With two female presidents in the past two decades, the Philippines seems to have granted women respect and equal footing with men in politics. But on the Internet, type in the word “Filipina”, meaning Filipino women, in search engines more than often yields something less respectful.
On either Google or Yahoo search engine, the top 10 search results under “Filipina” are dominated by fishy dating sites promoting “sexy” Filipino women as ideal girlfriends, wives or partners.
Photos of Filipina beauties abound on these sites, enticing mostly foreign visitors to become a member. With the monthly cost of around 30 US dollars, the members can have the direct contact numbers of the ladies.
The word “Filipina” is so popular among the Internet populace that it even has a special spot in those nasty porn websites.
If a similar search is done using key words like “Indian”, ” Malaysian”, “Russian” or more Latin-sounding “Italiana” and ” Mexicana”, there is no reference to women of these nationalities or even women-related entries in the first 10 results.
It was precisely this that prompted Noemi Dado, 51, a professional blogger and new media publisher, to start blogging about the need to re-shape and re-define the “sexy” Filipina image.
Last June, Dado and her friends founded the Filipina Images blog portal http://www.filipinaimages.com to write about the positive and inspiring entries about Philippine women and encourage all other bloggers in cyberspace to do the same.
By simply including “Filipina” somewhere in the title of their positive entries, these women warriors hope to reshape the Philippine woman’s image by capitalizing on their wholesomeness aspect of the same word used to malign it.
“Dignity is every person’s human right,” Dado said. “We seek to balance the Filipina images that are available online. We share our reflections about what the Filipina of the future could be like, too.”
Dado said whether the Filipina is a mother, a nanny, a decision maker in the corporate arena, a domestic service professional, or a mail order bride, they have the right to empower themselves through education, and to gain equal rights in the household and the workplace.
But Dado’s crusade meets challenges from inside the very group it intends to help.
Considered shy, modest and loyal in general, while maintaining the traditional virtue of a woman to run all family chores, Filipino women are a natural attraction to some Westerners, not to mention the notable high English literacy here compared with other Asian countries.
And it is also regarded as a pro for Filipinas, especially in provinces, if they are able to marry outside and help lift the family out of poverty with greenbacks of their husbands or boyfriends.
Dado said she got anonymous feedbacks posted on the Filipina Images blog that reads “There is no such thing as this campaign would shape the Filipina images. WE ARE ALREADY KNOWN TO BE THE GOLD DIGGER” of this era. There is no way you can stop our fellow Filipinas to go online and search for their financial fortune or even a soul mate.”
The anonymous post said Dado should not crush the sites “that are helping most of our fellow Filipinas to look for their greener pasture by getting online.”
Jean Enriquez, Executive Director of the network of global feminist groups, The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women — Asia (CATW), said that this is a view point such as this is another manifestation of colonial mentality where these dating sites represent hope.
“I wouldn’t blame the women (who may have voluntarily put themselves on the website), but it is a situation of hopelessness, where there is no other way out of poverty except through marriage to a foreigner,” Enriquez said.
Emmi de Jesus, Secretary General of Gabriela National Alliance of Women in the Philippines, another non-governmental group advocating women’s rights, said the activities can go beyond ‘ dating’ and may be just another way of earn money, especially in the middle of a financial crisis when people are losing their jobs and become more desperate.
Facing these challenges, it may be a long time still before the on-line image of the Filipina is shaped, but Dado and her co- founders of Filipina Images, remain hopeful and are encouraged by the little things that show that they are starting to make a dent in cyberspace.
“One of our successes is that when you Google the word ‘ Filipina’, you will find us in the first five pages of the search engine results,” Dado said.
Dado’s group is also joining hands with wikipilipinas.org, a special portal called the Encyclopedia of Philippine Women, which compiled the achievements and triumphs of Filipinas worldwide.
By having an online platform to showcase Filipina intelligence and talent, the goal of developing more empowered Filipinas at least becomes achievable, Dado said.