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Philippines ordinances threaten women's human rights in Asia Pacific

Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development Press Release - September 21, 2011

Chiangmai, Thailand The recent ordinances in seven barangays (villages) in Balanga, Bataan, Philippines banning the use of artificial contraceptives pose a serious threat to women's right to reproductive health information and to legal, safe and effective methods of contraception.

The seven ordinances penalize the sale, promotion, advertisement, and prescription of modern contraceptives including hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine devices (IUDs), prohibit village funds to be used for the purchase or provision of such contraceptives, prohibit village officials from soliciting, accepting, or dispensing such contraceptives, penalize business enterprises for violating the provisions of the ordinances.

APWLD believes that the provisions of the village ordinances violate international standards including the Convention for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) and the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. According to national groups including the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) and EnGendeRights, the ordinances are ultra vires, prejudicial to public welfare, unconstitutional and inconsistent with existing Philippine laws such as the Local Government Code of 1991, the Magna Carta of Women and the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998.

Alnie Foja, legal counsel for Gabriela Women's Party and a member of the National Executive Board of NUPL, said she believes the ordinances violate the Magna Carta of Women, amongst other laws. "This is absolutely unacceptable. The ordinances are not only unconstitutional, they are based on misleading and completely wrong facts."

She added, "This is simply a last-ditch desperate effort on the part of the Catholic church to distract the eventual passage of the Reproductive Health Bill."

The ordinances, if duplicated nationwide, would criminalize 34% of married women. Over half of married Filipino women use family planning, with over one third relying on modern methods, according to the 2008 Philippines Demographic Health Survey. Comparatively, only 17% use traditional methods. Women and couples who access modern contraceptives through their village health centres and other government facilities will be most affected, as they lack the money and/or opportunity to obtain it elsewhere.

"This is a concerning precedent that, if successful, could enable an increase in fundamentalism that endangers women's rights across Asia Pacific", said Kate Lappin, Regional Coordinator of APWLD.

Ms. Lappin noted, "The Philippines is a paradox in that it has set international standards for women's rights through the Magna Carta, while at the same time it trails far behind other countries globally in eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. The contraceptive ordinances along with the failure of the country to legalise divorce only continue to highlight this."

"We hope that issues like this can be addressed in future by the ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children." APWLD calls on the various levels of Philippine's governments to strike down the seven ordinances, pass the RH Bill and commit to the protection of women's rights to equality, non-discrimination, life and health.

Contact: Sarah Matsushita Ph: (66) 53 284527, Fax (66) 53 280847 sarah@apwld.org, http://www.apwld.org

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