COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF PHILIPPINES' REPORTS

27 January 1997
WOM/945

COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF PHILIPPINES' REPORTS

27 January 1997

Press ReleaseWOM/945

COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF PHILIPPINES' REPORTS

19970127 Experts Praise Reports' Format, Call for Information To Back Up Effectiveness of Legislative Measures on Gender Equality

The Philippine's report to the Committee which monitors efforts by States parties to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was described by Committee members this afternoon as an excellent model to help other developing countries follow reporting guidelines.

However, detailed information on legislative measures and programmes to achieve gender equality needed to be backed up by more details on the effectiveness of those efforts, several experts said. Effective and targeted monitoring programmes were needed to ensure Government efforts were not wasted. One expert asked for more information on programmes to reduce poverty and increase employment opportunities for women in the formal sector.

Another expert said the Government's economic policies were having a negative impact on the population in general and women in particular, citing increases in certain patterns of female employment, such as overseas female workers, women workers in the free-trade zone, female sex workers and the migration of rural women to urban centres.

Forced examinations of prostitutes were not a constructive or effective way to address public health issues, especially as only the sex workers and not their clients were tested, an expert said. Programmes and accessible health services were needed to help sex workers, and the penalizing of traffickers and clients would be more effective than targeting sex workers.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 1a - Press Release WOM/945 328th Meeting (PM) 27 January 1997

Imelda Nicolas, from the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, said the Commission was well aware of the need for a more effective monitoring system and had tried various monitoring criteria, including surveys of different government agencies about their plans to integrate gender equality, staff attitudes and specific goals and projects. Following cabinet rejection of that approach, the Commission had "gone back to the drawing board" and come up with a self-monitoring process. It was waiting to assess the effectiveness of that approach.

Current laws on prostitution were very defective, but reform legislation had not progressed because of the continuing national debate on the implications of decriminalizing prostitution, she continued. The Philippine Constitution explicitly prohibited abortion which effectively restricted any action on that issue, she added.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 28 January, to take up the third and fourth periodic reports of Canada.

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon was scheduled to conclude its consideration of 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. 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.

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.

Although trafficking and prostitution of women have 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.

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. 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.

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. However, in spite of 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. The feminization of overseas employment is a continuing problem.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 4 - Press Release WOM/945 328th Meeting (PM) 27 January 1997

Approximately 52 per cent of all overseas contract workers in 1991 were women, reflecting their employment distress.

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. (For a more detailed background on the reports, see Press Release WOM/944 issued today.)

Experts' Questions and Comments

Were there specific benchmarks to assess the effectiveness of Government gender-equity programmes? an expert asked. She also asked for more information on programmes to reduce poverty and increase employment opportunities for women in the formal sector.

Another expert wanted to know which foreign country had the highest number of Filipino domestic workers. Were there any plans to try and educate workers in the service industry such as training programmes to allow maids to move into hotel work? she asked.

An expert described the Philippine delegation's assimilation of questions and responses as excellent. However, there had been a lot of information about laws and presidential directives and much less about their impact and effectiveness -- an area that needed more attention in future reports, she said.

The Government's economic policies were having a negative impact on the population in general and women in particular, she continued, citing increases in certain patterns of female employment, such as overseas female workers, women workers in the free-trade zone, female sex workers and the migration of rural women. More efforts were also needed to address the problem of violence against women, she stressed.

Referring to information on reproductive and health issues, she said the report had cited the freedom of Filipino women and men to choose to control their reproductive behaviour and determine the number and spacing of their children. However, the report also contained other information which seemed to contradict that principle. Since the 1991 local government code which promoted decentralization of services, the province of Laguna had passed a

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 5 - Press Release WOM/945 328th Meeting (PM) 27 January 1997

directive banning contraception. What was the relationship between presidential policies and decrees and the act which banned the sale and distribution of contraceptives? she asked. She also urged the Government to consider repealing its anti-abortion laws.

The expert then asked for more information about a reported clinical trial on the use of an anti-malarial drug as a contraceptive and expressed concern that the drug had not undergone toxicological tests on humans. Was the Government aware of the trial and of the fact that women subjects did not know they were taking part in a trial for a drug that was not a tested method of contraception? she asked.

She said forced examinations of prostitutes was not a constructive or effective way to address public health issues, especially as only the sex workers were tested and not their clients who could also be carrying sexually transmitted diseases. There was a consensus among health workers combating HIV/AIDS that voluntary testing was the most effective way to deal with the problem. Programmes and accessible health services were needed to help sex workers, and the penalizing of traffickers and clients would be more effective than wasting resources in a way that did not address the health problem at all.

Another expert said that the Philippines had presented a thorough report which detailed comprehensive Government efforts and programmes. However, a targeted monitoring system was needed to assess the effectiveness of the Government's efforts and ensure they were properly implemented. Had any thought been given to educating men so as to avoid a backlash against affirmative action? she wanted to know. She also asked for more information on the role of the Catholic Church and said the very good results in mobilizing women in the non-governmental sector needed to be translated into the formal sector.

An expert said more attention needed to be given to getting rid of discriminatory laws still on the books.

IMELDA NICOLAS, from the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, replying to the experts' questions said that non-governmental organizations were putting consistent pressure on the Government to achieve gender equality in its laws and programmes. She agreed about the need for a more effective monitoring system and said the Commission had tried various monitoring criteria. For example, one asked different governments about their plans to integrate gender equality into their mission and goals, staff attitudes, enabling mechanisms and specific goals and projects. The results had been submitted to the President, but the cabinet had objected strongly to the approach.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 6 - Press Release WOM/945 328th Meeting (PM) 27 January 1997

So the Commission "went back to the drawing board" and had come up with a self-examination process to monitor gender equality, she said. It was waiting to assess the effectiveness of that approach. Given the 1991 government decentralization act, the Commission was in a quandary as to whether to focus on implementing a monitoring system or on local leadership to enable them to implement the Beijing Platform for Action.

Current laws on prostitution were very defective, she continued. But the bills to reform the laws had not progressed despite the efforts of non- governmental organizations because of the continuing national debate on the implications of decriminalizing prostitution. The Philippine Constitution explicitly prohibited abortion which effectively restricted any action on the issue, she added.

MYRNA FELIANCO said the current law on contraception was in accordance with the Programme of Action adopted by the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), which was included in the Philippine's Plan for Gender-responsive Development 1995-2025. There were no statistics on abortion available because it was often categorized as a dilation and curettage or as a miscarriage. Information on abortion could only be obtained through surveys.

The Committee Chairperson praised the delegation for its thorough report and noted requests by Committee members for more information on rape and domestic violence, gender disaggregated data in key areas of concern and details on the de facto compared with the de jure status of women in the Philippines.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.