The past few decades have seen long strides in mainstreaming principles that directly address the economic, social, political and cultural inequality between men and women. Although the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) had been adopted internationally more than 30 years ago, it was only in 2008 that the Philippines passed into law an express recognition of the inequality suffered by women on a national scale and a unifying legislation detailing the various measures to be undertaken to address such injustice–The Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act No. 9710).
The Magna Carta of Women clearly declares that the State, the private sector, the society in general and all individuals shall contribute to the recognition, the respect and the promotion of the rights of women, although the primary duty-bearer shall be the State. In addition to the human rights granted to Filipinos in general under the Philippine Constitution, women are entitled to enjoy, without discrimination:
1. Protection from violence;
2. Protection and security in times of disasters, calamities and other crisis situations;
3. Participation and equitable representation in all spheres of society;
4. Equal treatment before the law;
5. Equal access and elimination of discrimination in education, scholarships and training, including freedom from gender stereotypes and images in educational materials;
6. Participation in sports;
7. Participation in the military;
8. Non-discriminatory and non-derogatory portrayal in media and films;
9. Right to comprehensive health services and comprehensive health information and education, including the promotion of breastfeeding, maternal care, and care of elderly women beyond child-bearing years;
10. Right to special leave benefits in case of surgery caused by gynecological disorders; and
11. Equal rights in all matters relating to marriage and family relations, including choice of spouse and number and spacing of children.
Women in marginalized sectors have also received special recognition in the Magna Carta of Women, ensuring that they enjoy (a) the right to food, (b) the right to resources for food production, (c) the right to housing, (d) the right to decent work, (e) the right to livelihood, credit, capital and technology, (f) the right to education and training, (g) the right to representation and participation, including participation of grassroots women leaders in decision and policy-making bodies in such leaders’ respective sectors; (h) the right to information, (i) the right to social protection, (j) the right to recognition and preservation of cultural identity and integrity, and (k) the right to peace and development. For women who are victims and survivors of sexual and physical abuse, illegal recruitment, prostitution, trafficking, armed conflict, detention, rape, incest and other related circumstances, which have functionally incapacitated them, local government units are mandated to deliver to such women the necessary services and interventions to accord such women the requisite social protection and economic and psychological support. Girl-children and women senior citizens are also given due recognition.
Particularly notable in the Magna Carta of Women is the administrative sanction imposed, through the Commission of Human Rights, against entities and/or individuals found to have discriminated against women, without prejudice to further liability under laws protecting women, such as the Women in Development and Nation Building Act (Republic Act No. 7192), the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 (Republic Act No. 7877), the Anti-Rape Law of 1997 (Republic Act No. 8353), the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act of 1998 (Republic Act No. 9208) and the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 (Republic Act No. 9262).
To aid in the implementation of the Magna Carta of Women, all barangays are mandated to establish a Violence Against Women Desk, tasked to handle gender-based violence cases in the barangay, to develop the barangay’s gender-responsive plan in addressing gender-based violence, to coordinate with other government agencies and non-government organizations, among others. As regards other rights guaranteed under the Magna Carta of Women, the Philippine Commission on Women (formerly, the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women) is the lead policy-making and coordinating body on women and gender quality concerns.
Other celebrated laws that protect the rights of women and address their unique circumstances are the Solo Parents’ Welfare Act of 2000 (Republic Act No. 8972) and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (Republic Act No. 9208). Awaiting its fate in Congress are bills increasing maternity leave up to one hundred fifty days, from the present range of sixty to seventy-eight days – clearly insufficient in light of the present movement to promote breastfeeding and bonding between mother and child.