NEWS: Women's Rights Advocates!

In lieu of International Women's Day (March 08) and as March being the Women's Month, I would like to share to you the following women in the Philippines who are making a difference in our society which help other individuals to have an empowered spirit, uplifted morality and assistance to achieve peace, justice and equality.

Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel  

        AKBAYAN Spokesperson Risa Hontiveros may have been some votes short when she ran for the Senate in the last elections, but it has not deterred her from being a strong and influential advocate for human rights and gender equality.

        Her time as the party-list representative of the Akbayan Citizens' Action Party in Congress has marked her as a progressive lawmaker and an impressive force that pushed for institutional change. She fought to increase the participation of women legislators in the affairs of the House of Representatives, calling on Congress to “break the glass ceiling” and give women the equal chance to lead.

        Known for defending the rights of the disenfranchised—from the LGBT community's right to representation to the reproductive rights of women—Hontiveros has not been one to back down. She continues to promote the passage of the RH Bill, which she co-authored in the previous Congress, openly addressing the CBCP and its protests, strongly urging the Administration to back its passages, and remains constant as she calls for justice and an end to abusive practices in government.

Senator Pia Cayetano

        Senator Pia Cayetano has taken legislative measures to protect and uphold the rights of Filipino women. She is credited as the principal sponsor of landmark bills such as the “Magna Carta of Women” (RA 9710) which intends to end all forms of gender discrimination and the “Expanded Breastfeeding Act” (RA 10028) which addresses practical need of nursing mothers by requiring DOH-accredited lactation stations in public places and offices. Currently in her second term as senator, she continues to keep an eye on the marginalized sectors in society, particularly on women, children and the elderly. She is Chairperson of Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations as well as Chairperson of Committee on Health and Demography in the Philippine Senate's 15th Congress.

        Outside the Senate walls, Senator Cayetano, a mother of two and a seasoned triathlete, merges her other passions with her advocacies through charitable programs. She runs “Pinay in Action” fun runs for the benefit of underprivileged women with breast and cervical cancer and “Bike for Hope” events to raise environmental awareness. She has also set up “Gabriel's Symphony Foundation” in memory of her son who passed away as an infant with Trisonomy 13, a rare congenital disease; the foundation supports the needs of children with disabilities and special needs and their parents.

        Senator Cayetano is also an ardent supporter of the Reproductive Health bill, insisting on the need to address the high maternal death rate in the country and the need for a national policy about family planning.

Remedios Ignacio-Rikken

        As Chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), Remedios “Remmy” Ignacio-Rikken is tasked to address all concerns on women's rights, women empowerment and gender equality in the country. It may be no small task but Remmy Rikken comes fully qualified with a rich history to tap into. PCW is the renewed and reconstituted realization of what used to be the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW). Interestingly, Rikken was once its      
        Executive Director when the NCRFW back in 1986 to 1994. With its board, she brought focus to gender equality in government policies and projects. This theme echoes throughout her other endeavors: from spearheading creation of the Philippine Development Plan for Women; founding the National Organization of Filipino Women (PILIPINA) and subsequently advocating the need for Filipinas to be placed of decision-making  positions in community organizations, civic groups and government offices; and working for the political empowerment of women in the region as one of the founders of the Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics (CAPWIP).

        When the Magna Carta of Women's Rights was in debate, Rikken actively lobbied for its passage. Her role comes full circle now, as the Magna Carta  paved the way for the formation of the PCW so that the landmark 

 Sister Mary John Mananzan, OSB

        Feminism in a stoutly Catholic third world country is the tricky territory that Sister Mary John Mananzan has been navigating for decades.

        Today, Sister Mary John is Prioress at St. Scholastica's Priory and Founder and Executive Director of the Institute of Women's Studies at St. Scholastica's College. Her direct involvement in the mainstreaming of women's studies as well as her steadfast stand against the oppression of third world women through violence and gender discrimination have established her as one of the backbones of the feminist movement in the Philippines. Recently, Sister Mary John was included in the Women Deliver 100 list, which honors “the most inspiring people delivering for girls and women” from around the world.

        Beginning as an activist for social justice since the Martial Law days in the 1970s, Sister Mary John's role as a passionate advocacy fighter has evolved as a defender of Filipino women's rights. The institutional church is not spared in her criticism, addressing them at various times as being unfairly hierarchical and male-dominated.

        Over the years, Sister Mary John has co-founded various organizations including the Institute of Women's Studies, GABRIELA, Women's Crisis Center, Center for Women's Resources (CWR), Institute of Religion and Culture (IRC) and the Women Historians of the Philippines.

Jean Enriquez

        Jo Enrica “Jean” Enriquez has been a human rights advocate for almost three decades now. Much of her work has focused on international women's rights

        As an international resource person on women's issues, she has spoken on the subjects of trafficking and prostitution, sexuality, health and reproductive rights, as well as women's rights in politics and development in more than 30 countries. Her insight and extensive experience have been sought by the United Nations, various governments, and in conferences around the world.

        As the Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Asia-Pacific (CATWAP), an international network fighting against sexual exploitation of women, Jean Enriquez campaigns against several severe issues—such as trafficking, prostitution, pornography, sex tourism and bride selling. The coalition brings these to global attention through its political advocacy.

        In the Philippines, Jean Enriquez lobbied for and helped draft the “Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act” (RA 9208) which made the country one of the few in Asia to criminalize the recruitment, transfer, transport, harboring or receipt of persons by use of force or abuse. The legislation was created to address, among others, the crucial need to protect women who are desperate for work, many of whom would end up sexually exploited. For Jean Enriquez, this gives Filipinas the means to speak up, seek justice and put a stop to the use of women's bodies for monetary exchange.

Dr. Junice Melgar

        The Likhaan Center for Women's Health is a collective of health advocates and professionals. The NGO works for the rights of disadvantaged women and communities to non-discriminatory health care and women-sensitive health policies and programs.

        At its helm is Dr. Junice Melgar, Likhaan's Executive Director. Here, she carries out her advocacy for women's health as a feminist-activist breaking down traditional ideologies that prevent women from having access to information about their choices in life, health and their relationships.

        Under her leadership, Likhaan's health initiatives serve poor communities in various provinces. PiLAKK assists women during maternal and other medical emergencies. Primary health clinics provide family planning, emergency obstetric care and post-abortion care. Research-based reproductive health advocacy helped build a government birthing center and contributes to debates on sexuality, maternal care contraception, unsafe abortion, family planning, and the importance of an RH law.

        Dr. Melgar is also Secretary-General of the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN), the country's largest working network of organizations advocating for reproductive health programs and policies.

Elizabeth Angsioco

        As Chairperson for the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP), women empowerment, particularly of those from the marginalized sector, is the mission of Beth Angsioco.

        She has taken a very active and visible role in supporting laws that champion the rights of women such as the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children (VAWC) Act, the Quezon City Reproductive Health Code, and the Magna Carta of Women (MCW). These days, you will find her in rallies, debates, and hearings about the pending Reproductive Health bill of which she is a loud and unflinching advocate.

        Besides her participation in legislative procedures, Angsioco participates in projects that directly benefits disenfranchised women. Empowerment for this community needs to be in the form of something practical, tangible, and liberating, such as a micro-credit program for poor women, an anti-violence fund and assistance program for victims and survivors of rape and abuse, or a skills training program for unschooled women.

        In 2004, Angioco's persistent efforts in promoting women's rights were recognized when she received the Silver Rose Award in Denmark.

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