Engaging the state, challenging the church : the women's movement and policy reforms in the Philippines

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The women's movement in the Philippines stands out in Asia due to its long history of activism for the rights of the Filipino women. Along with other political movements, it played a significant role in the anti-dictatorship and anti-imperialist struggles in the country. Its leaders have been accorded international recognition and its gains in various policy areas are recognized as important to advances in women's rights. Nonetheless, despite significant advances in women's rights, the ability of the movement to influence public policy and policymakers has been limited. Policy initiatives such as the Anti-Rape Law, the Anti-Violence against Women and their Children (Anti-VAWC) Act, the Magna Carta of Women, and most recently, the Reproductive Health (RH) Law languished in the Philippine Congress long before their enactment due to opposition from different social and political forces. Moreover, these initiatives were passed only after substantial changes in the policy frame and discourse were made to meet strong objections and when the country's President acted favorably on them. To date, the women's movement continues to struggle against strong opposition and counter-movement mobilization in other vital policy issues such as divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage, particularly from the Roman Catholic Church. This dissertation examines the differential policy impact of women's movement's activism in the Philippines. It probes into the reasons why the movement tends to have more impact on some areas and less in others. Given that the women's movement is made up of various organizations of different political and ideological formations, the study also examines divisions in the movement itself and why certain women's movement organizations are more influential or strategically placed than others in influencing state policy. Toward these ends, this dissertation analyzes the principal constraints the women's movement confronts and the contextual, organizational and political factors that produce, and contribute to overcoming, these constraints. It also examines the movement's relationship with the government and other political and social forces. More specifically, the prominence of organized religion, i.e., the Roman Catholic Church, both in politics and public life is examined as well as the fragmentation of the Philippine Left and the resulting political and ideological conflicts and competition between women's movement organizations. Moreover, it will be shown how the spoils of patronage and oligarchic system in Philippine society significantly shape the impact of the women's movement on the policymaking process. To delimit scope and facilitate analysis, the study focuses on the two most important and contentious policy initiatives pursued by the women's movement over the past two decades, namely, the Anti-Violence against Women and their Children Act (Anti-VAWC) Act of 2004 and the Reproductive Health (RH) Law of 2012 as the two main empirical case studies. It examines the Anti-VAW movement - composed primarily of women's groups of various political formations demanding an end to all forms of violence against women, and the RH movement - a broad, multi-sectoral alliance between women's groups; people's organizations; professional and academic organizations; government-, business-, labor-, party-affiliated organizations; as well as student- and faith-based organizations, supporting a comprehensive policy on responsible parenthood and reproductive health, including among other things, the public and universal access to artificial contraception.