Women’s representation, beyond numbers

Published by rudy Date posted on March 22, 2009

Jakarta: Belated Happy Women’s Day to all women and honorary women! Here in Jakarta, women leaders from all over Asean gathered on March 11 and 12 at the “Regional Conference on Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Rights in Muslim Societies.” Hosted by our Indonesian partner, the International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP), the conference was supported by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) and the Canadian International Development Agency. More power to them! ICIP founder Syafi’i Anwar, a champion of pluralism, showed no signs of slowing down—even after the severe beating he had received last year when a violent group broke up their peaceful demonstration supporting respect and acceptance of all faiths.

Identity politics and religious politics were some of the issues deliberated on at the conference. One of the panelists, Farish Nooh, spoke of his misgivings about “multiculturalism” when it is used to couch what he calls “religious politics,” which is gaining strength globally. Unfortunately, many religious groups hide their politics or political identity behind the banner of faith. These groups would use multiculturalism to justify advancing their agenda or control, at the expense of another group. For instance, Farish noted, groups tend to view women as the receptacle or the guardian of culture. Thus, restrictions—rightly or wrongly—are placed on women by zealous leaders (mostly male) on such matters as what women can wear. While Hindu women must wear the sari, it is ok for Hindu men to wear suits. While Muslim women have to veil with only face and hands showing, Muslim men can wear short pants. Thus, women’s rights are often times sacrificed to make the world appreciate how closely the community adheres their faith or culture.

The conference focused attention on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) in the Region. To achieve gender equality, Cedaw defines the political, civil, economic and social rights for women and the measures required for the elimination of discrimination against women.

The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights re-emphasized that women’s rights are human rights. Around the world, alliances have been forged on human rights, gender and religion. We saw how the international community banded together to support the rights of Afghan women who were abused under the Taliban. The crescendo of outrage led to international support for the US move to invade Afghanistan to oust the Taliban.

Muslim women in the Philippines have not suffered as the Afghan women have. Asean women view the Philippines as a source of strength for women’s rights. After all, we have had two women presidents. Further, the Philippine Constitution is known for its very liberal and progressive provision that was formulated during the euphoria of People Power Revolution in 1986. Gender equality is a key element of this Charter and as enshrined in Article II Section 14 of the 1987 Constitution, “the State recognizes the role of women in nation-building and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men.” Considering the unequal gender relations in the country, the Constitution further provided for women representation in the legislature through the party-list system.

This legal framework promoting gender equality is in turn elaborated in various enabling legislations and these include the following: 1. Local Government Code of 1991 provides for the election of sectoral representation, including women, in local legislative councils; 2. Party List Law provides for the creation of women-oriented or women-based parties to compete under the party-list system (women’s sector is one of the 9 sectors identified in the law); Women in Nation Building Law (R.A. 7192) promotes the integration of women as full and equal partners of men in development and nation building, encourages the full participation and involvement of women in the development process, removes gender bias in all government regulations and procedures, and mandates government resources be provide for women’s programs. Further, it opened the doors of the Philippine Military Academy to women.

It is interesting to point out that the first and only Muslim woman elected to the Philippine Senate, Sen. Santanina Rasul, authored 1 and 3 above. She also authored the law making March 8, Women’s Day, a working holiday in the country.

(Continued)

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