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UN body calls on PHL to pass menstrual leave, Sogie, legal abortion bills

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THE United Nations body tasked to monitor performance of countries in protecting the rights of women has called on the Philippine government to immediately pass legislation for comprehensive anti-discrimination, allowing women to have menstrual leave, and legalize abortion in certain circumstances.

In an October 30 report on their periodic review on the Philippines, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) listed a number of deficiencies that it thinks the Philippine government must address.

SOGIE bill

Cedaw is “concerned” over the absence of a “comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation” in the Philippines that would protect disadvantaged and marginalized groups of women particularly Bangsamoro women, disabled, lesbian, bisexual and transgender and intersex persons, rural women, refugees, detainees, human rights defenders and journalists.

The Committee particularly mentioned the Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Bill and the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (Sogie) Equality Bill which has been pending in both houses for a long time.

2-day menstrual leave

Cedaw also recommended to “accelerate the adoption of the Menstrual Leave Act.”

Two congresswomen have filed the bill for female employees in private and public spaces to be given a maximum of two days of menstrual leave.

They also called for the adoption of the Magna Carta of Workers in the Informal Economy “to facilitate women’ access to formal employment and social security coverage.”

Reproductive health

Cedaw noted with “concern” the “persistently high rate of maternal mortality” in the Philippines, i.e., 78 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020.

Filipino women in rural areas have limited access to antenatal and postnatal health care services.

It suggested “antenatal, perinatal and postnatal health services to reduce the high rates of maternal mortality, including by training midwives and other relevant health professionals, especially in rural areas.”

Despite the recent increase of maternity leave to 105 days, ”only seven days leave is allocated to fathers or alternative caregivers,” it noted.

Cedaw is also concerned about the “lack of progress to decriminalize abortion and the high number of unsafe abortions.”

“Amend article 256-259 of the Revised Penal Code to legalize abortion in cases of risk to life or health of the pregnant woman, rape, incest or severe fetal impairment and decriminalize it in all others,” the Cedaw suggested.

Currently, physicians and midwives who perform abortions in the Philippines may face up to six years in prison. Women who undergo abortion are punished by imprisonment from two to six years.

Cedaw also urged the Philippine government to “ensure” that women and girls, those with disabilities, be given “adequate access” to sexual and reproductive health services and information, including “family planning, modern forms of contraception, and safe abortion and post-abortion services.”

There were also high rates of breast cancer mortality due to lack of awareness, lack of resources, lack of access to mammograms and other life-saving treatments.

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