Archive for July, 2007

Women’s Rights Delegates Advocate for a Comprehensive Optional Protocol to the ICESCR at the UN meeting in Geneva

July 23, 2007

Geneva, July 20, 2007—-The members of the International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP) delegation Brenda Campbell, Clara Rita A. Padilla, and Niti Saxena are presently attending the 4th session of the United Nations Open-ended Working Group on an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR or the Covenant) being held in Geneva this July 16-27, 2007.

The delegates from the States, non-governmental organizations, and experts are discussing the provisions of a draft Optional Protocol that provides the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Committee), tasked to monitor the implementation of the Covenant, to receive and consider communications/individual complaints and to conduct inquiries on alleged violations of state obligations to respect, protect and fulfill economic, social and cultural rights. While most UN Human rights treaties allows for such a complaint mechanism, victims of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights are still deprived of any remedy at the international level.

Clara Rita Padilla, a feminist lawyer and the Executive Director of EnGendeRights, says, “The much-needed Optional Protocol will strengthen access to justice of women on ESC rights including the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (Art. 12.1, ICESCR), education (Art. 13), work (Art. 6), food and freedom from hunger (Art. 11.1 and 11.2), and housing (Art. 11.1), among others. The proposed mechanism of individual complaints will allow individuals and groups of individuals to file complaints against their states for failure to uphold their rights under the Covenant. The views of the Committee on these complaints would have a significant impact in furthering women’s rights.”

An example of a complaint that can be filed with the Committee is on the right to education of women especially poor, rural, and indigenous women. Statistics show that the higher the educational attainment of women, the less number of children they want. This means less unwanted pregnancies, and lesser women undergoing unsafe, backstreet abortions in the case of the Philippines where abortion is still unsafe and illegal.

Another complaint that can be filed is on women’s right to access emergency contraceptive pills to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Until now, Filipino women including rape victims are unable to access these contraceptive pills due to policies of the Bureau of Food and Drugs Administration and the Department of Health that are contrary to the findings of the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics and the policies of over 140 nations worldwide that have endorsed emergency contraceptives as a proven safe and effective method of modern contraception including predominantly Catholic countries such as Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Hungary, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Venezuela.

With proper access to health care information and services including sexuality education for adolescents, maternal mortality ratios can be dramatically brought down as seen in the experiences of other countries where maternal mortality has been brought down to less than ten women dying for every 100,000 live births (i.e., Canada, Italy, Spain, UNFPA State of the World Population Report (SWPR) 2006).

In the Philippines, it is regrettable that the maternal mortality ratio has remained constant for the past three years (200 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, UNFPA SWPR 2005, 2006, 2007). This shows that the Philippines has failed miserably to comply with its obligation under the Covenant to “undertake steps…to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including the adoption of legislative measures.”

Atty. Padilla says, “It’s just unfortunate that there is no delegate from the Philippine Mission in Geneva who is present here to express their support for an Optional Protocol to the Covenant.” She adds, “We need pressure from NGOs, stakeholders and policy makers back in the Philippines and around the world to support this important process in order to obtain a comprehensive and effective Optional Protocol.”