Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: Women Secure the Right to Vote in the Philippines (1937)
The long struggle for women’s suffrage in the Philippines came to an end in a plebiscite held on April 30, 1937, when an overwhelming majority of women voted in favor of their right to vote.
The women’s movement in the Philippines began in the early 1900s, with the formation of the Asociacion Feminista Ilonga (Association of Ilonga Feminists) and the Asociacion Feminista Filipina (Feminist Association of the Philippines), which sought to challenge the conventional view that confines women to the domestic sphere.
While the two groups worked primarily in the social service realm, pushing for reforms in prisons and the labor and education sectors, the Association of Ilonga Feminists also played a prominent role in Congressman Filemon Sotto’s decision to file the first bill on women’s suffrage in 1907.
The movement was further catalyzed during a visit in 1912 by the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, a group founded by leading American suffragists in Washington, and known today as the International Alliance of Women. Inspired by the leaders of the Alliance, the founder of Feminist Association of the Philippines, Concepcion Felix Rodriguez and her supporters widened their mandate, seeking women’s suffrage, not just in Manila, but throughout the country. This made way for the emergence of several more influential groups, including the Women’s Club of Manila and the more aggressive National League of Filipino Women.
Decades of championing the inclusion of women in the political sphere appeared to have finally paid off in 1933, when the 1907 bill was signed into law. The revolution however encountered another obstacle.
The Philippine Independence Act of 1934 (also known as the Tydings-McDuffie Act) promised the independence of the Philippines from the U.S. after a period of ten years. The encompassed establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth and the 1935 Constitution rendered the Suffrage Bill of 1933 ineffective. The new constitution however, did include a provision for women to achieve the right if 300,000 women voted in favor in a plebiscite to be held in 1937. Tenacious in their resolve, Concepcion Felix Rodriguez and her supporters toured the country enlisting support.
The plebiscite held on 30th April, 1937 was a monumental success for the women’s movement in the Philippines. A staggering ninety percent of the voters voted in favor of women’s suffrage, surpassing the required number of votes by almost 150,000. Suffragists in the country still regard the vote as ‘the most symbolic, realistic, and pragmatic struggle women would launch during their own time ‘