PHILIPPINES: Women's Rights Laws in Place

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

October 28, 2009 - (IPS) Although the enacting in August of the Magna Carta of Women (MCW) - a major law aiming to end discrimination against women across the archipelago - was well-received here, there remain concerns about whether the legislation will be fully implemented.

Mary Joan Guan, executive director of the Centre for Women's Research, a Manila-based advocacy and training organisation, says that the efficacy of the MCW relies on its implementation going against the trend of previous women's rights legislation.

The Philippines "already has 27 laws concerning women's rights…[but] in reality these laws are not implemented at all," she says. It ratified the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1981.

The Magna Carta is the end product of two separate bills introduced in Congress in 2002. After years of debate and opposition, it was finally signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Aug. 14.

While Guan welcomes the MCW, she remains circumspect regarding its implementation, due to occur following the formulation of the rules and regulations of the MCW by February next year.

"We hope that it won't be, again, more lip-service from the government," she says.

Under the terms of the legislation, the Philippine government is the primary duty-bearer for implementing the law. It is charged with protecting women from discrimination and upholding and promoting their rights.

Luz Rodriguez, national coordinator of UNIFEM - the United Nations Development Fund for Women - agrees that the proof of the MCW's worth will be in the proverbial pudding.

She regards the enacting of the law as just the end of the first phase of the struggle. The second phase - that of the MCW's implementation - is yet to come.

"We have won a battle but not quite the war," says Rodriguez.

The MCW nonetheless represents a considerable success for the cause of women's rights in the Philippines.

Included among its provisions are that Filipino women are legally protected from all forms of violence and from discrimination in employment, education and training; that women are guaranteed security in times of disaster or other crises; that they are provided with comprehensive health care and information; and that women are afforded equal treatment before the law and in matters relating to marriage.

The MCW also has a particular focus on marginalised Filipino women. It guarantees the rights of women such as small farmers and rural workers, informal sector workers and the urban poor, indigenous women and those with disabilities, as well as older women and girls.

These guarantees include the right to food security, affordable and secure housing, employment, the recognition and preservation of cultural identity, and to women's inclusion in discussions pertaining to development and peace issues.

Rodriguez supports this highlighting of marginalised Filipinas. She says that while the Philippines is often "touted to be some kind of a model of gender responsive practice in the region" the experiences of many women in Asia's only predominantly-Catholic nation is very different.
The Philippines rates relatively well in terms of gender parity. According to the United Nations' 2009 Human Development Report, the country is 40th out of 155 nations - ahead of the likes of South Africa and Australia - when the gender-related development index is compared directly to the human development index.

Filipino women also rank better than their male compatriots in regards to life expectancy, literacy rates and education.

But Rodriguez argues that in a country where women can aspire to become president - Macapagal-Arroyo is the second female president of the Philippines; the late Cory Aquino was the first - the majority of women here remain particularly vulnerable.

"Indeed, there are women who can make it to the top but they're just a minority," she says.

"We should recognise that even among women there is what we might call 'layered levels' of discrimination," adds Rodriguez.

Guan supports this view, telling IPS that most Filipino women live on the fringes of society, where many undertake low-skilled irregular or contractual employment.
"The opportunities for women are still limited and even though their labour-force participation is increasing - but still less than men's - they are not given the opportunities in the higher levels," she says.

Guan views the MCW as "an additional help" to CEDAW, the landmark international treaty on women's rights which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979.

The Philippines was the first of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to ratify CEDAW, and it has also adopted the convention's Optional Protocol which came into force in December 2000.