The Philippine Senate is debating legislation passed last month by the lower house that would mandate adoption of “gender mainstreaming” throughout the country. The legislation troubles critics who believe the bill is being advanced by well-meaning legislators who are unaware of the full implications of the language proposed.
Dubbed the “Magna Carta of Women,” the bill’s general provisions explicitly reference the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a document which has been used by its compliance committee to promote a right to abortion.
Critics also charge that the bill’s definition of “gender” goes against traditionally understood meanings of the term and even contradicts agreed upon definitions in United Nations (UN) documents. The Philippine bill defines gender as “the socially differentiated roles, characteristics, and expectations attributed by culture to women and men” – in other words, “gender” is a fluid, purely social construct, and not rooted in the biological complementariness of the two sexes.
In contrast, gender as defined in UN documents is consistent with a traditional understanding of the term. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court states that “the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society,” and both the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the Report of the Conference on Human Settlements held the following year in Istanbul consider “gender” to be “understood in its ordinary, generally accepted usage.”
The Philippine bill explicitly questions “the validity of gender roles . . . ascribed to women and men,” calls for adoption of gender quotas and requires all media organizations to “convene a gender equality committee that will promote gender mainstreaming as a framework and affirmative action as a strategy.”
The “Magna Carta” is backed by local feminist organizations such as CEDAW Watch Philippines and the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines, an affiliate of International Planned Parenthood Federation. The bill envisions a significant role for women’s groups, who are to be “represented in international, national, and local special and decision-making bodies.” A separate provision calls for “Gender and Development” programs and “gender audits” of governmental agencies and policies done in “consultation with gender or women’s rights advocates.”
Pro-life legislators have succeeded in removing “reproductive rights” language that could have been used to push a right to abortion. Concern over the bill’s reference to “comprehensive” health services remains, though a clause calling for “due respect” for “women’s religious convictions, the rights of the spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions and the demands of responsible parenthood, and the right of women to protection from hazardous drugs, devices, interventions, and substances” was inserted as a “safety-net,” according to a source close to pro-family congressional leaders.
Action on the bill is expected in the upcoming weeks. The bill has already passed the first two readings in the Senate. If it is passed after a third reading, both Houses will meet to discuss further amendments.