not follow suit until 11 years later, though. Aptly enough, it was during the tenure of its first female president.
President Corazon Aquino signed Proclamation No. 224, s. 1988 on March 1 of that year. About two weeks later, she signed Proclamation No. 227. The two proclamations established the precedents for Republic Act No. 6949 (the act naming March 8 as National Women’s Day in the country) by naming the first week of March as Women’s Week and March as Women’s Role in History Month.
Today, the primary state-established agency responsible for ensuring the commemoration of these holidays is the Philippine Commission on Women or PCW. Interestingly enough, this commission actually existed under another name even before President C. Aquino signed the above proclamations into being: it used to be known as the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, a body dating back to 1975.
Nowadays, the PCW works with private and other public bodies in order to advance the causes of women. This year, for instance, the Department of Transport and Communications ordered a free-rides day for all female passengers on the LRT-2 and MRT lines on March 8. On a similar vein, the National Museum offered free admission for women for the month.
Other methods of local observation spearheaded by the PCW have included public fora, reports on women’s status, and the proclamation of an annual theme—the one for 2016 being the inclusion of women in the agenda, or Kapakanan ni Juana, Isama sa Agenda.
National Women’s Heart Health Month
The past month may have been National Heart Month, but few people realize that March has been named the National Women’s Heart Health Month too. It became so under the tenure of yet another of the country’s female presidents, under the prodding of the Philippine Heart Association.
Proclamation No. 1675, s. 2008 stated that cardiovascular disease “is the number one killer of women in the Philippines”, quoting statistics in that year showing that 1 of 30 women in the country would die of breast cancer while 1 of 4 would fall to heart disease instead. As a countermeasure, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed the proclamation, which encouraged the promotion of heart health for women in particular during March.
Today, the Philippine Heart Association even has its own council for this particular advocacy. However, March is really about more than women’s cardiovascular health. It should be about all of the aspects of women’s lives that have an impact on their health, especially if said impact is a result of the lack of gender parity.
How Can You Help?
The first thing to do is obviously to spread the word. If more people know about these events, more discussions are likely to follow—and talking about issues like these is always the right way to begin. Share this article with people not in the know. Take to social media and harness the power of your convictions! You don’t need to be a woman to feel strongly about this issue, as equality of rights and representation affects everyone.
As long as there are others who are “made or seen as lesser”, none of us can rest easy in our value as human beings. One need only remember Abraham Lincoln’s words saying that it was in giving freedom to the slave that he ensured freedom for the free. As long as someone can be marginalized or underrepresented, that possibility exists for all of us at some point in time.
You can follow the social media accounts of agencies like the PCW. You can even participate in international movements like the pledges at the International Women’s Day website. Keep track too of movements organized by or through the UN. What is important is that you add your voice to the conversation and do what you can to ensure that women and all they have done (and continue to do) are appreciated.