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Women Claiming Rights with the United Nations: Accessing the Optional Protocol of the CEDAW and the ICCPR

What started out as a very stimulating classroom discussion on feminist legal theory culminated in a bold move to uphold the rights of four women at the level of the United Nations.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

23rd May 2011 19:47

Alessia Valenza

Supervised by Atty. Evalyn Ursua, Professor of Women and Law at the Department of Women and Development and legal counsel for the complainants, her 10 students in partnership with the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) and the Philippine Deaf Resource Centre (PDRC) were able to draft two communications accessing the Optional Protocols of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women (CEDAW [1981]) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR [1976]).

The communications show that the Philippine government continues to fail in its positive obligations to protect the rights of women and girl children of various backgrounds, sexual orientation and gender identity. Even with advances in medical science and international human rights law the Philippine justice system continues to use archaic gender myths and stereotypes as standards for its decisions.

The Case of “R” via Communications to the CEDAW-OP

The case of R, a deaf rape-victim, is an example of the chronic failure of the State to defend the rights and dignity of women, particularly Women with Disabilities, against discrimination. After five years of prosecution and trial marked by a lack of sign language interpreting, insensitivity to the needs of R as a Woman with Disability, and several other discriminatory aspects of the legal proceedings, the Court acquitted her perpetrator, basing its decision largely on gender myths and stereotypes. With no other local legal remedies available, R brings her complaint before the UN Committee as violations of her human rights under the CEDAW as well as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

To this day, she continues to deal with the trauma of the rape and the violation of her rights during the proceedings. She seeks relief from the U.N. Committee to regain dignity for herself and her family. She also requests for critical improvements to be implemented in local and international legislation, the training of judiciary, and increased access to services in general. As the first Deaf woman to bring her case before the CEDAW Optional Protocol she speaks for the many Deaf women and girls who suffer in silence and are unable to seek justice for themselves.

The Case of Naomi, Rio and Julianna to the ICCPR-OP

Accessing one of two Optional Protocols of the ICCPR, omplainants Naomi Fontanos, Rio Moreno and Julianna Giessel, Filipina women of transsexual experience, bring their cases of discrimination to the United Nations. In October 2007, when Justice Corona penned a decision denying the petition of Mely Silverio to change her name and sex on her birth records following personal efforts to harmonise her body and gender identity, the court did not just decide on the fate of Silverio but of many Filipinos with transsexual experience. The decision penned by Justice Corona meant the death not only of Silverio’s dream but also that of many transsexual women in the Philippines (and even in different parts of the world) who have now been denied of legal recourse to address the incongruence in the gender identity they live with and the legal documents they hold. The Corona decision illustrates the failure of the Philippine Government to recognise their gender identity and constitutes a violation of Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR.

In putting forth this communication Fontanos, Moreno and Giessel seek the following relief: 1) for the Judiciary to Develop an education and training program for trial judges and public prosecutors on gender recognition that is designed to make them understand Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity issues and the condition of transsexualism, 2) for Congress to pass the pending Anti-Discrimination Bill that will protect the LGBT community against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, education, as well as medical and public facilities, and 3) Enact a gender recognition law that will provide transgendered persons with legal recognition in their acquired gender. The proposed law should be one that recognises a person’s gender identity and should not require a person to undergo gender reassignment treatment to qualify.

For Fontanos, Moreno and Giessel, taking part in the communication has revived their dreams of being recognised as women without having to choose their gender over their citizenship. “We really feel good about taking part in this communication, as it is a way we claim to define our identities as women and Filipinas. If this communication is acted on favourably by the Philippine government we can live our lives as women, Filipinas with the love and support of our friends and family.”

Prof. Roselle Rivera, Department Chair of the Women and Development Programme of the College of Social Work and Community Development and Atty. Evalyn Ursua take pride in the historic accomplishment of this small class of Women and Law that was able to craft communications for the United Nations. Rivera and Ursua note how students of the MAWD are continually encouraged to apply their learning in the programme to the various advocacies they engage in. Ursua further shares, “I think more than learning about the application of different international human rights instruments to our students’ specific advocacies, we were able to concretize the Women and Development Studies Department’s commitment as an academic institution that continues to engage with various movements and organisations in human rights advocacy.”

For more information, please contact:

Marion Cabrera, MAWD Student (+639178530218) or Liza Martinez, PDRC ( +639275288662), and Naomi Fontanos, STRAP (+639202967607)