Philippines President Signs into Law the Magna Carta of Women

On 14 August 2009, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed into law Republic Act 9710 (the Magna Carta of Women). The Magna Carta of Women seeks to eliminate discrimination against women by recognising, protecting, fulfilling and promoting the rights of Philippino women in all spheres of society.

The introduction of legislation on women’s rights has been under discussion in the Philippines’ Congress (the bicameral parliament) for the past seven years.

The Magna Carta of Women contains extensive provisions which promote women’s rights, including the right to non-discrimination. It is based on a substantive notion of gender equality and aims at real empowerment of women. Section 2 declares that:

“The State affirms the role of women in nation building and shall ensure the substantive equality of women and men. It shall promote the empowerment of women and pursue equal opportunities for men and women as well as ensure their equal access to resources and to development results and outcome.”

The following strengths of the new law are noteworthy:

• Section 3 (b) defines discrimination against women as any gender-based distinction, exclusion or restriction which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field;
• Section 3 (f) states that gender equality refers to the principle asserting the equality of men and women and their right to enjoy equal conditions realizing their full human potential to contribute to and benefit from the results of development, and with the State recognizing that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights;
• Section 4 provides that “rights of women” shall include all rights recognised under  international instruments duly signed and ratified by the Philippines;
• Section 5 (a) states that within the next five years, there shall be an incremental increase in recruitment and training of women in the police force, forensics and medico-legal and legal services, and such other services availed by women who are victims of gender-related offenses until fifty percent (50%) of personnel shall be women;
• Section 8, on equal treatment before the law, requires the State to take steps to review, and when necessary, amend and/or repeal existing laws that are discriminatory to women within three years of the Act entering into force;
• Section 9, regarding equal access to, and elimination of discrimination in education, scholarships and training, provides that the State shall remove gender stereotypes and images in educational material and curricula. Furthermore, the enrolment of women and men in non-traditional skills training in vocational and tertiary training shall be encouraged and the expulsion, non-readmission, prohibiting the enrolment and other related discrimination of women students and faculty due to pregnancy shall be outlawed;
• Section 11 provides that the State shall pursue appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination of women in the military; 
• Section 15, covering equal rights in all matters relating to marriage and family relations, provides that the State shall ensure the same rights of women and men to: enter into and leave marriages; freely choose a spouse; decide on the number and spacing of their children; enjoy personal rights including the choice of a profession; own, acquire, and administer their property; and acquire, change, or retain their nationality. It also states that the betrothal and marriage of a child shall have no legal effect;
• Chapter IV (sections 16 – 28) provides protection to women from discrimination in the exercise  of civil, political and economic rights in marginalised sectors; this includes the rights to food security and resources for food production; localised, accessible, secure and affordable housing; employment, livelihood, credit, capital and technology; skills, training and scholarships towards women-friendly farming technology; access to information; social protection; and recognition and preservation of cultural identity and integrity.
One disappointing aspect of the Magna Carta is that many of its rights provisions are contingent on the State providing policies and initiatives for the realisation of women’s rights rather than explictly stating the rights of women. For example, in section 16 (a) (the right to food), section 17 (the right to housing) and section 18 (the right to decent work) are expressed in terms which connote the provision of social goods by the State rather that the exercise of fundamental rights of persons.

To read the Magna Carta of Women, click here.