Magna Carta of Women finally a law

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: August 15, 2009
MANILA, Philippines — After seven years languishing in the legislative mill, a landmark legislation on women’s rights has finally been enacted.President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Republic Act 9710, or the Magna Carta of Women, Friday morning in a ceremony attended by lawmakers and women leaders at the Rizal Hall in Malacañang.

RA 9710 recognizes and protects women’s rights at home, at work and in all spheres of society toward developing all aspects of their well-being. Its most salient features include increasing the number of women personnel until they fill half of third-level positions in the government, setting up in every barangay (village) a “violence against women’s desk,” providing incentives to parties with women’s agenda and barring the derogatory portrayal of women in media and film.

The new law’s most “empowering provision” is its recognition that “women’s rights are human rights,” Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Leila de Lima told reporters after the 10 a.m. signing.

Section 8 of RA 9710 reads: “All rights in the Constitution and those rights recognized under international instruments duly signed and ratified by the Philippines, in consonance with Philippine law, shall be rights of women under this Act to be enjoyed without discrimination.”

“And therefore,” De Lima said, “the principles of human rights are there—non-discrimination, equality, participation, non-exclusion, etc.”

According to the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW), legislative debates on two bills—Magna Carta for Women and Magna Carta of Women in Rural Development—began in 2002 during the 12th Congress.

The two bills were merged in the 13th Congress, and came to be called Magna Carta of Women.

Said NCRFW Chair Myrna Yao in a statement: “The Magna Carta of Women seeks to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women by recognizing, protecting, fulfilling and promoting all human rights and fundamental freedoms of Filipino women, particularly those in the marginalized sector.”

Arroyo’s priority bill

The NCRFW said women’s groups lobbied intensely for the approval of the measure in the Senate and the House of Representatives, but it was fast-tracked after Ms Arroyo declared it one of her priority bills.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Liza Maza praised women’s groups for steering the measure until its approval by Congress.

“After all the attempts to block the passage of the Magna Carta of Women, the Filipino women have finally emerged victorious. This is a byproduct of women’s continuous struggle for equality and serves as a gateway in support of women’s legitimate concerns,” Maza said in a statement.

She said she skipped the ceremonial signing of the measure because of purported previous attempts by the administration to water it down, specifically its provisions on reproductive health.

But Speaker Prospero Nograles and Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, as well as other lawmakers who authored and sponsored the measure, witnessed the signing.

50-50 gender balance

Under Rights and Empowerment, RA 9710 mandates an incremental increase in the recruitment and training of women in the police force, forensics and medico-legal, legal services and social work services in the next five years until they make up half the number of the personnel.

With the goal of ensuring the equitable representation of women in all spheres of society, the Magna Carta also provides for the incremental increase of women personnel in third-level government positions in the next five years to achieve a “50-50 gender balance.”

It mandates that 40 percent of members of development councils in all government levels should be women, and that incentives be provided to political parties with women’s agenda.

RA 9710 clearly states in Section 12 that the State should amend or repeal within three years any law discriminatory to women.

It grants women the right to security in armed conflict, as well as protection from all forms of gender-based violence such as rape, and prohibits the State from forcing women, especially indigenous women, to abandon their land or relocating them in special centers for military purposes under any “discriminatory condition.”

The law mandates government personnel involved in the protection and defense of women to train in human rights and gender sensitivity.

It designates the CHR as the Gender and Development Ombudsman to ensure the promotion and protection of women’s rights.

Equal access

The law also ensures women’s equal access to education and sports, and mandates the government to eliminate discrimination against women in the military and police, and bars the discriminatory portrayal of women in media and film.

It likewise ensures women’s rights to health, food security, housing, decent work, livelihood, social protection and preservation of cultural identity, among others, and spells out equal rights in marriage and family, including a joint decision on the number and spacing of children.

More important, RA 9710 guarantees the civil, political, social and economic rights of women in marginalized sectors.

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