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Vol. VI, No. 6      March 12 - 18, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines











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Conditions of Women and Children: A Gauge of Poverty

A political economist once said that to gauge the extent of poverty in a society, one has just to look at the conditions of women and children.  Women and children are the most exploited sectors of society.


A woman brings her child to the International Women’s Day rally, March 8


A political economist once said that to gauge the extent of poverty in a society, one has just to look at the conditions of women and children.  Women and children are the most exploited sectors of society.

Following this logic, to assess the claims of the Arroyo administration that it is addressing poverty, one can look at the current situation of women and children in Philippine society.

Having a secure and gainful livelihood is a basic requisite for a good quality of life.

Based on the January 2005 statistics of the Department of Labor and Employment, out of the 35.7-million labor force, 13.4 million are women.  Around 1.5 million women, who are part of the labor force, are unemployed. Of the 12 million women who are employed, 4.3 million are hired as unskilled workers. 

Based on a study by the Center of Women’s Resources (CWR), three out of ten workers in women-dominated industries are non-regulars or contractuals.  For example, 31.3 percent of workers in the wholesale and retail industry and 45.1 percent in hotel and restaurants are non-regular workers.

Rank and file workers, especially contractuals and non-regulars, earn at the most the minimum wage.  The minimum wage ranges from P180 to P325 ($3.50 to $6.33at $1:P51.30) per day. But data from the National Wages and Productivity Commission shows that a family of six in the National Capital Region need to earn P690 ($13.45) per day to be able to purchase their basic needs. Even if husband and wife both earn minimum wages, which does not happen often, they are still not able to take home P690 per day because of the numerous deductions taken off their salaries. 

Added to this, 3.519 million are self-employed. Sidewalk vendors, neighborhood store owners, and small-scale buy and sell vendors comprise majority of self-employed women workers. Self-employed women engaged in these types of livelihood activities rarely earn a daily net income of P325

Worse off are the underemployed and the 2.035 million women classified as unpaid family workers. Twenty one percent of those with work or around 6.78 million are underemployed, working less than 40 hours a week.  

Based on a study by Ibon Foundation, the unemployment and underemployment rate in 2005 is the worst in almost two decades.  The Arroyo government also has the worst sustained joblessness rates of any administration in the country’s history. 

Price spikes

While wages are pegged way below the actual cost of living, prices of basic goods and services continue to rise making it more and more difficult for women and their families to make both ends meet.

Spikes in the prices of basic commodities and utilities are caused by the privatization of public utilities; deregulation of industries such as oil; and the taxation policies of the Arroyo administration, especially with the restructured expanded value added tax (EVAT).

The following table, prepared by CWR, shows the effect of the increase in the coverage and rates of the EVAT implemented by the Arroyo administration. 


Pre-12 % EVAT
December 2005

With 12 % EVAT
February 2006

Percentage increase

Processed Milk




Condensed (300 ml)

P 33

P 33.50


Evaporated (370 ml)




Powdered milk (80g)





Coffee (25g)




Canned fish




Instant noodles

















Laundry soap (powder)




Ibon Foundation said that prices of petroleum products increased by some 30 percent in 2005 compared to year end-2004 levels. This brought prices of petroleum products to over double the average price in 2001, when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over as president after a people power uprising.  Oil prices have increased more than 400 percent since 1996, the implementation of the oil deregulation law.

 Electricity rates in 2005, at P7.39 ($ 0.14) per kWh, is 24 percent higher than the whole year average in 2004 and 250 percent more than the rate a decade ago. 

Water rates likewise increased tremendously.  Preliminary estimates by the Water for the People Network revealed that water rates (basic rate plus other charges) increased by 345 percent for Maynilad and 391 percent for Manila Water since the privatization of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System. 

With very few employment opportunities and increases in the cost of living, Filipinos, including an increasing number of women, opt to work abroad.  In a survey published by a local newspaper December 2005, three out of five Filipinos want to go abroad and 23 percent think that there is no hope for them in the country because of oil price increases and high taxes especially with the EVAT.

Risking employment abroad

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) shows that almost a million Filipinos left to work abroad in 2005, representing a five percent increase from 2004.  The countries with the highest number of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) are Saudi Arabia with 67 percent or 312,670 OFWs, Hongkong, 9 percent or 28,006 Filipino workers, United Arab Emirates, 6.3 percent or 19,817 Filipinos, and Japan with 5.5 percent or 17,213 OFWs.

Estimates reveal that there are around 8.1 million OFWs working in 194 countries.  Around 3.2 million are permanent residents, 3.6 million are contract workers, and 1.3 million are illegally working or looking for work abroad.  Most permanent residents are in North America. 

But the regions with the highest number of contract workers are the Middle East and Africa with around 1,469,539. Reports from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) state that 55 percent of OFWs in these regions are women. 

In Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, 96 percent of OFWs are women. In the Middle East, 57.2 percent of OFWs work as domestic helpers.  Likewise in Hongkong, most OFWs are domestic helpers. In Japan, majority of the 300,000 documented OFWs are women working as entertainers in bars. Domestic work and entertainers are the most vulnerable jobs abroad.  Stories of rape, abuse, beatings, and deaths victimizing domestic helpers, who are treated as slaves, and entertainers, who fall prey to gangs and white slavery syndicates, are numerous.

Data from the DFA shows that there are 2,341 OFWs who are in jails abroad.  Of this, 1,123 are women.  Worse, Migrante Policy Institute, U.S.A. reveals that there 5,317 women workers sought the help of the Filipino Welfare Resource Center abroad.  They are victims of abuses by their employers.

These do not include the social costs of labor migration such as broken families and juvenile delinquency.  If any of the parents are not able to work abroad, families are compelled to make their children work to be able to contribute to the family income.

Child exploitation

The Department of Labor and Employment reveals that during the first six months of 2005, around 2.06 million children with ages from 5-15 worked in crop plantations, mining caves, rock quarries and other factories, earning around P 50-100 ($0.97 – 1.95) a day. 

The 2001 survey of the National Census and Statistics Office (NCSO) shows that 4 million children or 16.2 percent of the 24.8 million children with ages 5-17 are actively contributing to the economy.  Of this, 2.5 million are boys and 1.5 million are girls.  Seven out of ten child workers come from the rural areas.  Three out of five child workers do not receive any compensation.

In 2005, there are an estimated 2 million street children all over the country. Vending and car washing are relatively harmless activities involving street children.  But most of them are engaged in begging, prostitution, drug pushing and use, and petty crimes such as snatching.  Among the street children, majority of the boys are involved in crimes.  In 2005, 20,000 boys were jailed for serious crimes.

Data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) shows that 3,867 street children with ages from 8-18 have come in conflict with the law.  Worse, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) reveals that 18 children were sentenced to death in 2005.    

The worst

These reveal the sorry state of women and children in the country today.  The Arroyo administration has the dubious distinction of having the worst unemployment and underemployment records, the highest prices of basic commodities and utilities, the most number of deployed OFWs, and an ever increasing number of child workers and street children. 

While it can continue revising the standards to measure unemployment rates, poverty levels, and economic performance indicators to make it look good, the stark realities of the worsening conditions of women and children and the deepening poverty of the Filipino people are undeniable proofs that all is not well with the economy. 

The Arroyo administration cannot simply lay the blame on those who persistently question the legitimacy of her government.  It cannot attribute all the problems being faced by the economy and people to the political crisis confronting her administration.  Because the roots of the worsening poverty are in the very policies her administration implements - the policies of privatization, deregulation, and liberalization.  She is even pushing the people deeper into poverty with her key economic reform program, the increase in the coverage and rate of the EVAT. 

In fact, it is the economic crisis that is fueling the political crisis.  At the core of the people’s discontent is the intensifying hardships and sufferings they endure and their lack of hope in the future.  Unless change happens in the fundamental policies of the government and the people in the leadership, the people’s restiveness and discontent will reach their boiling point. Bulatlat      




© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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