The Philippine Government found acccountable for systematic violations of Women’s Rights under CEDAW
Following an inquiry under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (UN CEDAW) has found the Philippines accountable for grave and systematic violations of women’s rights.
Atty. Clara Rita Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights, described the development as historic. "This is only the second inquiry conducted under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW and the first on sexual and reproductive health and rights." Padilla expressed hope that the findings will result in positive repercussions in other countries where women face similar violations, and called on the government of the Philippines to comply with its international treaty obligations to ensure that the women and girls in Manila City and throughout the Philippines are not discriminated against in accessing sexual and reproductive health services. She added that the release of the summary findings is timely because the CEDAW Committee will review the compliance or non-compliance of the Philippine government with its obligations under CEDAW in July 2016 during its periodic review, when recommendations from the recent inquiry are likely to surface.
The request for inquiry was submitted to the CEDAW Committee in 2008 following concerns about the impact on the health and lives of women resulting from Manila City Executive Order 003 Series of 2000 (EO 003). EO 003, issued in February , 2000, declared Manila City a “pro-life city” and discouraged the use of modern contraceptives. In the years that followed, EnGendeRights and WomenLEAD served as co-convenors of the twenty-member Philippine-based Task Force CEDAW Inquiry, together with the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights and Malaysia-based International Women’s Rights Action Watch-Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP).
The submissions presented to the CEDAW Committee were co-drafted by the Task Force CEDAW Inquiry, documented the continuing impact of the EOs on women, the delay in the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill which was not yet passed into law at that time, the enactment of Manila EO 030 Series 2011 (EO 030),[v] among others. Subsequently, CEDAW expert members, Pramila Patten and Violeta Neubauer, conducted the investigation in the Philippines in November of 2012.
In the findings, the CEDAW Committee observed that, while the 1987 Philippine Constitution guarantees separation of the Church and the State, the Church has considerable influence on public policy where religion has been relied on as a basis for sexual and reproductive health policies, including at the level of local government units.
The CEDAW Committee found the Philippines accountable for the violations of rights of women and girls for having “failed to address the effects of the implementation of EO 003 and EO 030 and, between 2004 and 2010, has at times either supported or condoned the policies of the City of Manila” lasting for more than 12 years, during the successive terms of two different mayors of Manila City.
The CEDAW Committee found violations under CEDAW given the “tacit acceptance by the central Government of the policies issued by the Manila local government and its failure to take any action against the local public authorities, as of February 2004” with the national government taking “insufficient and inadequate measures to address the flaws of the Manila health system. CEDAW concluded that the implementation of EO 003 and 030 over many years compelled women to have more children than they wanted or than their health permitted them to have, and that the impact of EO 003 was compounded by the funding ban contained in EO 030. The inquiry found that “the failure of the State party to provide the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, commodities and information resulted in unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions and unnecessary and preventable maternal deaths,” particularly harming disadvantaged groups of women, including poor women and adolescent girls, as well as women in abusive relationships.
The Committee stressed that the denial of access to full range of methods of contraception had severe consequences not only for the lives and health of many women, but also impacted their other rights in CEDAW such as employment and education by “limiting women’s rights to freely choose the number and spacing of their children, women and girls were effectively undermined in accessing and pursuing the same education and employment opportunities as men, and thereby driven further into… poverty.”
The CEDAW Committee recommended that the government of the Philippines make accessible modern contraceptives, including emergency contraceptives; remove all barriers that result in unequal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including limitations pertaining to women’s marital status, age, and number of children; establish health care protocols to prevent and sanction discrimination against women; guarantee separation of the Church and the State to protect women’s sexual and reproductive health rights through raising awareness among members of parliament and national and local government officials to eliminate all ideological barriers limiting women’s access to sexual reproductive health services, commodities and information; provide access to quality post abortion care to women including by reintroducing misoprostol to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity rates and ensure that women experiencing abortion-related complications are not reported to law enforcement authorities and are not threatened with arrest and to amend the country's penal code to legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life and/or health of the mother, or serious malformation of the fetus, and to decriminalize all other cases where women undergo abortion.”
Since the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW in December 2000, there has only been one other inquiry conducted, where the CEDAW Committee issued its report on the systematic rape and murder of women in and around Ciudad Juarez in Mexico 2005.
The summary of the inquiry report is available here.