Women have always enjoyed greater equality in Philippine society than was common in other parts of Southeast Asia. Since pre-Spanish times, Filipinos have traced kinship bilaterally. A woman's rights to legal equality and to inherit family property have not been questioned. Education and literacy levels in 1990 were higher for women than for men. President Aquino often is given as an example of what women can accomplish in Philippine society. The appearance of women in important positions, however, is not new or even unusual in the Philippines. Filipino women, usually called Filipinas, have been senators, cabinet officers, Supreme Court justices, administrators, and heads of major business enterprises. Furthermore, in the early 1990s women were found in more than a proportionate share of many professions although they predominated in domestic service (91 percent), professional and technical positions (59.4 percent), and sales (57.9 percent). Women also were often preferred in assembly-type factory work. The availability of the types of employment in which women predominated probably explains why about two-thirds of the rural to urban migrants were female. Although domestic service is a low-prestige occupation, the other types of employment compare favorably with opportunities open to the average man.
This favorable occupational distribution does not mean that women were without economic problems. Although women were eligible for high positions, these were more often obtained by men. In 1990 women represented 64 percent of graduate students but held only 159 of 982 career top executive positions in the civil service. In the private sector, only about 15 percent of top-level positions were held by women.
According to many observers, because men relegated household tasks to women, employed women carried a double burden. This burden was moderated somewhat by the availability of relatives and servants who functioned as helpers and child caretakers, but the use of servants and relatives has sometimes been denounced as the equivalent of exploiting some women to free others.
Since the Spanish colonial period, the woman has been the family treasurer, which, at least to some degree, gave her the power of the purse. Nevertheless, the Spanish also established a tradition of subordinating women, which is manifested in women's generally submissive attitudes and in a double standard of sexual conduct. The woman's role as family treasurer, along with a woman's maintenance of a generally submissive demeanor, has changed little, but the double standard of sexual morality is being challenged. Male dominance also has been challenged, to some extent, in the 1987 constitution. The constitution contains an equal rights clause--although it lacks specific provisions that might make that clause effective.
As of the early 1990s, divorce was prohibited in the Philippines. Under some circumstances, legal separation was permitted, but no legal remarriage was possible. The family code of 1988 was somewhat more liberal. Reflective of Roman Catholic Church law, the code allowed annulment for psychological incapacity to be a marital partner, as well as for repeated physical violence against a mate or pressure to change religious or political affiliation. Divorce obtained abroad by an alien mate was recognized. Although the restrictive divorce laws might be viewed as an infringement on women's liberty to get out of a bad marriage, indications were that many Filipinas viewed them as a protection against abandonment and loss of support by wayward husbands.