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Rm. N-411, House of Representatives, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
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(Closing Remarks of Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, Chairman Emeritus of PLCPD on October 22, 2022 at Crowne Plaza Hotel)

I am much elated to congratulate AFPPD, PLCPD, the other sponsoring organizations and the participating countries’ representatives as well as the various distinguished speakers for a very successful two days of sharing ideas, planning and strategizing, discussing policies, and strengthening commitments of various stakeholders in prioritizing women’s rights and empowerment in Covid-19 pandemic response and recovery.

Seeking out stakeholders’ perspectives is vital in getting a fuller picture of the distinct role of each region, country, and sector in eliminating the historically-entrenched gender inequalities and inequities that have resulted to women bearing much of the ill-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Moreover, the meeting of kindred spirits and productive exchange of ideas sustain and motivate us even as they solidify our joint commitment and responsibility to place women at the center of our respective countries’ development agenda, Covid-19 response strategies, and economic recovery policies.

Special thanks go to our speakers and delegates for making the daily sessions not only informative and enlightening but inspiring as well. Indeed, the serious import of giving women the opportunity to have control over their lives and their future will amount to nothing if we are not spurred into action to actually walk the talk.

After this closing ceremony, I am confident that there will be more future rewarding interactions and collaborations among our members who are champions of women’s health and rights.

In 2020, when the contagion first began to ravage the health of people and pummel national economies worldwide, it was reported that men were dying of Covid-19 at a much higher and more alarming rate than women. Some scientists reported that the death rates of men succumbing to Covid-19 was 50% higher than women.

This may have given the impression that, overall, men are disproportionately affected by the pandemic compared to women.

As we have learned in the last two days and as we ourselves have witnessed and experienced in our own countries, this observation is not fully anchored on reality. The fact is women worldwide have borne the brunt of the negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and these ill-effects are felt even more seriously in developing nations where women are likely less educated, often unemployed, suffer from ill-health, more vulnerable to extreme poverty, and have less political and social traction.

Recent scientific studies show that Covid-19 killed more men than women because of differing factors affecting men such as the types of jobs where men are traditionally employed like in transportation, agriculture, and construction where they are more vulnerable to air-borne infection; male behavioral patterns showing that they were less likely to follow health protocols compared to women; and men’s underlying health issues including cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption were major contributors to the grim death rates of men.

Undoubtedly, what is clear is because of deep-rooted gender imbalances and ingrained discrimination, the pandemic affects women more severely and its consequences are felt on almost all spheres of their lives.

Since the start of the pandemic, women also have to contend with the following:

  1. much higher risks of loss of employment because their lower status in the labor market makes them easier to lay off;

  2. loss of income opportunities since the industries where more women are employed were the most severely affected by the contagion, like the tourism and accommodations, retail and merchandizing, and food and beverage industries;

  3. women workers who comprise the majority of workers in “informal employment” face additional problems since their jobs are often unregistered and therefore lack social or legal protection and employment benefits;

  4. increased unpaid work burdens during quarantine, including elder care, child care, and assisting their children with online classwork; and

  5. greater risks of physical aggression and emotional abuse as lockdown situations significantly increase violence against women and girls.

Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippine Congress has moved women from the periphery of society to center stage by enacting the following legislations:

  1. Republic Act No. 6725 way back on May 12, 1989, entitled “An Act Strengthening the Prohibition on Discrimination against Women with Respect to Terms and Conditions of Employment”;

  2. Republic Act No. 7192 on November 18, 1992, entitled “Women in Development and Nation Building Act”;

  3. Republic Act No. 7877 entitled “Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995” on February 14, 1995.

  4. Republic Act No. 9710 or the “Magna Carta of Women” on August 15, 2009;

  5. Republic Act No. 10354 or the “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012” on December 21, 2012;

  6. Republic Act No. 11596 entitled “An Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage and Imposing Penalties for Violations Thereof” on December 10, 2021, during the pandemic;

  7. Republic Act No.11648 entitled “An Act Providing for Stronger Protection Against Rape and Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Increasing the Age for Determining the Commission of Statutory Rape” on March 4, 2022, during the pandemic; and

  8. Republic Act No.11930 entitled “Anti-Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children Act and Anti-Child Sexual Abuse of Exploitation Materials Act” on May 21, 2022, also during the pandemic.

Much has yet to be done to prioritize women in our legislative agenda.

Covid-19 has exposed painful truths that cannot be denied – the pandemic has hit women particularly hard and policy responses must account for women’s interests and concerns. As early as April 1, 2020 or a few short weeks after a pandemic was declared by the WHO, the OECD had already stated that “fundamentally, all policy responses to the crisis must embed a gender lens and account for women’s unique needs, responsibilities and perspectives.”

But aside from exposing the structural inequalities that continue to unjustifiably burden women in times of crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic has also shown in bold relief how dependent societies are on women – in the frontlines, at home, in our schools, and communities.

Many countries worldwide are, thankfully, now recovering both economically and health-wise from the onslaught of the pandemic. But without the invaluable work, support, expertise, and sacrifices of millions of women, no country would have reached this stage of recovery.

This means we owe women. We must give back to them and soften the impact of the pandemic on their lives by ensuring that they keep their rightful place at the heart of our respective countries’ pandemic response and recovery efforts because they are disproportionally affected.

We will do this by:

  • Guaranteeing that policy responses always account for gender;

  • Having a relevant and responsive gender budgeting system;

  • Incorporating gender impact assessment processes into emergency response;

  • Having ready access to sex-disaggregated data and gender indicators for faster, more equitable crisis response; and

  • Intensifying efforts to increase the number of women with decision-making roles during crisis situations.

This will not only help rectify deep-seated gender inequalities, this will create more resilient, compassionate, and just societies. 

Nelson Mandela said: “If you want to change the world, help the women.”

Thank you.