THE COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE PHILIPPINES
on the Occasion of the Installation of Officers and Members (Biennium 2008-2010)
of the Zonta Club of Mandaluyong-San Juan
EDSA Shangri-La Hotel, Mandaluyong City
8 July 2008
LEILA M. DE LIMA
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
I wish to thank the Zonta Club, for inviting me here today, and for giving me the honor of addressing your organization in this momentous occasion. I am particularly delighted and honored to be in the company of women of substance and, I’m sure, each with a big heart.
I was invited here today, as the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, to speak about what is commonly referred to as “Women’s Rights.” However, before going any further, allow me to make a submission.
On the 10th of December of the year 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The very first Article states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Article 2 goes on to say that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
On this basis, I submit to you that the phrase “Women’s Rights” is, by its very formulation, antithetical to the principles of UDHR, particularly the concept of Non-Discrimination.
In fact, when the General Assembly adopted Resolution 34/180 of December 18, 1979, otherwise known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), it did so with a consciousness of this apparent conflict. A careful reading of the prefatory statements of the CEDAW demonstrates that the General Assembly felt compelled to justify the very creation of the Convention. While resolutely reaffirming its “faith … in the equal rights of men and women,” its conception was defended by evoking the “extensive discrimination against women [that] continues to exist.”
Thus, instead of declaring a set of “Women’s Rights,” the United Nations wisely proclaimed the need for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. This is why, when we speak of the CEDAW, we don’t speak of “Women’s Rights.” Instead, we speak of Human Rights as implemented in favor of women, or the Human Rights of Women.
The CEDAW is the basic international instrument that deals with the Human Rights of Women. It is often described as the Bill of Rights for Women. It defines the term “discrimination against women” as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field."
The historical background of the Convention is interesting as it is an initiative of Filipino women who represented the Philippines at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Then Chairperson Helena Z. Benitez succeeded in having the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women adopted by the General Assembly during her term in 1967. And, in 1975, Leticia R. Shahani, prepared the working draft of the CEDAW based on the Declaration as a member of the CSW working group.
The Convention provides that gender equality is realizable through ensuring women's equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life -- including the right to vote and to stand for election -- as well as education, health and employment.
There has been much progress, particularly in the legislative and policy-making front, as evidenced by the advent of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, Anti-Sexual Harassment Act and the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act, and the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW, which would allow Filipino women to file complaints and seek redress for human rights violations through the assistance of the UN Committee on CEDAW.
Statistics gathered by the National Commission on the Role of Women (NCRW) as of March 2008 show that, although there are no outright successes yet, there is discernible evidence that the Philippines is gaining ground in the elimination of the gender gap. Most of the progress has been in terms of health, education, politics and government participation.
The current female life expectancy at birth rose by 1.5 years from the 2000-2005 projections.
The current projected female life expectancy remains higher at 71.64 years compared to men at 66.11 years (2005-2010 projection, NSO).
In 2006, 50.6 percent of child-bearing age women were using a family planning method.
The 2003 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) revealed that most pregnant women availed of maternal services.
About nine in ten (9/10) mothers received care from medical professionals during their pregnancy - 50% received care from nurses or midwives and 38% from doctors, while 6% of pregnant women received no antenatal care.
Women who are considered basically literate (those who can only read and write) were estimated at 26 million (90 in every 100 women), higher than men at an estimated 25 million (87 in every 100 men).
This fact is evident in the elementary and high school completion rates where females were consistently higher than males.
Women with numerical skills (functional literacy) were estimated at 25 million (86 in every 100 women), also higher than men with numerical skill which is estimated at 24 million (82 in every 100 men).
Girls have fared better in terms of enrolment indicators in elementary and secondary education.
The completion rate of female in the secondary level is higher at 61.87% compared to that of male at 48.39%.
Average Dropout Rate (ADR) at the elementary level was lower for female at 0.93 percent compared to male ADR at 1.57 percent.
For higher education enrollment during the school year 2005-2006, females accounted for more than half of the total 2,5M enrollees at 54.48% compared to males at 45.52%.
Among the graduates for school year 2005-2006, female graduates accounted for 56.61% (149,246).
Business Administration and Related Discipline produced 48,369 (18.35%) female graduates while Medical and Allied Discipline produced 37,371 (14.18%) female graduates. Education and Teacher Training which came third produced 24,523 (9.30%) female graduates.
In 2006, the percentage of licensed professional women was higher at 57.72 percent than male licensed professional (40,922 vs. 63,547). Among the 63,574 women professionals, Nurses accounted for the highest percentage at 43.27 percent (27,495), followed by Professional Teachers-Elementary Level at 43 percent.
Filipino women have higher voter turnout rate and are winning in elections but still continue to have little participation in politics and governance.
There were 51 women Representatives of the 14th Congress (2007 national election). It accounted for 21.25% of the total 240 Representatives as members of the Lower House. In comparison, during the 13th Congress, only 37 women had secured representations in the Congress which was lower at 15.74% of the total 235 seats.
A women’s rights organization has secured party-list representation in Congress.
Of the total 21 elected Party-list Representatives, 6 or 28.57% are women. This is higher than the 2004 figure which was only 17.39% (4 women out of 23 elected Party-list Representatives).
In the Supreme Court, there were 3 women out of 15 justices in 2001; 4 out of 15 in 2002; 4 out of 14 in 2003; 5 out of 15 in 2004; and 5 out of 15 in 2007.
In the Commission on Human Rights itself, the Chairperson and the two Commissioners appointed so far have all been women.
This is not to say, however, that the Human Rights of Women agenda revels in any trend of growing disadvantage of men. In the words of Mary Wollstonecraft, “I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”
The value of this information is not to perpetuate discrimination – whether in favor of women or men – but to give duty-holders, like government and civil society, a perspective on any change in the social order and, more importantly, on which areas are getting more and more challenging to advance. These areas include violence against women and labor and employment:
According to the NCRW, despite the enactment of the Anti-VAWC Law, physical injuries and/or wife battering remains to be the most prevalent of all reported cases of violence against women, accounting for more than half (58.5%) of all reported cases nationwide. Reported rape cases accounted for about 14.7% of total reported VAW cases from 1999 to 2006. Acts of lasciviousness ranked third accounting for 9.4% of all reported VAW cases from 1999 to 2006.
In terms of Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR), female LFPR is only 48.8% compared to 79.1% for males.
In October 2006, unpaid family workers in family-owned business or enterprise were estimated at 4.3M in the agriculture, industry and services sectors from 3.7M in 2003. Of the total figures, 2.4M (55.8%) were unpaid women workers while only 1.9M (44.2%) were unpaid male workers.
Of the 1.52M Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in 2006, female OFWs were estimated at 50.4%, or an increase of 15.8% from 2005. Male OFWs accounted for 49.6% in 2006.
Female OFWs were generally younger than males. Around 43.5% female OFWs were aged 15 to 29 years while male OFWs were evenly distributed among the age groups.
It has been commonplace for the government to tout our OFW brothers and sisters as modern-age heroes who are chiefly, if not single-handedly, responsible for keeping our economy afloat. However, this homage remains little more than lip service if we could not ensure the protection and promotion of their human rights while they work abroad.
In this respect, most unfortunately, it is with a heavy heart that we in the CHR admit that the Commission has had very limited participation in addressing the problems of our Migrant Workers due to its limited resources and capacity. In the past, despite the fact that the CHR’s mandate encompasses the protection of Filipinos here and abroad, the extent of its involvement has been to refer these cases to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
This is most unfortunate considering that our female OFWs, who are mostly between the ages of 15 and 29 years old, are the most vulnerable to discrimination and physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
These are just some of the many problems areas involving Filipino women that we all must contend with.
It’s a heavy burden.
Should we succeed in discharging it, the promise of huge dividends awaits us. As the United Nations has long ago acknowledged, “The full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields.”
In contrast, should we fail, immeasurable costs will be exacted from our society. As the Gender and Development Group of the World Bank reported:
Gender inequality, which remains pervasive worldwide, tends to lower the productivity of labour and the efficiency of labour allocation in households and the economy, intensifying the unequal distribution of resources. It also contributes to the non-monetary aspects of poverty – lack of security, opportunity and empowerment – that lower the quality of life for both men and women. While women and girls bear the largest and most direct costs of these inequalities, the costs cut broadly across society, ultimately hindering development and poverty reduction.
Interestingly, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in its publication on the State of the World’s Children 2007, advanced the call for gender equality in the household, in employment and in politics and government. This is based on the principle of a “Double Dividend,” which posits that gender equality benefits both women and children:
Healthy, educated and empowered women have healthy, educated and confident daughters and sons. The amount of influence women have over the decisions in the household has been shown to positively impact the nutrition, health care and education of their children. But the benefits of gender equality go beyond their direct impact on children. Without it, it will be impossible to create a world of equity, tolerance and shared responsibility – a world that is fit for children.
The Commission on Human Rights is doing what is necessary in order to rectify these lamentable situations and promote gender equality in Philippine society. We in the CHR also recognize that this burden cannot be discharged by the independent actions of duty-holders. Cooperation is essential.
Collaboration with legislators is especially critical. The CHR’s legislative agenda in furtherance of the CEDAW include support for the passing of the Magna Carta of Women, the Anti-Prostitution Bill, the Marital Infidelity Bill, the Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood, and Population Management Bill, the Kasambahay (Household Workers) Bill, and the Local Sectoral Representation Bill.
Incidentally, in furtherance of this strategic partnership with the legislature, the CHR, through our Government Linkages Office, is currently holding a Workshop on the Rights-Based Approach to Legislation where the participants are the Committee Secretaries and various staff members of the different legislative committees from the House of Representatives.
This is not to say, however, that equality and non-discrimination demands equal treatment of both genders.
United States Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once wrote, “It was a wise man who said that there is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals.” I now take the liberty of applying his words in the context of the Human Rights of Women because, indeed, paradoxically, while women and men are equal, they are, at the same time, distinct from one another.
We cannot ignore, for the sake of apparent parity, the scientific fact that women are different from men physically, biologically and anatomically. For instance, we cannot ignore the fact that it is women who carry babies in their wombs for nine months – a fact that makes them vulnerable to discrimination, particularly in the workplace.
Ultimately, the purpose of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women is fulfilled when we no longer speak of Women’s Rights, but only of Human Rights.
It is achieved not by having gender neutral laws per se, or by having laws that are “equally applicable to men and women,” and certainly not by laws that perpetuate a reversal of the fortunes of men and women. Instead, it is fulfilled by having laws that, in their implementation, allow both genders to live their lives in dignity and in full enjoyment of their human rights.
In closing, I wish to leave you with the words of Robin Morgan: “Women are not inherently passive or peaceful. We're not inherently anything but human.”