By J. Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa
It seems curious that suddenly gender equality has become a focus of concern by
the courts. Not that the gender issue is a remote proposition for judicial advisement, but with the other
pressing matters of the day, it just seems, well, curious.
This was our initial reaction when justices of the Court of Appeals were required to
attend a gender sensitivity discussion which to us sounded like another empowerment of Filipino women
all over again.
Have they not heard it said that to have equal rights with men, Filipino women should
give up a lot of their rights?
That may be an exaggeration, but no matter.
To be sure, gender equality is not a new phenomenon as it has been nagging
governments in many parts of the world to make it a reality.
That it is of vital importance to national life is underscored by its inclusion as part of
the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals in which the Philippines is a signatory, that serve as
foundation for reducing poverty by half and improving people’s lives.
Empowering women, it is vouched, greatly contributes to the health and economic
well-being of families and the communities that are transmitted to the next generations. Conversely,
prejudice against women deprives them of the capacity to make decisions, to earn a living, and to be
free from violence, abuse, and exploitation.
This is the reason the United Nations, through the UNICEF, is committed to ensure
that women and all children are provided with equal opportunities to develop their talent to prepare
them for a productive life.
In the Philippines, reports about government efforts to eliminate discrimination
against women abound, mostly contained in papers submitted to the United Nations’ Office of the
High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Initially, the immediate impression is that women here suffer so much from
widespread discrimination, including gender-based violence, economic depravity, health care and in
the professions, and other detrimental traditional practices, as it were.
Of course, it is not quite what it first seems to be as the discrimination mentioned
in the reports concern Filipino women who work overseas as domestics which by the nature of the
jobs, generally requires women.
Parenthetically, we may even say that it is a clear case of gender discrimination
against the men folk or isn’t it? But even this kind of prejudice against women if, indeed it is, should
not be taken for granted and the government should do more vigorously to protect those vulnerable
to such gender problems.
Demonstrably, women in the Philippines, in general, stand high in practically all
areas of human activity. They are loved and respected for their achievements at home and in the
profession of their choice by a society that lavish them with encores and praises that they
themselves know they well deserve. Further proof of this adulation is the fact that we have had two
When we attended an International Leadership Conference in 2006 in Bangkok,
Thailand, a participant named Chour Sreya, an inspirational leader of the support group created and
ran by Khmer-acid attack survivors told her story of how she was viciously attacked with battery
acid in 1999.
She was a young hospitality worker, when a hooligan threw acid at her in a busy
street leaving her blind and scarred, physically, mentally, and emotionally, for life. Another young
16-year old karaoke star was brutally attacked by the wife of a high-ranking official in
Cambodia. The intent of this attack was to disfigure her and to rob her of the possibility of pursuing
her amorous affair with a married man. But unbeknownst to the wife, the girl had earlier on tried
earnestly to end the affair.
The chilling message of the attack was unquestionable: mistresses’ lives deserved
to be shattered by acid and that acid throwing may be left unpunished.
There are also reported incidences of acid attacks in many countries. However, it
is in Pakistan and Bangladesh where the highest rate of acid attack has been reported.
The Philippines, fortunately, is not included in the list of countries with many incidence of acid
throwing, this according to the dissertation, “Feminist Negotiations: Contesting Narratives of the
Campaign Against Acid Violence in Bangladesh”. Notwithstanding this, our women folk are clothed
with R.A. 9262, The Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Law, which provide a protective
shield for all women including common-law wives and mistresses. This debunks the goose
bump-inducing conclusion in Cambodia that such women deserve to be ruined by acid.
These are the issues involved, among others, whenever discrimination against
women is mentioned, the reason why the United Nations through the High Commissioner of Human
Rights is deeply committed to eliminate it. It maintains that gender equality, first and foremost, is a
human right, and that women are entitled to live in dignity, and freedom from want and fear.