The Poorest of the Philippines’ Poor: The Filipino Women

By Waynes Manalang of Anakbayan Toronto

Typhoons, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruption, and drought are major adverse events we call natural disasters. They’re called natural because they’re a result of natural earthly processes. However, the immense suffering of the people is no longer limited to the brunt of natural disasters. They are now subjected to the negative effects of climate change. These are human-driven disasters; the result of greenhouse gas emissions. The climate has been permanently altered and the consequences are endured not by the global powers, such as the United States who continue to produce these harmful gas emissions, but by the poorest countries.

Although climate change has an overwhelming impact on everyone; the women  of the exploited classes (chiefly the workers, peasants, and semi-professionals) suffer the most. There are existing social, cultural, political, economic, and historical forces that shape gender discrimination and gender-based violence that ultimately make women the most impacted by these “natural” disasters.

Climate change’s impact on the environment, people’s livelihood and health frequently result in crop losses, low productivity, low income, poverty and lack of jobs.2  Women’s livelihood depend on natural resources the most.2 They are responsible for securing that their families have food and water. At times of climate-related distress, they carry most of the burden. When families suffer from financial losses, women are often forced to find a solution.3 In rural areas, women perform most of the labour and household work. They also often have to do extra work to cover for their husbands’ indolence.

Another result of climate-driven disasters is forced migration. Out of desperation, women migrate to urban areas or overseas to find jobs, where often they find themselves in precarious situations.3  They are at a higher risk of being sexually trafficked and sexually violated during these times.5

Ultimately, after climate-driven disasters, women’s conditions are worse. They face heightened levels of domestic and sexual violence. And despite their central roles in maintaining livelihoods and restoring the environment, there’s little evidence that any relief efforts, policies and funding target them.5 The poorest of the Philippines’ poor, the Filipino women, at the frontline of climate change.5

The Three Layers of Oppression

Oppression of women in the Philippines can be traced back to pre-colonial times. However, back then, it was generally limited to areas that had Islamic feudalistic systems. Once under the Spanish rule, the feudal-patriarchal system became widespread and institutionalized in the Philippines. Gradually, the status of women was lowered. Laws, policies and cultural norms were structured so that women became subordinate to men. Women suffered more from the wrath of the feudal lords, often required to do more menial service. They were deprived of the right to property, independence and participation in public office.

After overthrowing the Spanish colonial masters, the U.S. imperialists came and colonized the Philippines. The U.S. superimposed monopoly capitalism with feudalism. Laws and policies that benefit the U.S. were put in place. Upper-class people, also known as comprador bourgeoisie, rose to control the foreign exchange (which is designed to benefit the U.S. the most). Colonial mentality was ingrained in the minds of the people. And finally, a puppet government was installed. Since then, the Philippines has been under indirect U.S. rule. In other words, the Philippines is semi-colonized by the U.S.6

Under U.S. imperialism, Filipino women suffered further degradation. Women became commodities in the capitalist labour market and in the sex trade. They are subjected to further exploitation and discrimination, with lower wages, limited economic opportunities, and harmful gendered cultural and societal norms.6

The results of these events led to Filipino women suffering three layers of oppression, as listed by Juliet de Lima in “Women and Revolution”:

  1. U.S. imperialist domination or national oppression
  2. Comprador landlord class oppression and exploitation
  3. Male domination shared fate with women of the exploiting classes

Elimination of Structural Violence 

Women have been part of the revolutionary movement since the fight against Spanish colonizers.6 They were, and still are, leaders, fighters, mothers, sisters, and Kasamas. They have been fighting colonial oppression and have been a fundamental part of the revolution.6 As the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women approaches on November 25, let us show our support for the Filipino women, especially the working-class women, who suffers most from the three layers of oppression.6 Their organization and mobilization is a significant part of the national democratic movement and thus, must be prioritized and supported.6  


  1. Case Study: Gender and Climate Change Finance in the Philippines (2009) by Nadia Johnson
  2. Enduring Climate Change and Food Insecurity Through Charcoal Production: A Poverty Coping Strategy of Reluctant Indigenous Women in the Philippines (2017) by Susanita Lumbo
  3. In Philippines, climate change and conflict both conspire against rural women (2017) by Alvin Chandra 
  4. Gender and Livelihoods among Internally Displaced Persons in Mindanao, Philippines (2013) by Rufa Cagoco-Guiam
  5. UNEP: Women at the Frontline of Climate Change (2011)
  6. Women and Revolution (1986) by Juliet de Lima
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