The Philippines still falls short in preventing the violation of women’s reproductive rights despite its passage of a Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law in 2012, a report of a United Nations committee revealed.
By Rainier Allan Ronda (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 29, 2015 – 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines still falls short in preventing the violation of women’s reproductive rights despite its passage of a Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law in 2012, a report of a United Nations committee revealed.
Officials of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) are in Manila to present recently released findings and recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that the Philippine government has not taken sufficient action to prevent the violation of women’s reproductive rights.
Lawyers who have been working with women’s groups in the Philippines are still calling on the national government to step up its efforts in ensuring that women have access to sexual and reproductive health services and information.
The Aquino administration had successfully lobbied Congress to pass the RH Law despite strong opposition from the Catholic Church. It took 15 years of several administrations to pass a reproductive health law to address the growing population.
Despite the enactment of the RH Law, Filipino women were found to continue going through unplanned pregnancies and suffer from unsafe abortion and unnecessary and preventable maternal deaths.
Particularly vulnerable are economically disadvantaged women, adolescent girls and women in abusive relationships.
“While the passage of the RH Law has been a historic step forward for women in the Philippines, there needs to be further action taken to ensure women’s sexual and reproductive rights as guaranteed in the law,” says Payal Shah, senior legal adviser at CRR who has been working with advocacy groups in Asian countries, including the Philippines.
“The CEDAW has called on the government to act immediately to enforce laws and policies that guarantee women’s access to reproductive health services, revoke local executive orders in the City of Manila that acted to ban contraceptives, and establish effective monitoring mechanisms to investigate and respond to complaints of violations of women’s reproductive rights at the local and national level,” Shah said.
The RH Law guarantees women access to contraceptives and quality, humane post-abortion care.
However, the UN committee found that in practice, women are actually still being denied access to the full range of reproductive health services and information. They are also subjected to abuse, threats, discrimination, stigma, or delays in or denial of care when seeking life-saving treatment for abortion-related complications.
Recognizing these violations of reproductive rights, the CEDAW called on the Philippine government to ensure full implementation of the RH Law to guarantee women’s access to effective methods of family planning.
It was also recommended that the government should provide women access to quality post-abortion care in all public health facilities by reintroducing misoprostol and establishing complaint mechanisms for women seeking post-abortion care who faced abuse.
Aside from pointing out the non-implementation of some provisions, the UN also made recommendations to government to do more to protect women’s reproductive rights.
The CEDAW found the Philippine government accountable for women’s rights abuses resulting from other restrictive laws and policies. These include the criminal ban on abortion without any clear exceptions, and the delisting of emergency contraception.
“This inquiry is the first of its kind conducted by the CEDAW on reproductive health and in Asia. By conducting this inquiry, the Committee has recognized the grave nature of the harm suffered by women in the Philippines as a result of the ongoing failure to revoke the Manila executive orders, which are among the most restrictive policies on contraceptives globally,” Shah said.
Women’s legal groups are scheduled to meet officials of the Department of Health, Department of Justice, Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine Commission on Women, Commission on Human Rights, Commission on Population, and the National Anti-Poverty Commission.
They will share how the CEDAW’s recommendations provide a historic opportunity for civil society and the Philippine government to come together to promote women’s rights to equality and nondiscrimination, dignity, and health guaranteed under the Constitution, national laws and policies, as well as major international human rights treaties ratified by the Philippine government.
“We will be presenting to them these findings and recommendations not only to highlight the steps needed to be taken by the government to fully promote and protect women’s reproductive rights, but also to provide a space for dialogue between civil society and the government to identify opportunities and areas of collaboration for us to address existing challenges and barriers in promoting women’s fundamental rights,” said Jihan Jacob, CRR’s legal fellow in the Philippines.
In July 2016, the Philippines will be reviewed by the UN committee as part of the regular country monitoring process of states that are parties to the CEDAW Convention. The Philippines was last reviewed by the CEDAW in 2006.