Filipino Women Bring Violence Out Of The Shadows

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Women’s groups and NGOs in the Philippines have already commenced the initial spadework for the shadow report in view of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against all forms of Violence against Women (CEDAW) Committee session review for the Philippines, slated for 2010.

Those involved in the initiative will have in mind the Women’s Legal Bureau (WLB) Shadow Report presented to the international committee that monitors CEDAW in New York in 2006. The shadow report had highlighted that: Like women in most parts of the world, Filipino women too are victims of various kinds of violence – both physical and emotional. Across the country, women tend to end up in low-paying jobs or have to work in extremely harsh working conditions. When they migrate to other countries in search of better jobs, they fall prey to the trafficking and prostitution mafia.

According to WLB Executive Director, Mae Buenaventura, NGO shadow reports are extremely important to keep a check on the government. “Shadow reporting needs to be done because the government will always try to present itself as having done well by women, even when that is not the case. It is precisely because of this that the CEDAW reporting process has provided space for NGOs to come up with an alternative report,” she says.

Ever since the Philippines government ratified CEDAW and committed itself to promoting women’s human rights, Buenaventura notes that government reports – although national in scope – often lacked sex-disaggregated information. The data presented were also not up-to-date.

In 1997, the national network of women’s groups in the Philippine, SIBOL, attempted to bring together women from across the spectrum to prepare the shadow report. However, the initiative was largely city-centric, in fact Manila-centric. That report never even made it to the CEDAW Committee.

Then, in 2006, Women’s Legal Bureau (WLB)- with support of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) under the CEDAW South East Asia Programme (CEDAW-SEAP)- once again led an advocacy campaign for the shadow reporting process in the Philippines. WLB, in collaboration with Women’s Education, Development and Productivity, Research and Advocacy Organization (WEDPRO), also held a national training programme on CEDAW with back-to-back skills workshops on shadow reporting.

In order to shed light on the reality of violence against women, WLB gathered insights from over 100 women’s groups in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao – a historic effort, because it was for the first time that any organisation was able to garner the support of so many women’s groups.

“The reports of the women’s NGOs, which included a wealth of experience from their work on the ground, truly enriched the Shadow Report and it took on more national dimensions,” says Buenaventura, while elaborating on the process behind the making of the report. “Our final report reflected the different faces of women – rural and urban women living in poverty, labourers, peasants, migrant women, indigenous and Muslim women, lesbians and heterosexuals, leaders and followers,” she adds.

The workshops and consultations for the shadow report and shadow report training proved to be an empowering process in themselves. The enthusiasm of the participants and their desire to get involved and make their voices count was simply overwhelming.

Participants claimed that after deepening their knowledge and appreciation of the various concerns, they now view CEDAW and the shadow reporting process in a different light. It gave them a chance to make a difference and to contribute in their different ways towards changing a difficult and often ugly reality.

Writing the actual report took several months. But it turned out to be a comprehensive exercise – encompassing all the major concerns affecting women in the Philippines. These included policies, politics, the environment, law, sectoral issues of migrant women, concerns affects rural folk, fisher people, agricultural labourers and, above all, it looked at the all-pervading issue of violence against women.

After the report was completed, the NGO representatives presented it to the CEDAW Committee in New York. The delegation was led by Prof. Maureen C. Pagaduan of WLB; Prof. Mary Lou C. Alcid of Kanlungan, an NGO advocating migrant rights; Atty. Claire Padilla of EngenderRights; Rosa R. Presno of Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK), a rural women’s network; and Liza Masa of Gabriela.

The delegation lobbied tirelessly with individual CEDAW experts, making sure that each committee member had a copy of the report and a summary of the concerns so that they would understand the situation in the Philippines better. The delegation also came up with a supplementary paper to provide additional context and data, after the Philippines government had made its presentation. All five women representatives were given three minutes to make concise oral interventions, where five focus areas of concern were highlighted: rural women, indigenous and Muslim women, migrant women, reproductive health rights, and political killings.

The untiring efforts in the preparation of the Shadow Report proved effective and the CEDAW Committee members actively sought out the expertise of the NGO delegation. Apart from the fact that the shadow report was done through a collaborative effort involving innumerable women’s groups in the Philippines, the event was also significant because it was delivered both orally and in a written format.

The success of the process has encouraged other women’s groups to prepare and share their own shadow reports on various sectoral concerns. “The act of deluging the CEDAW committee with all these shadow reports from different sectors reflects the fact that even women from remote barrios in the country can use the CEDAW process to make themselves heard,” explains Buenaventura.

With the next CEDAW Committee session review just a couple of years away, women’s groups are sure to benefit by referring to the preparation and presentation of the earlier report. Says Buenaventura, “The trick now is for them to be able to highlight what they’ve been doing all along and use this as a platform for their work. Even if the government does not submit its report, the shadow reports prepared by women’s groups can be a regular mechanism to provide a broad picture of the diverse issues that women in the Philippines face.”

If through this process the Philippines government is forced to be more accountable to the women in the country, it would be well worth the enormous effort that has gone into it.

(Courtesy: Women’s Feature Service)

By Kara Santos

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