For a Government of the Masses of Women and for a Socialist-Feminist Society!
By Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM - Party of the Laboring Masses)
In the Philippines poor children die at three times the rate of the children of the rich, according to latest UN data. Under-five mortality rates are 66 child deaths to every 1000 live births amongst the poor, compared to 21 child deaths to every 1000 births amongst the rich. The largest wealth disparity for under-five mortality rates is in the Philippines, compared to any other country in the Asia-Pacific region. Child mortality is linked to the health and welfare of the mothers. Maternal mortality rates in the Philippines show little or no improvement and are unlikely to meet even the ‘less than minimum’ Millennium Development Goals. If there is one single reason that we need a comprehensive, modern reproductive health bill and RH program meeting international best standards and practice, this is it. A reproductive health program, which is free and accessible to poor women, which gives mothers a range of choices and educates them about these choices, saves poor children’s lives.
Every issue today, big and small, is a women’s issue. Poverty and the economic crisis, job losses and contractualization, health care and reproductive health, education, oil prices, corruption, governance, the illegitimate debt, war, militarism, violence, climate change and the environmental crisis – these are all women’s issues. After all, women are the ones who tend to be the hardest hit by these issues -- from the economic crisis, during which a majority of workers laid off in industries such as electronics are women, to climate-change induced disasters such as flooding, where the casualty rates tend to be higher for women and children.
So how society is organized and in whose interests? Who controls the political system? Who runs the economy? These are all issues that are extremely important to women. These are, in fact, life and death issues for women.
In the Philippines, we have supposedly progressed on gender and governance issues: we elect women presidents and have one of the highest proportions of women in Congress, compared to other countries in the region. And yet this has not translated into concrete gains for a majority of working and poor women. The system of elite rule that exploits and oppresses working and poor women is still in place. Women have entered the ‘masters house’ – Congress and government – but instead of throwing out the master, bringing down his house and building a new home for all, these women represent the master’s interests, i.e. the patriarchal system of elite rule. So the issue is not merely one of women’s participation, but one of genuine representation – in whose political, social and economic interests, do these women govern?
And in the coming May 10 national elections there is no indication that any of these women’s issues will be seriously addressed. None of the major presidential aspirants represent women’s interests. And this is not because there are no women candidates running for higher office on these tickets. In fact there are several women candidates running for higher office, but a majority of them do not represent the interests of women in this country, i.e. the interests of the women workers, of urban and rural poor women, of the masses of labouring women. A majority of these women candidates represent trapo politics and the system of elite rule that governs the political and economic system in this country.
We think that only a government of the masang kababaihan can genuinely advance the interests of a majority of women. Such a government can only come about through the active mobilization of hundreds and thousands of women, uncompromisingly demanding their rights and being prepared to go all the way to win these rights, up against and beyond the system of trapo politics and elite rule. Therefore, on this 99th year marking International Women’s Day, the Partido Lakas ng Masa puts out the call for “ Gobyerno ng Masang Kababaihan para sa Sosyalista-Feministang Lipunan!”.
Reproductive health and wage hike pushed by women workers
By Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) (Labor Party - Philippines)
A wage hike and reproductive health were the main concerns raised by women members of the labor party-list Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) in celebration of women’s day. More than a hundred women workers and urban poor held a picket at the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) which was followed by a rally at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) offices to highlight the two demands.
“The demand for a wage hike and reproductive health set the context for this year’s commemoration of women’s day. The twin issues are appropriate since they frame the productive and reproductive roles of women in the family and society,” explained Judy Ann Miranda, PM secretary-general.
In women’s day activities by PM chapters in the provinces, additional working women issues were brought to the fore. In Cebu, women urban poor trooped to the campout of Alta Mode garment workers in the Mactan Economic Zone for a women’s day program. In Bacolod, women agricultural workers marched to the provincial capitol for a dialogue on the demand for subsidy due to the effect of El Nino. High water and electricity rates and the failure of privatization were highlighted as heavy burden to working women in Davao. Meanwhile in Iligan, PM members joined the women’s day parade that called for the election of the first woman councilor ever in the city.
At the CBCP office in Intramuros, Manila, members of the labor party-list group asked the Catholic bishops to “bless” two baskets of condoms. They then marched to the DOLE where the protesters banged pots and pans to symbolize the call for a wage increase and a revamp of the wage fixing mechanism. From Intramuros the rally went straight to Mendiola via Ayala Bridge, blowing whistles and creating noise along the way to draw attention to the women’s challenge to the candidates in the coming elections.
“We humbly ask the bishops to bless the condoms as a conciliatory gesture to unite for reproductive health and women’s rights,” Miranda furthered. She added that aside from providing contraception, the government should embark on a nationwide education program through the barangays so that women and men learn the many facets of HIV-AIDS, teenage pregnancies, unwanted pregnancies, child spacing and family planning, among other reproductive health concerns.
Miranda also insisted that “A P75 wage hike is reasonable and not excessive but it will not prosper unless President Gloria Arroyo supports it. That unfortunately is the problem with the tripartite regional wage boards because if Malacañang does not give the go signal for a wage hike, the wage petition will be defeated by the combined votes of the employer and government representatives.”
PM wants to abolish the wage boards to give way to a National Wage Commission with the mandate to set a national minimum wage based solely on the cost of living. Miranda argued that “There must a national standard of living that should be matched by a national minimum wage. The wage is the price of the worker’s labor power and as every other commodity in the market its price must reflect its cost of production, which in the case of the worker is nothing else but the cost of living of his or her family.”
Voters urged to dump ‘anti-women,’ ‘fickle-minded’ candidates
By Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)
DESPITE becoming a political hot potato for those aspiring for national and congressional posts, support for the Reproductive Health bill as well as other pro-women advocacies should be added to the preconditions for choosing candidates in the coming May 10 elections.
This was underscored by the Alliance of Progressive Labor-Women as it joined today’s celebrations of the International Women’s Day led by the Martsa ng Kababaihan coalition, the local counterpart of the World March of Women, a global networking of feminist and other grassroots organizations.
“To gain the vote and cooperation of the organized women and their allies, political aspirants must guarantee that they will promote and implement women-specific concerns, along with particular demands of other basic sectors of society, such as the workers and peasants,” Marlene Sindayen, APL-Women spokesperson, said.
Thus, the APL added, the voters should pick candidates who would defend and uphold the interests of the majority, which could be seen in their respective stand on labor, trade union and human rights, agrarian reform, gender equality, foreign debt and international trade, Charter change, political dynasty and warlordism, poverty, education, social services, and many other fundamental issues.
Reviving the ‘murdered’ RH bill
APL-Women warned that politicians who vacillate on their earlier “pro-women” stance would receive equally lukewarm support if not outright rejection from women’s groups.
This situation has emerged following the offensive waged by the Catholic Church hierarchy and “pro-life” groups against the RH bill, which forced many erstwhile backers in the Congress to withdraw their support for fear of losing the “blessing” of the prelates and the purported votes of the religious faithful.
At least two major presidential bets who once expressed support to the RH bill have either toned down or backtracked on their positions, a move obviously to obtain the nod of the religious or pro-life bloc, but whose capacity to vote as one is considered by some to be a myth.
Besieged by threats of endless interpellations and the retreat of several RH supporters among lawmakers, the RH bill was practically killed when the Lower House ended its sessions last Feb. 3, in which the bill was set aside for it was deemed “too contentious and had little chance of being voted on.”
In fact, the different RH bills have been languishing in both chambers of Congress for about a decade now or starting in the 12th Congress (2001-2004) and have been filed or reintroduced to no avail in the succeeding Congresses until the recent 14th Congress.
“It is a testimony of how powerful the forces behind the anti-RH bill are,” observed the Akbayan party-list, one of the consistent proponents of House Bill No. 5043 or the Reproductive Health and Population Development Act, a consolidation of four related HBs in the House of Representatives.
Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, who is vying for a Senate seat in the May polls, explained that contrary to its “narrow-minded” detractors, HB 5043 actually aims to “uphold and promote respect for life, informed choice, birth spacing and responsible parenthood in conformity with internationally recognized human rights standards.” http://www.risahontiveros.com/
She added that it also seeks “to guarantee universal access to medically-safe, legal and quality reproductive health care services and relevant information even as it prioritizes the needs of women and children.”
If elected to the Senate, Hontiveros-Baraquel vowed to revive a version of RH bill in the Senate, which will complement with the Lower House version, which in turn will be steadfastly supported by the incoming Akbayan representatives.
“We will not stop until a consolidated House and Senate bills are finally passed into an RH law,” the Akbayan solon stated.
Penalize the perpetrators, save the prostituted
APL-Women is also pushing for the next 15th Congress to re-file the Anti-Prostitution bill, which, like the RH bill, was unceremoniously sidelined by the current Congress.
This proposed law intends to decriminalize and rehabilitate the victims – the prostituted women, children as well as males – and to strictly punish both the customers and pimps, especially the sex traffickers.
In the 1990s alone, there were about half a million prostitutes in the country, according to the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia/Pacific (CATW-AP), which confirms a similar study of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Prostituted women and children are very vulnerable to the dreaded HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unwanted pregnancy, violence, harassment and extortion from sex predators, syndicates, unscrupulous police and government officials, and even rape and murder.
“Prostitution is one of the worst forms of violence against women,” Sindayen of the APL-Women pointed out. “It commodifies women and children and perpetuates the false notion that men have a right to our bodies,” she added.
“We have to tackle the socioeconomic roots of prostitution, which includes poverty caused by the unjust distribution of wealth in the society,” Sindayen said. “But at the same time,” she stressed, “we have to forcefully cut the demand for prostitution by penalizing the buyers – the perpetrators themselves – and the business – the sex traders, club and brothel owners – which sustains the system of prostitution.”
March vs injustice, including Gloria
Coinciding with the IWD is the World March’s global campaign this year called the Third International Action, which include opposing the “privatization of nature and public services,” militarism, workplace discriminations, and all forms of violence against women (VAW).
Adopting that themes in the Philippines, the Martsa ng Kababaihan likewise called for fighting sexism, especially the discrimination based on gender or against women; the neoliberal trade policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that benefit only the corporate elites; the militarism that pervades the country and strangles the citizenry; and the corrupt and despotic regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“Unfortunately, while the country has a woman president, her rule is illegitimate and remains the epitome of ‘macho politics’ and where poverty and misery of the majority, including women, have worsened,” the APL-Women declared.
Presidential bets should champion maternal and child health, address toxic chemical threats
By EcoWaste Coalition
Quezon City. In observance of the 100th anniversary of the International Women’s Day, the EcoWaste Coalition dared presidential candidates for the 2010 elections to commit to protecting maternal and child health from harmful chemicals.
With barely two months before voters troop to poll precincts, the waste and pollution watchdog urged those aspiring to become the next Chief Executive to save “women (who) hold up half the sky,” as an old Chinese saying goes, from toxic chemical threats.
The EcoWaste Coalition, together with the Save Babies Coalition and almost 150 groups and individuals, affirmed that, in this era of widespread pollution from chemicals, the Philippines badly needs a “Pangulong PATOK” (“Pangulong Ayaw sa Toksik” or “President Against Toxics”).
“We need a new leader who will keep toxic chemicals under tight control to safeguard women’s health and their ability to bear, nurture and uphold life,” said Ines Fernandez of the EcoWaste Coalition and the Save Babies Coalition.
“These chemicals are so invasive that even a mother’s belly, which we thought should be a safe place for the fetus to grow and develop, is contaminated with chemicals of concern, including many used in common consumer products such as cosmetics and personal care products,” she added.
Actor-environmentalist Roy Alvarez, the newly-elected President of the EcoWaste Coalition, said: “Let us protect our women from toxic chemicals in cosmetics and other products. The spate of government-issued recall and seizure directives on mercury-tainted cosmetics is a clarion call for chemicals policy reforms that our political leaders should genuinely heed.”
To drive their point, women members of the EcoWaste Coalition and the Save Babies Coalition in colorful “pregnant belly” outfit and wearing headgears of mock cosmetics paraded from Binondo Church to Sta. Cruz Church in Manila, while volunteers in purple shirts distribute leaflets advising retailers and consumers not to sell, buy or use beauty products containing mercury and other harmful chemicals.
Representatives of Alaga LAHAT, Angkan ng Mandirigma, Ang NARS, Arugaan, Buklod Tao, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Kupkop Kita Kabayan Foundation, and Zero Waste Philippines were among those who took part in the event.
The Food and Drug Administration on February 9 and 18 this year ordered the recall and seizure of 12 China-imported facial creams and skin whitening products that were found to contain high levels of mercury, an extremely toxic metal.
Dermal absorption is deemed the most significant route of mercury exposure in cosmetics since most cosmetics are applied to the skin. Mercury is then absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream, causing allergic reactions, skin irritation, or adverse effects on the nervous system.
To illustrate how chemicals affect women, the EcoWaste Coalition cited the report “Earliest Exposures,” a biomonitoring study by the US-based Washington Toxics Coalition (WTC) of nine pregnant women, which shows that chemicals found in a wide variety of consumer products contaminate mothers’ bodies, and babies enter the world already exposed to known toxics.
Released in November 2009 by the WTC, Commonweal and the Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition, the report detected 13 foreign chemicals in the blood and urine of pregnant women who participated in the study.
Specifically, the pregnant women tested positive with mercury, bisphenol A, phthalates and “Teflon chemicals,” which can cause birth and reproductive disorders, cancer, disrupt hormonal functions and damage brain development.
A “Pangulong PATOK” can make a huge difference in pushing Congress as well as the industry in ensuring that only the safest chemicals are used in products and sold in the country, the EcoWaste Coalition and the Save Babies Coalition said.
The next President can initiate policies that will keep toxic substances away from pregnant women and the developing fetus, which is most vulnerable, the groups said.
These policies, according to the groups, can include:
a. A national chemical safety policy framework and action plan based on the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) to improve public health and the environment, particularly maternal and child health.
b. A ban on toxic chemicals of concern as well as a ban on products containing these chemicals, particularly those that can cause cancer and reproductive harm, or lead to learning disabilities.
c. Mandatory product information labeling that will disclose all the chemical contents of products and their potential health and environmental effects as well as provide guidance on handling and waste management.
Labor party-list group tells pro-life “thou shall not lie”
By Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) (Labor Party - Philippines)
After failure to gather support in its position against DOH’s condom distribution, a pro-life group and the Catholic Church tries to muddle the issue by broadcasting that condoms are ineffective against HIV-AIDS. Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) General Secretary Judy Ann Chan-Miranda belied the Catholic Church’s statements and said that “Thou shall not lie and deceive the people. According to Cochrane, the highest level of medical evidence, condoms are 80% effective with constant use. The 20% failure is due to human error such is incorrect use.”
On Monday, Women’s Day, PM will hold a picket at the CBCP to ask to the bishops to “bless” a set of condoms that the group will distribute. “Our appeal for the bishops to bless the condoms is a gesture of conciliation to unite on the issue of reproductive health in the interests of women and their families,” Miranda explained.
Some 200 members of the labor party-list group will assemble by 7:30 a.m. on March 8 at the Manila Cathedral and then move to the CBCP by 8:00 a.m. The activity will end with the women workers and poor protesting at the nearby Department and Labor and Employment to support the call for a wage increase and demand a revamp of the wage fixing mechanism.
The labor party-group said that 81% of Filipinos are Catholics and the remaining 19% are not. “Laws should respect the beliefs of others, religious beliefs, Catholic beliefs for that matter, should not be forced on people,” explained Ms. Miranda. “It is high time that the Catholic Church refrain from using its influence to legislate and enact religious-related practices and beliefs.”
At the same time, PM reproached the Catholic Church’s campaign for the banning of condom ads. “Beyond its anti-women stance, the Catholic Church is also showing its disregard for the Filipinos’ rights, including the right to correct information,” said Miranda. She added that, “The Catholic Church can continue to argue its beliefs, for as long as it wants to, but this should not be at the expense of allowing those who believe otherwise from doing what they also think are good for women and the Filipino people. The Catholic Church should accept the fact that it cannot and should impose their beliefs on people in the guise of eternal salvation.”
PLM, PM, APL, EcoWaste Coalition