Home > Uncategorized > The Role of Women from Pre-Hispanic to Spanish era

The Role of Women from Pre-Hispanic to Spanish era

By: Adrianne Dianne Isabelle R. Saldua


During the pre-Hispanic period, the Philippines had a simple type of culture; the type of education being taught was basic, and it was taught in the standard alphabet, Alibata or Baybayin. As for their living circumstances, they lived in small areas that were spread out called Balangays or Barangays. The Filipinos were mainly concerned with agriculture and paid little or no attention to building structures like churches, temples and places for self-gratification.

The women of the pre-Hispanic era were given importance, they could even hold high characters in communities like healers, priestesses, and they could even handle leadership roles and fight as warriors. As part of the line for the heir and heiresses of a Datu, his daughter could be one of the choices. Men and women were treated equally, they had equal rights. Women had the right to inherit property and they also had important parts in business and trading. They would weave, do pottery and make jewelleries to be used for exchanging in the market, in other tribes and other foreign traders like the Chinese.  They controlled the operations of transactions because their husbands were not allowed to barter unless their wives approved.

The Babaylan

The Babaylan or the healer was usually a woman and when an occasion arises that a man would take this role he needs to dress up as a woman.  They were looked up to because of their wisdom and knowledge.  When problems in communities arise and there are no other means to fix it, the Babaylan is the one to be called; she would perform rituals and chants to drive away the spirits that caused turmoil.

Also, during the pre-colonial period, one of the first few things a man would learn is that he should always respect women. Disrespecting women was unthinkable, if a man does not show respect to a woman, he would be labelled negatively by the society.

In the Ifugao region, women had the right to divorce their husbands, may it be because of infidelity, infertility or if the spouse is unable to provide for the family.

Filipino Women had the power to decide for themselves, they controlled how they lived.They enjoyed equal status with men, were known for their wisdom and knowledge, and enjoyed the privileges of human rights.

The glorious years of the women were destroyed when the Spanish arrived during the 16thcentury. They brought with them their own idea of what a woman is and where she is supposed to be placed in society. From men and women being equal, women were turned into objects of suppression. By this time, education in the Philippines had been altered and was based on Catholicism. Priests stood as the educators.

Spanish Priests

The Spaniards had occupied a large amount of land, thus erecting schools, universities and seminaries. It was not a problem until it led to the spread of the Catholic ideology and the conversion of many Filipinos.  During this period, good education and the opportunity to go to prestigious schools were more prioritized to be available for men. Although some women were able to attend some vocational schools, most were not given an opportunity to an education because the church and the government believed that women should only stay at home. Thus the role of the woman became attached to the home, her duty was to become an obedient and respectful daughter, a good wife and mother.

The ideal woman for the Spaniards is someone who is overly religious, submissive, and obedient. Yes, the typical “Maria Clara”. That “mahinhing dalaga” stereo type was brought to us by the Spaniards. Women can no longer loiter around, run along the meadows, and swim in rivers or climb trees as children. The real Filipina was replaced by the ideal woman dictated by the Spaniards. During the Spanish occupation the woman being subordinate was instilled, men rising as the dominant gender, establishing a patriarchal society that has prevailed and surpassed generations, and is now the prevalent type of society that we follow. The Philippines was controlled by the Spaniards and the Catholic Church. Women were no longer allowed to hold high positions and participate in political activities. She was even snatched of her right to express her thoughts being instructed to stay within the shadows with her lips sealed.

As the Spaniards tried to reduce in importance the role of the woman, the fury and passion that runs in the Filipina blood would never allow this to happen. Pride and honor was definitely worth fighting for and some women repudiated the Spaniards’ way and concept of treating women.

Gabriela Silang

Gabriela Silang and Gregoria de Jesus were some of the prominent FIlipina icons of the revolution. Gabriela Silang took over the rebellion in Ilocos when her husband Diego Silang died.  She fought for freedom from the Spaniards until she was captured and beheaded on September 20, 1763 in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

Gregoria de Jesus

Gregoria de Jesus fought alongside her husband Andres Bonifacio as a member of the Katipunan. She was regarded as the “Mother of Philippine Revolution”.  She was also the first Filipina that was able to decipher the code of the Katipunan.

The freedom of women was suppressed because the Spaniards realized that women in the Philippines were very important and was regarded highly and that fact scared them. It was different from what they were used to, coming from a land where patriarchy ruled and men were the stronger ones.

The Filipina was enslaved when the Spaniards came, along with the country where she lived in.



Virola, M. (2007). The role of women before european occupation of the philippines. Retrieved from http://www.helium.com/items/605525-the-role-of-women-before-european-occupation-of- the-philippines

Constantino, R. “The Miseducation of the Filipino”. Ang Sitema ng Edukasyong Noon at Ngayon.Paaralang Teresa Magbanua.

Tujan, A. (1999). Transformative education. Manila: IBON Partnership in Education and Development.

(2007). 101 filipino icons. Quezon City: Adarna House.

(1996, October 17). Retrieved from http://blog.marientech.com/the-changing-role-of-women-in-philippine-society.html

Photo credits:

Retrieved from http://www.wowparadisephilippines.com/files/alibata-alphabet.gif

Retrieved from http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcT2rdIlyz9ltBfJdbaxQaGX-eBI33LXfaezSu99tDMLAL-1mkQQa9mumPWD

Retrieved from http://www.freewebs.com/philippineamericanwar/Spanish%20friars%20combo%20pic.jpg

Retrieved from http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_FFKau-MIe2I/TJeITIdTmsI/AAAAAAAACME/zT9VsuejbRM/s400/gabriela silang philstar     com.jpg

Retrieved from http://fil.wikipilipinas.org/images/0/02/Gregoriadejesus.jpg

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