Belmonte highlights indispensable role of women in national development

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., today underscored the indispensable role of Filipino Women in the nation’s march towards inclusive socio-economic development and political stability.

Hon. Feliciano Belmonte, Jr.The House leader stressed this point in a speech, read in his behalf by Deputy Speaker Henedina R. Abad, welcoming participants to the forum dubbed “Moving Forward with Women’s Rights: A Forum with Legislators” held at the Speaker De Venecia Confrence Room, South Wing Annex, Batasan Pambansa complex.

Abad echoed the Speaker’s elation over the persistent efforts of the women’s sector, led by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) chaired by Ms. Remedios Rikken, the Association of Women Legislators Foundation, Inc. led by its President, Rep. Gina P. De Venecia, and the Gabriela Women’s party-list represented by Rep. Luzviminda C. Ilagan, and the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality chaired by Rep. Linabelle Ruth R. Villarica, in championing women’s empowerment and gender equality.

The House Speaker, who was unavailable due to a conflicting schedule, voiced strong support for the efforts pushing the “Women’s Priority Legislative Agenda”. Belmonte cited the PCW for its “pivotal, continuing work as the primary policy-making and coordinating body on women and gender equality concerns.

“The promotion of a Women’s Priority Legislative Agenda is a laudable goal and admittedly, the measure is long overdue,” Belmonte said, adding that the PCW is a “powerful voice of our Filipino women”.

He even noted the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2014 Report which stated that in the past 50 years, women’s legal status remarkably improved throughout the world.

Belmonte pointed out, however, that many laws still make it difficult for women to fully participate in economic life – whether by getting jobs or starting businesses.

“Moreover, discriminatory rules still bar women from certain jobs, restrict access to capital for women-owned firms, and limit women’s capacity to make legal decisions,” he said.

Despite great progress in recent decades towards removing legal restrictions that hamper women from fully contributing to national growth, Belmonte admitted that “we still have an unfinished agenda of legislative reforms on women’s rights.”

Likewise, the Speaker noted that the country is quite active in the area of policy reform, citing very important laws passed under his watch – the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 and the Magna Carta of Women to safeguard and protect the rights of Filipino women.

He proudly noted that the Philippines has maintained its position as “Asia’s best performing country in closing gender disparity.”

“This is according to the Global Gender Gap 2014 report of the World Economic Forum where the Philippines placed 9th among the 142 countries surveyed,” Belmonte said, adding that in Southeast Asia rankings, the country is followed at a far distance by Singapore at 59th place, Thailand at 61st, Vietnam at 76th, Indonesia at 97th, and Brunei at 98th place.

The report touched on four gender-related areas – economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival.

On the legislative front, the Speaker said legal incentives encouraging women to work must be put in place and gender-based restrictions on women’s legal capacity and property rights must be reduced and eventually, eliminated.

“Indeed, laws constitute a powerful tool by which women can be empowered. This is why I commend the PCW for its formulation of a Women’s Priority Legislative agenda, which seeks to amend or repeal the discriminatory provisions of existing laws, and which moves for the formulation and adoption of new legislation that promotes women’s empowerment and gender equality,” Belmonte declared.

The “Agenda” includes measures that: a) expand the coverage of the Anti-sexual Harassment Law and redefining sexual harassment; b) amend the anti-rape law, redefining it by spelling out specific and clearer instances, and putting the element of lack of consent at its center;

c) Provide for a Magna Carta of Workers in the Informal Economy, majority of whom are women; d) enacting the anti-Prostitution Law to address the problem in the Philippines by providing legal protection and support services for victims, and shifting the criminal liability to those who exploit people in prostitution; and e) remove inequities in the administration and enjoyment of community property or conjugal partnership under the Family code.

Likewise, the he cited a few more measure in the legislative pipeline. These include the adoption of HR 134, which strongly urges media and entertainment personalities to exercise at all times and in all their public performances, the highest degree of sensitivity and tact towards the plight of women who are victims of violence, such as rape.

Another is HR 1512, (already with a Committee report) which expresses the support of the Committee on Women and Gender Equality and the entire House of Representatives, for the families of the girls abducted by Boko Haram in Chibok Town in Borno, Nigeria, and urging their safe and immediate return.

His message also noted, among other measures, a bill establishing resource development and crisis assistance centers for women and children in every province and city, and a bill protecting women against unscrupulous individuals operating in the internet who are engaged in matchmaking activities and similar schemes, purportedly for marriage to foreign nationals.

“As Speaker, I assure you that the 16th Congress will support a rich legislative agenda that will help ensure that our women’s rights and welfare are protected and promoted,” Belmonte concluded.