Women Leaders and Transformation in Developing Countries
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Corazon Cojuangco Aquino (1933-)

First Pres. of the Republic of the Philippines (1986-1992)

Philippines Flag of the Philippines

Background information on the Philippines:

  • 80% of its people live below poverty line.
  • 75% of its land is owned by 2% of the people.
  • Under Marcos government for 20 years -- dictatorship.
  • Half a million women prostitute themselves.
  • Feminist consciousness, for example, Gabriella, an organization which holds a progressive platform which fights against sexual aggression, discrimination, and oppression.
  • Catholicism is main religion.
  • Women are expected to be involved in nurturing tasks like education and service, while men are supposed to be leaders in politics.


Corazon Aquino became actively involved with politics, as her husband, Benigno, was a popular critic of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. Marcos imprisoned Benigno for his oppositional work, and had agreed to free him if they left the Philippines. Benigno only agreed when he needed critical heart surgery, which would be done in Boston.

Photograph of Corazon AquinoHowever, Benigno decided to return to Manila to run for the presidential election of 1984, but he was shot in the head when he got out of plane in Manila in 1983. Corazon Aquino had hoped that the party would find someone else to run against Marcos, so that she would not have to be considered. She agreed to run if she had a million signatures on petitions requesting her to run, and so she did.

Marcos, thinking that he still had the Filipino people behind him, called for a snap election in 1986. It was then that Cory became the unified opposition's candidate for presidency. She officially lost those elections to Marcos, but people believed that Marcos rigged the elections, and due to his mass corruption, he lost the support of the U.S. and the people. On February 25, 1986, both Aquino and Marcos were inaugurated as President by their respective supporters, leading to the "People's Revolution" and the eventually the downfall of Marcos, making Cory the 1st president of the Republic of the Philippines and also the first woman president of the Philippines.

Aquino was portrayed in the media as just an ordinary housewife who was challenging a 20-year dictator for presidency, but this was never true. As she had been tutored in politics from an early age, was college educated, was part of a wealthy political family, and had a husband with political instinct and ambition. She came to power as a "clean-up mom," trying to move her country out of social and financial turmoil, and she also wanted to keep her husband's political vision alive. She appeared shy and a silent student and wife, but she is also seen as eventually growing into role as a leader.

Although many saw her weakness and delay, Aquino did not waiver from her decision that the most important legacy of her presidency would be her presidential leadership style, as she was always more concerned with process over policy. In March 1986, she proclaimed a provisional Constitution and soon after appointed a commission to write a new Constitution. This document was ratified by a landslide popular vote in February 1987. She served for one term that lasted six years as defined by the new Constitution, as she decided not to seek re-election.

She has received many honorary degrees and she has received Woman of the Year, Time magazine, the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, the United Nations Silver Medal, the Canadian International Prize for Freedom, and the International Leadership Living Legacy Award from the Women?s International Center.

There was however no change in the social and economic circumstances under Aquino's government. It is important to realize that her government was pressured by huge popular expectations, as the people prior to her had been living under martial law for 14 years. She saw herself as a transition president, from going to dictatorship to democracy, as she believed the Philippines would take at least 10 years to recover after Marcos Regime. It is also important to understand, that what could have impacted her ability to create change was the fact that she had to survive 6 coups and no one was loyal to her.

As far as her impact on the lives of women both generally speaking and politically in the Philippines, Aquino accomplished a lot for women in terms of being the first woman president of the Philippines, but she did not deal specifically with women's issues. Many of her proclaimed policy priorities, addressing poverty, would have had a positive impact on women, as the majority of those impoverished are women. Also, two women ran after her for president. Although these women did not win, the fact that they even ran, illustrates that in some regards Corazon Aquino is partially responsible for "breaking the glass ceiling" in the Philippines

Ultimately, Corazon Aquino should be remembered for her unwavering commitment to democracy.


  1. http://www.wic.org/bio/caquino.htm
  2. http://www.pixi.com/~jplaputt/caquino.html
  3. http://www.webquest.com/~gold/presiden.htm
  4. http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/rp.html
  5. Genovese, Michael. Women As National Leaders. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1993.
  6. Gabriela. A film by Trix Betlam. Color, 67 minutes, 1988.
    Distributed by: Women Make Movies
    462 Broadway
    New York, NY 10013
    (212) 925-0606
  7. Women in Politics. A six part documentary by Lowri Gwilym. Color, 3X40, 1989.
    Distributed by: Women Make Movies (see above)

Map of the Philippines
Click on map to see full size version.
Click on inset for clickable world map.

Statistical Highlights
Total Population (thousands) - Est. 2000 76,320
Avg. Annual Population Growth Rate - 1990-1995 2.32%
Mean per capita income - 1994 P83,161
Annual Inflation rate - 3/2000 3.3%
Employment rate - 1/2000 90.7%
Primary language English

Gender Equity Information
Women per 100 Men 97
Full Suffrage for All Adult Women Obtained in (year) 1937
Percentage of legislature consisting of women 13%
Percentage of cabinet consisting of women 14%
Literacy Rate (F/M) 93% / 94%
Life Expectancy at Birth (F/M, in years) 70.2 / 64.9

Development Information Score
(of 1.000)
(HDI of 174)
(GDI of 163)
HDI 0.677 98
GDI 0.661 82

Hear the National Anthem of the Philippines, from National Anthems of the World
Flag graphic by Zeljko Heimer, courtesy of FOTW: Flags Of The World website <http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/> 5/2/00
   (Click on flag for full size version)
Map courtesy of theUniversity of Texas' Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/Libs/PCL/Map_collection/Map_collection.html> 5/2/00
Statistical Information on the Philippines provided by the National Statistics Office of the Philippines Official Web Site <http://www.census.gov.ph/> 5/3/00
Gender Equity Information provided by Neft, Naomi and Levine, Ann D. Where Women Stand: An International Report on the Status of Women in 140 Countries 1997-1998. NewYork: Random House, 1997.
Development infromation provided by the United Nations Human Development Report 1998 <http://www.undp.org/hdro/98.htm> 5/2/00
   HDI = Human Development Index; GDI = Gender-related Development Index; Click on an index name in the table to view the full chart for that index.
Photograph of Corazon Aquino reproduced with permission from Paul Harasim of the University of St. Thomas --Houston, Public Affairs Office. Photograph originally from <http://basil.stthom.edu/publicity/press55.html> 5/9/00

Biographical profile ©2000 Sarah Richmond. Compilation of some country information by Michael Cohen '01. Site as a whole is ©1999 Dessima Williams and CIMTech at Brandeis University. All rights reserved. Further copywright and contact information available at the site index.