SOCIAL CONDITIONS, INCLUDING POVERTY, REMAIN OBSTACLES TO WOMEN'S ADVANCEMENT IN PHILIPPINES, WOMEN'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

27 January 1997
WOM/944

SOCIAL CONDITIONS, INCLUDING POVERTY, REMAIN OBSTACLES TO WOMEN'S ADVANCEMENT IN PHILIPPINES, WOMEN'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

27 January 1997

Press ReleaseWOM/944

SOCIAL CONDITIONS, INCLUDING POVERTY, REMAIN OBSTACLES TO WOMEN'S ADVANCEMENT IN PHILIPPINES, WOMEN'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

19970127 While significant steps had been taken for the advancement of women in the Philippines, the social conditions continued to pose challenges to the Government, the representative of the Philippines told the Committee which monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as he presented his country's third and fourth periodic reports this morning. He said that despite decreasing unemployment and declining poverty, the number of Filipinos living below the poverty line was a serious concern. The Chairperson of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women emphasized that women suffered the most from the effects of poverty, which hit rural women particularly hard. Because of scarce job opportunities, many Filipino women were forced to seek employment overseas where they were exposed to exploitation, abuse and maltreatment. The Filipino delegation outlined government efforts to deal with the problem of migrant women workers by providing new employment opportunities in the country and protecting the rights of those who chose to work abroad. In 1994, 60 per cent of deployed overseas Filipino workers were women. Rural women, who migrated to urban areas and foreign lands usually landed low-status jobs as domestics and entertainers and were often subject to abuse and exploitation. There was a considerable lack of data about violence against women, due in part to the unwillingness to report instances of such violence, according to the delegation. Women's efforts had led to draft legislation on rape. However, pending bills on domestic violence were still being stalled in the legislature. In the meantime, a presidential directive had called for all agencies and government officials to educate the public. The delegation drew attention to gradual improvements in women's health and education. They were living longer, marrying at an older age and having fewer children. Women had increased responsibility for the economic upkeep of households and increasing numbers were entering the workforce, however, there were wide gaps in employment conditions and pay between women and men. The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to conclude its consideration of the reports of the Philippines.

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning was scheduled to hear the third and fourth periodic reports of the Philippines on its implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (documents CEDAW/C/PHI/3 and 4).

The third periodic report focuses on new policies and programmes resulting from the growing consciousness of women's issues, particularly the formulation of the first Philippine Development Plan for Women, 1989-1992. Some sectors in the country still believe that, while legal and policy pronouncements may already be adequate to a certain degree, bridging the gap between theory and practice demands urgent attention.

The Philippines, a country of more than 70 million people and with a relatively high population growth rate, faces significant problems of poverty, unemployment and underemployment and particularly of environmental degradation. In addition to its economic difficulties, the country also suffered a number of natural calamities, including an ongoing volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the provinces of Luzon. During the period of 1988 to 1992 the country underwent a difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy. Subsequently there was a successful transfer of power to a new administration which is expected to continue the general policies of the previous administration towards decentralization.

Although improvements in the health and education status of women and a progressive decline in the total fertility rate have been noted in recent years, the report stresses that much remains to be done in terms of putting the concerns of women in the mainstream of development processes. Moreover, women's special concerns such as violence against women, prostitution, women's image in media, and problems of women migrant workers are in need of priority attention. In addition, women, particularly mothers, suffer some of the worst primary malnutrition problems. The labour force participation for women, while on the increase, is still generally lower than that of men.

The report considers the approval and adoption of the Philippines Development Plan for Women, 1989-1992 as the most significant development in the country's efforts to advance women's situation. New structures and mechanisms for the Plan have been established and existing mechanisms strengthened. Examples of such structures include the Bureau of Women and Young Workers of the Department of Labour and Employment and the Bureau of Women's Welfare of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. The most pervasive issue being confronted by the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women in its work for women's advancement is the generally low level of consciousness of women's issues in all levels of the bureaucracy. The

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Commission has embarked on a massive consciousness-raising project in that regard, targeting the different layers of the bureaucracy. The Commission has also been involved in the development of a database on women.

In 1992, the report continues, the Women in Development and Nation- Building Act was passed, strengthening the Government's commitment to bring women's issues and concerns into mainstream development. Other legislative developments include the following: the passage of an act strengthening the prohibition of discrimination against women in employment; the generics law, which protects consumers, primarily women, from exorbitant costs of medicines; a law on prostitution and trafficking, which outlaws the practice of matching Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals either on a mail-order basis or through personal introduction for a fee; formulation of a first set of guidelines for evaluation and revision of textbooks as to their sexist content; formation of women's studies consortium in six colleges and universities; and, implementation of a project to promote the participation of women in non-traditional trades.

According to the report, remaining obstacles to the advancement of women include inadequate enforcement and monitoring of equality implementation laws. A thorough analysis of the gender impact of government laws, policies, forms and procedures is needed. Another issue is the low-level of consciousness of women's concerns which continuously manifests itself in the tendency to favour male candidates for high-level positions, the tendency of women to continue to flock to traditional and low-paying jobs, and the tendency of agricultural training and other facilities to be male oriented. Sexism and stereotyping was pervasive in the media and the school curricula. Collected relevant data on women's status needed to be more creatively disseminated.

Although trafficking and prostitution of women has always been prohibited by Philippine law and tradition, the problem continues to beset the country and thrive on the increasing poverty and marginalization of the majority of the people. Young woman migrants from depressed rural areas who lack skills to compete in an urban/business-oriented and foreign arena often find themselves in the lowest and marginalized jobs in both the domestic and overseas labour market. As a result, they become prey to male employers and customers.

To demonstrate rising concern, Congress has been active at formulating bills addressing the issues, the report states. Relevant Senate committees have conducted public hearings to look into the plight of Filipino domestic helpers and entertainers abroad and to arrest the problem of trafficking and exploitation of those workers. One concrete outcome was the repatriation of hundreds of women overseas workers stranded in war-torn countries in the Middle East. Numerous reports of exploitation and abuse of Filipino women overseas have resulted in a policy directive requiring all entertainers, domestic helpers and nurses applying for overseas work, to undergo

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specifically designed pre-deployment orientation programmes which increase their awareness and prepare them for the social, cultural and job realities in their destinations.

The report goes on to say that the problem of trafficking and prostitution of women has been continuously addressed by both government and non-government institutions through the enactment of laws and regulations, issuance of policy directives, and implementation of programmes and projects relevant to the problem. Major challenges and gaps remain, however, which need to be addressed.

Foremost among those challenges is the need to review government policies and programmes on prostitution and come up with more viable solutions, the report goes on. A critical issue being raised by non- governmental organizations is the Government's ambivalence towards the overall issue of prostitution because, while it is considered illegal, the Government exercises regulatory functions, particularly in the employment of hospitality women workers. City governments require these types of workers to undergo vaginal examinations to certify that they are free from sexually-transmitted diseases before they are issued work licenses.

The report indicates that although the law guarantees equal opportunity, a de facto inequality remains between the sexes in terms of women's participation in elective as well as appointive positions. The situation is attributable to socio-cultural factors which hinder women's full involvement in the country's public and political life. While women continue to be slightly more active at the polls than men, female representation in elective posts at both the national and local levels was only 8.5 per cent. The report outlines several government initiatives to promote the advancement of women in such areas as the civil service.

The education sector is recognizing women's concerns in both formal and non-formal education, the report continues. However, stereotyping in school curricula and gender tracking of professions need more attention. There is a need to eliminate gender bias of training programmes, increase awareness of women and policy-makers on gender issues and muster more government support to implement the sector's programmes concerning women. Another related issue is the non-absorption of women, who are trained in non-traditional skills, into the labour and employment sectors due to gender biases and traditional attitudes of prospective employers.

A major concern in the employment sector remains the inability of present statistical indicators to capture women's real contributions in production, the report says. Across all ages, females have consistently lower employment rates than males. The majority of skills training programmes for women are traditionally female-oriented and home-based. A review and reorientation of women's participation in livelihood and training programmes

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is much needed to enable them to participate in mainstream employment opportunities. Advocacy efforts are needed to encourage women to engage in more varied productive enterprises that are more economically and personally rewarding. The Department of Labour and Employment is charged with addressing many of those issues.

In the area of health care, the report stresses that in spite of positive developments, women's health status remains poor in terms of maternal mortality and the prevalence of anemia and goiter. The inadequacy of the health-care delivery system and the poor functional health literacy as well as socio-cultural values and practices of women are also problems which need attention. In general, problems in health care, as in other sectors, are particularly acute for rural women. The majority of Filipinos live in rural areas and thus many of the major government programmes focus on rural concerns.

According to the fourth periodic report, which covers developments between 1992 and 1995, the Government faces a major challenge in trying to maintain a favourable climate for foreign investment while checking rising criminality and searching for a lasting solution to the country's insurgency problems. In 1994 an estimated 35.7 per cent of Filipino families lived below the poverty line, down from 39.2 per cent in 1991. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Philippine economy will have to grow by an estimated 8 to 10 per cent annually to generate enough jobs for labour entrants.

Poverty has been exacerbated by several natural disasters. The eruption in Mount Pinatubo in 1991 continues to wreck havoc on the economy of central Luzon, where homeless families are still waiting for comprehensive programmes to rehabilitate them. Record-breaking typhoons in 1995 devastated many provinces. The Government's calamity fund is depleted and the calamities caused a major setback to the economic gains the country was beginning to realize.

There is a relatively strong State machinery in place for the advancement of women and the government bureaucracy is starting to recognize the significance of women's role in development, the report states. The women's movement is also beginning to be felt as a strong force. However, in spite of those small successes, much more remains to be done before there is de facto equality for women. Only 46.8 per cent of women are employed, compared to 85.7 per cent of males. Women compensate for their lack of access to formal wages by working in the informal sector, but most of their productive contributions to family income is invisible in the national income accounts. Despite the virtual standstill of the family planning programme because of the strong resistance of the Catholic Church, the use of contraception rose to 40 per cent in 1993.

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The feminization of overseas employment is a continuing problem, the report continues. Approximately 52 per cent of all overseas contract workers in 1991 were women, reflecting their employment distress. Women domestic workers deployed in neighbouring south-east Asian countries made up 57 per cent of such workers in the service sector and entertainers and nurses comprised 34 per cent of the professional sector. Non-payment of wages, discrimination and sexual abuse abound and one of the Government's major concerns is inadequacy of protective mechanisms to deal with abusive employers in host countries.

In late 1994, rape, domestic violence and reproductive rights became a focus of national debate and an increasing number of legislators filed bills on those issues, the report says. The Philippine Plan for Gender-responsive Development, 1995-2025 is the Government's 30-year framework for pursuing full equality and development for women and men and the main vehicle for implementing commitments made by the Philippines at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995).

The Philippine Human Rights Plan, 1996-2000, which was prepared with the full participation of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, gives special focus to women's rights as human rights. Landmark laws passed by the current Congress include the 1995 Anti-Sexual Harassment Act; the Magna Carta for overseas contract workers, which seeks to institute policies for the welfare of migrant workers, their families and overseas Filipinos; and an act to provide credit assistance to women in micro and cottage businesses.

In order to ensure adequate funding for gender and development issues, a number of policy initiatives have been undertaken, including presidential directives on budgeting by government agencies. A provision on gender responsive projects was included in the 1995 General Appropriations Act and the 1996 Budget Call classified women in development and gender and development activities as priority Government programmes to ensure their consideration from the very start of the budgeting process. The National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women also published The Women's Budget: Philippines, 1995-1996, which assesses Government spending on the advancement of women.

According to the report, remaining obstacles to the promotion of women's interests and welfare include: insufficient practical tools and methodologies for gender development which are appropriate to Philippine conditions; the lack of a critical mass of women in top-level and decision-making positions; low appreciation among government officials and the bureaucracy about the importance of gender-mainstreaming; absence of a comprehensive gender- responsive monitoring and indicator system for government departments and agencies; and an absence of political will and commitment by implementing agencies.

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The report goes on to list other difficulties facing women. It says acute poverty continues to affect women more seriously, and with the fall of the peso they are being forced to find ways to augment family income. Gender- responsiveness in development has been difficult to achieve, mainly because of the lack of public understanding of gender issues. A strong public advocacy programme is needed to create a social environment which supports women's gender concerns.

Schools continue to play pivotal roles in reinforcing and perpetuating sex-role stereotyping, it states. Sexist concepts still found in curricula, textbooks and instruction materials must be reviewed for their relevance to the changing role of women and men. The media and the advertising industry also portray women in very limited, sexist and stereotyped roles and the Church's traditional views about women remain unchanged. However, the Government has responded positively to the gender-equality agenda, although its basic institutional make-up remains male-oriented.

Introduction of Report

FELIPE MABILANGAN, Permanent Representative of the Philippines, said that when his country's Senate ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1991, it was in pursuance of a policy of non-discrimination that was enshrined in the Constitution. The confluence of legislative and administrative measures that had been adopted and put into operation since then constituted a process of institutionalizing the provisions of the Convention in every branch of the Government and in every aspect of Philippine life. The country had launched the Philippine Perspective Plan for Gender-Responsive Development, a 30-year framework for pursuing equality and development for women and men, covering the years 1995 to 2025.

He went on to say that his Government had made 12 commitments towards the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. He expressed support for the proposed optional protocol to the Convention to allow groups and individuals to petition the Committee directly. The Government had taken steps to institutionalize the mobilization of resources for gender-responsive activities. In the 1995 General Appropriations Act, a provision was inserted directing agencies to place priority on gender-based programmes and projects.

While significant steps had been taken for the advancement of women in the Philippines, he said much remained to be done. Under the current Administration, the top concern remained the attainment of a meaningful peace with justice. The country's steady economic upturn had signalled what might well be the take-off of the Government's vision to make the Philippines a newly industrialized country. The gross national product (GNP) had steadily increased to 5.7 per cent in 1995. A strong economic performance was

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providing the impetus towards social progress, especially the advancement of women.

He emphasized that the social conditions continued to pose challenges to the Government. The population continued to increase rapidly, largely because of overall improvements in average life expectancy and the reduction in mortality rates. And while there was a decreasing unemployment rate and declining poverty, the number of Filipinos living below the poverty line continued to be a matter of concern. In addition, job opportunities remained scarce, forcing many Filipinos, particularly the women, to seek employment overseas where they were exposed to exploitation, abuse and maltreatment. His Government thus had a particular concern for women migrant workers.

IMELDA M. NICOLAS, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, said that despite many accomplishments in gender and development during the period covered by the two reports, much remained to be achieved. She noted that as the staff of the National Commission in collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organizations worked to complete the answers to the Committee's written questions on the advancement of Filipino women since 1995, the Senate of the Philippines had passed the Anti-Rape Bill. The Bill was now in deliberation by a bicameral committee to harmonize the Senate and House versions. In addition, two weeks ago the heads of all government statistical agencies were also meeting to set up the parameters for research to measure and value the unremunerated work of women through a satellite account.

She stressed that in spite of the remarkable economic recovery -- a possible 1996 GNP of 7 per cent -- most women bore a disproportionate burden of poverty and it was particularly acute for rural women. It was manifested in the continuing feminization of overseas employment, where, in 1994, 60 per cent of deployed overseas Filipino workers were women. It was often rural women, who, because of their poverty and lack of opportunities in life, became migrants. They often risked going to urban areas and foreign lands for jobs and then became victims of trafficking. Most of them were employed as service workers such as entertainers and domestic helpers, which by the very nature of their jobs made them vulnerable to abuses and exploitation.

She said women's poverty remained a continuing concern of the Government. It had issued a policy stating that it would pursue a gender- responsive approach to poverty alleviation. Last year, the National Commission, as the Government's national machinery for women, had gained access to the highest policy-making body -- the Social Reform Council. Larger budget allocations were being ensured for women's programmes and projects. The biggest share of those allocations went to direct services and programmes. The Government had also committed to set aside 20 per cent of the national budget for social programmes and services, which ultimately benefited women.

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Regarding migrant women workers, she said initiatives and measures had been set in place that would respond to the pressing needs and problems of overseas workers, especially women. In 1995, the Government adopted the Magna Carta for migrant workers, providing, among other measures, various centres for monitoring purposes, as well as support services. The Department of Labour was conducting a study on the migration of women workers and its impact on their families. It had also issued a policy on the deployment of female household workers and overseas performing artists, including the requirement that they must have basic literacy skills, experience and training demanded by the job, as well as the condition which provided protection to foreign migrant workers. Given the dimension and the severity of the problem and the lack of equitably shared economic prosperity, the inadequacies of the Government response would continue to be felt.

Concerning violence against women, she said the issue had posed a serious challenge to the Government, both in the areas of protective policies and legislative programmes. There was a considerable lack of data on the problem, due in part to the unwillingness to report instances of such violence. Advocacies by women had caused the filing of bills on those crimes, including the bill on rape. There were pending bills on domestic violence, but passage of such legislation was being stalled by debates and consultations that normally characterize all democratic processes and by the fact that almost all bills penalize only the crime of "habitual wife battering".

The traditional attitude of a submissive role for women in the family had contributed to a culture of silence on domestic violence, she continued. In the absence of a law on domestic violence, the executive branch had hammered out a presidential directive which was a call to action addressed to all agencies and government officials to educate the public on the issue of domestic violence.

She said the overall picture showed gradual improvements in women's status in the areas of education and health. Filipino women were living longer, marrying at an older age and having fewer children. Women's literacy continued to improve and more women were pursuing higher education. Women's contribution to the economic upkeep of households had increased and yet there had been no significant sharing of domestic tasks and responsibilities. Increasing numbers of women were entering the labour force but wide gaps in employment conditions and pay between women and men remained. Filipino women's voting participation continued to be high but the number of elected women officials stayed low as they were often reluctant to run for political office. Although there was improvement in the educational area, problems such as gender-tracking remained. Women's studies were incorporated into a number of university programmes.

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She went on to list a series of legislative initiatives concerning women's issues. Concerning the issue of mail-order marriages, she said that, despite legislation, statistics still indicated the existence of the phenomenon. In that regard, she noted that presidential decrees did not have the power of legislation, but they did have impact in the society. The implementation of laws largely rested on the administrative branch of the Government. Amendments to aspects of the criminal code were still necessary.

The Development Plan for Women raised the consciousness of planners, but other efforts were necessary to implement the plan, she said. The Plan had also opened up non-traditional areas of skills for women's employment. A change in the Family Code had called for shared parenting to incorporate changing gender roles. Studies indicate, however, that women's traditional role in the family had remained essentially the same.

Regarding the issue of female trafficking and prostitution, she said economic concerns, particularly for rural women, were often the determining factor in forcing women into situations of exploitation. International criminal elements often controlled the trafficking in women and, therefore, international efforts were necessary to stop the practice. Her Government was cooperating with other countries such as Belgium to address the problem of trafficking. Similar efforts were under way to address the growing phenomenon of the sexual abuse of children. Local governments were being sensitized to the existence of sex tourism.

She said the President had been championing the appointment of women to decision-making positions. She went on to outline statistics concerning the participation of women in various aspects of public life, such as the police and the military. Sex-disaggregated data was available in a number of areas, but in such areas as income by sex, prostitution and violence against women adequate data was lacking. Abortion data was limited since it was illegal in the country.

Efforts were under way to eliminate sex stereotyping in the educational system, she said. There was no data on the success of those programmes. Although women represented a large majority of teachers, they were not represented in top decision-making positions. Various programmes for illiterate women were outlined. Those programmes focused particularly on rural and other disadvantaged women.

She said the Government had signed a number of bilateral agreements to protect migrant workers. Skills enhancement seminars were made available to migrants through the embassies in a number of countries. Illegal recruitment victims were receiving counselling services. The Government was assisting in

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the development of new areas of rural employment such as in small enterprises to provide an alternative to migration.

Women were still consigned to the reproductive sphere even as more joined the labour force, she said. Maternity leave was guaranteed to women working in free trade zones. Women remained underrepresented in labour unions, particularly in leadership positions. The Department of Labour had a mandate to control home employment and ensure the welfare of those employed in such work. Advocacy efforts were under way to increase awareness of labour laws. Social security coverage had been extended to a larger number of women in the informal sector. Assistance was also being made available to women in micro- and cottage enterprises.

She said the recent economic growth may have had a short-term negative effect on women, particularly in the agricultural sector. The removal of protection for the agricultural sector would improve productivity in the long term. The challenge for the Government was to provide adequate support for women who were adversely affected by the transition of the economy. The Government was committed to granting access to Philippine markets which should create new opportunities for domestic industry.

She went on to respond to a series of questions relating to specifics of family law, such as ownership of property and rights of child custody. A lengthy and detailed examination of such laws then followed.

Questions and Comments by Experts

An expert said that the Committee's understanding as well its written questions would have been more comprehensive if the Philippine's fourth periodic report had been circulated earlier and in more than one working language. The country had made significant strides since it ratified the Convention, including a greater public awareness of gender equality. However, women still played a subordinate role to men, particularly in the family.

She noted that the Philippines had done a great deal of work to ensure that various United Nations committees and agencies kept the problem of migrant women workers and trafficking in women on their agendas.

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For information media. Not an official record.