Women’s group decries violations of rights at UN session
October 13, 2023

Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat


MANILA – Filipino women continue to suffer rights violations and inequality amid the government’s commitment to the United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

This is what the progressive women’s group Gabriela said during the 86th session of the UN CEDAW in Geneva, Switzerland. The Philippines is under review for its fulfillment of its obligations under CEDAW.

In a statement, Gabriela Secretary General Clarice Palce said their oral intervention was on behalf of all Filipino women and women human rights defenders “whose ability to speak for themselves has been stripped off of them by the Philippine government.”

“We spoke for the 66 victims of politically-motivated extrajudicial killings under President Rodrigo Duterte, seven desaparecidos, 162 political prisoners, 16 activists slapped with Anti-Terrorism Act charges, and all other women whose defense of peoples’ rights earned them the vitriol of the misogynist and fascist government,” Palce said in a statement.

Gabriela was among the seven speakers at the UN committee review. The oral intervention during the session was delivered by Gabriela Deputy Secretary General and former political prisoner Cora Agovida.

“Gabriela aimed to apprise the UN and the international community of the grim economic and human rights crises in the country, that ‘disproportionately impact women.’ In turn, these shall serve as strong bases for UN CEDAW’s evaluation of and subsequent recommendations to the Philippine government,” Palce said.

Among those who were killed were from July 2016 to December 2022. This include human rights workers Elisa Badayos, Zara Alvarez, and Leonila Pesadilla, an active member of the Compostela Farmers’ Association who opposed major mining projects in their community.

Among the 162 political prisoners also include human rights workers Alexandrea Pacalda and Glendhyl Malabanan, development worker Rita Espinoza, writer and women’s rights advocate Adora Faye de Vera, community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, and peasant women organizer Amanda Echanis.

“The repressive policies implemented by the then Presidency of Duterte and the current Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration infringed on women’s basic and fundamental rights and freedoms that are their, thus preventing them from expressing their views and struggles, their critics of anti-women and anti-people government policies, and from organizing themselves to bring about change. These do not only constitute state violations to CEDAW, but also prove that democracy in this country is a farce,” Palce said.

On social and economic rights

Meanwhile, citing the May 2023 Labor Force Survey, the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) said over 21.14 million Filipino women are “economically insecure”. This includes the unemployed (996,000), those lacking work and income or underemployed (1.899 million), and those outside the labor force (18.248 million). This is despite the easing of restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

“The number of unemployed women doubled during the pandemic, from 852,000 in 2019 to 1.69 million in 2020. Many women lost their jobs and livelihoods, particularly in sectors that shuttered during lockdowns. By December 2022, an estimated 2.2 million individuals were unemployed, with 1.06 million being women,” the CWR said in its submission to CEDAW.

Those who were employed on the other hand do not have regular work, the CWR said.

“Labor flexibilization schemes proliferate under various names, including probationary workers, casual workers, contractual/project-based workers, seasonal workers, and apprentices and learners,” the CWR said.

Data from the Integrated Survey on Labor and Employment show that 330,780 irregular or non-regular women were employed by companies with 20 workers or more.

This is the same in the public sector where a significant number of workers are non-regular. Citing the Inventory of Government Human Resource Systems, the CWR said that 642,077 government employees are job orders or contracts of service, of whom 38 percent are women.

Meanwhile, CWR said the gap in gender pay across occupations ranges from four percent to 44%, according to the data of Philippine Statistics Authority.

“In a case study by CWR in Northern Luzon provinces, women farm workers receive 28.57% lower wages than men, earning $5.45 compared to men’s $7.25. In other rural communities, women earn just $2.72 for a day’s work,” the CWR said.

The group added that with the lack of opportunities in formal wage employment, many women have turned to the informal sector. The group said data from the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders indicates “that 6.6 million Filipino women engage in informal work, enduring low income, a lack of social protection, and occupational health and safety hazards.”

Those who choose to stand for their labor rights are also being attacked. According to the CWR, workers’ freedom of expression and the right to organize face intensified suppression. “Women union leaders in the Southern Tagalog region reported surveillance and harassment by the NTF-ELCAC [National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict] against union members and leaders,” they said.

In June 2023, the International Trade Union Confederation Global Rights Index ranked the Philippines as among the top ten countries with the worst conditions for workers.

“Systematic efforts to stifle workers’ right to organize, coupled with the prevalent ‘no union, no strike’ practice in special economic zones and export processing zones, have led to a decline in unionized workers as well as reduced participation of women in labor unions or organizations. From 2004 to 2020, the share of female workers affiliated with unions dropped from 14.3% in 2004 to a mere 6.17% by 2020,” the CWR said.

Many women were also forced to work abroad due to lack of employment and insufficient income. The CWR said that in 2019, there were 1.23 million overseas Filipino women workers, 24 percent more than men.

There is also a significant number of abuse against women migrant workers. The group said that in 2020, the Middle East recorded 4,302 cases of OFW abuse. Meanwhile, 23,714 contract violations were reported. This includes passport confiscation and the failure to provide domestic workers with the protections outlined in labor codes and labor protection laws.

“In Kuwait, on average, two OFWs fall victim to physical abuse, sexual harassment, or rape every day. The reported abuse cases have been on the rise, surging from 3,537 in 2020 to 6,654 in 2021 to 11,921 reported cases in 2022,” the CWR said.

PH gov’t should fulfill its obligations under CEDAW

For women’s groups, the Philippine government should fulfill its obligations under CEDAW.

Palce lamented that policies implemented during the past and under the new administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. continue to infringe on women’s basic and fundamental rights and freedoms.

“Preventing them from expressing their views and struggles, their critics of anti-women and anti-people government policies, and from organizing themselves to bring about change do not only constitute state violations to CEDAW, but also prove that democracy in this country is a farce,” Palce added.

The CWR also joins women’s groups and rights defenders in their call to the Philippine government to fulfill its obligation as a signatory to the CEDAW and its local counterpart, the Magna Carta of Women.

They also challenge the Marcos Jr. administration to fulfill their following demands:

1. Respect and fulfill the recommendations of United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) member states;
2. Allow Special Procedures and mandate holders to conduct official visits within the Philippines;
3. Undertake a comprehensive review of macroeconomic neoliberal policies; and lastly,
4. Revoke the Anti-Terror Law, Executive Order 70 and NTF-ELCAC to ensure a secure and supportive environment for the crucial work carried out by advocates for women’s rights and human rights defenders.

Gabriela also appealed to the UN CEDAW to conduct an independent and comprehensive investigation of the situation of women human rights defenders in the Philippines; conduct an official assessment on the systemic violations of the Philippine government of its commitments to CEDAW and recommend immediate corrective measures to uphold rights of women’s human rights defenders.

The group also called on CEDAW to pursue its 2016 recommendation for the Philippines to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; urge the State to pass the Human Rights Protection Bill and the bill to criminalize red-tagging; urge the Philippine government to fulfill its obligations under CEDAW GR No. 39 on the Rights of Indigenous Women and Girls.

The group also appealed for UN bodies to conduct follow-up inquiries with the present administration on the implementation of the 2023 CEDAW recommendation on comfort women; and to urge the State to release all women political prisoners, especially on humanitarian grounds for the elderly and sick women. (RVO)


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