Philippine Suffragist Movement

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The Philippine Suffragist Movement was the movement where women in the Philippines lobbied for the right to vote and be represented in government. It lasted from 1898 to 1937.

Antecedent of the national campaign

Even during the Spanish colonial period, women in late 19th century were organizing to campaign for a higher profile in society. Among the early movements were the Logia de Adopcion, established in 1893 as a masonic lodge composed of Philippine women, and the Asociacion de Damas de la Cruz Roja, a civic organization representing the Red Cross which coordinated humanitarian efforts during the Philippine-American War. It was led by Hilaria Aguinaldo, the wife of the Philippine Repubic's first president Emilio Aguinaldo. Many other women volunteered to serve in the military campaigns of the first Philippine army.

In 1902 Constancia Poblete founded Liga Femenina de la Paz, an organization devoted to help in the American pacification of the Philippines.

In 1905 Concepcion Felix-Rodriguez founded Asociacion Feminista Filipina (AFF), the first American era women's volunteer group dedicated to prison, educational and labor reforms. It also espoused anti-gambling and anti-prostitution drives and campaigned for women's representation at the local level. Many prominent Filipinoas joined her, including Trinidad Rizal, Librada Avelino, Maria Paz Guazon, Maria Francisco, the Almeda sisters and Luisa de Silyar. A year later Pura V. Kalaw initiated a local suffragist campaign in the Iloilo area and led the way in campaigning for women's right to vote with her Asociacion Feminista Ilonga.

In 1909 Gota de Leche was founded by AFF to provide infants with pasteurized milk as well as to reduce infant mortality in the Philippines. It was called the “first ever non-religious, non-government social welfare initiative in the country.” In 1912 Carmen Poblete published the first women's magazine.

The national campaign

The national suffragist movement was launched in 1912 with the pioneering efforts of two American women in the Philippines, Carrie Champan Catt and Aleta Jacobs, along with Concepcion Felix-Rodriguez. They established the Society for the Advancement of Women. It became the predecessor of the Women's Club of Manila. Today it is still considered the pioneer women's club in the country.

The rapid growth of other women's groups led to the convening of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1912. It would become the true vanguard of the Philippine suffragist movement until 1937. It sponsored the first women's convention in 1929 which passed a resolution supporting the women's right to vote.

The women's umbrella organizations attended the public hearing of the Consitutional Convention of 1934 in order to lobby for women's rights. Josefa Llanes Escoda and Pilar Hidalgo-Lim formed a General Council of Women to coordinate the political activities.

The suffragists were able to secure the writing of Article V in the 1934 Constitution which mandated suffrage to women, provided that at least 300,000 women vote to have it passed. The General Council of Women campaigned vigorously for the plebiscite on April 30, 1937. They triumphed by securing 447,725 ‘yes’ votes against 44,307 ‘no’ votes. Finally on September 17, 1937, Filipinas gained universal suffrage when the results were certified by President Manuel L. Quezon.

Women entered the House of Representatives in 1938, when Elisa Ochoa became a representative of Agusan province. By the national elections of December 14, 1937, 24 women were elected to various positions, including Carmen Planas - "Manila’s Darling" - who became the first woman city councilor of Manila.

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