Protect migrant workers’ rights

Philippine Statement On The General Debate

By Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Delivered before the 131st Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
General Assembly, Geneva
15 October 2014

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Despite the many strides we have made through these years and around the globe to promote, and inculcate the importance of gender equality and respect, recent global statistics reveal an alarming rate of occurrences of cases of violence against women and girls. This remains true also in my country, the Philippines even as we have been cited by the World Economic Forum as the best performer in gender equality in the Asia-Pacific Region in 2013 as well as ranked 5th over-all worldwide in the 2013 Global Gender Gap Report – testaments to our good performance in the area of gender equality. But despite these advances, Philippine government statistics show that there is a marked increase in crimes inflicted on women. While the Philippines is not remiss in adopting policies that seek to curb violence against women, clearly there is still much work to be done in terms of enforcement, education and value formation.

The Philippine congress has done its share by enacting laws to protect our women from all forms of violence. Ten years ago, we passed The Anti-Violence Against Women And Their Children Act, which was enacted to curb the rising toll of abuses and violence on Filipino women and children and which for the first time in our statutes, classified such abuses as a public crime.

In 2012, we also passed An Act Providing for a National Policy on Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health, of which I am proud to be its principal sponsor. Enacted after a long, arduous and contentious debate inside and outside congress, the measure has finally passed. The law recognizes that reproductive health is a human right of every Filipino, and provides Filipinos with a clearer understanding of their rights to reproductive health for them to make informed and intelligent decisions, and provides them better access to health care facilities and health care professionals.

We are also currently doing a systematic review of all Philippine laws discriminatory to women. For example, the penalty for a woman guilty of marital infidelity is higher than the penalty of a man for the same act of marital infidelity. It is also easier to prosecute a woman for adultery than it is to prove the guilt of a man charged with concubinage.

Meanwhile, outside of the halls of our respective parliaments, we must encourage discussions and awareness on these issues in schools and in the communities- close to home where the problems begin.

My fellow parliamentarians, I underscore the important role that the IPU plays as a vanguard of gender balance and equality and in exerting efforts and international pressure to abate more violence from being committed on women all over the world. Starting from the vision of a group of women members of parliaments in 1978, the first meeting of Women Parliamentarians was formalized in 1985. It has since then, rallied behind the advancement of gender equality among its 164 member-parliaments. And I am proud to say that the Philippines continues to join and be part of this crusade. On a personal note, may I humbly add that I was honored to have been given the privilege to serve as president of the IPU Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians from 2008 to 2010 and lead my sister-parliamentarians in our advocacy work, while encouraging male parliamentarians to also take part.

Today, I reiterate my call to you, my fellow parliamentarians, to help me bring to the urgent attention of your respective governments and parliaments the need to address the plight of our domestic workers, majority of whom are women and girls, and the urgent need to provide them even the most basic protection under international laws and conventions in order to safeguard their life, welfare and rights as fellow human beings.

Of the 52.6 million domestic workers worldwide, 83% are women. Close to 30% are excluded from national labour legislation, 45% have no entitlement to weekly rest periods or paid annual leave, more than a third of women domestic workers have no maternity protection. More alarmingly, there is a rising prevalence of reported cases of physical abuse and violence against women domestic workers in particular.

I therefore urge member-states to adopt ILO Convention no. 189, the Domestic Workers Convention of 2011, which, so far, has been ratified by only 14 countries, including the Philippines. The Convention seeks to promote decent work for all domestic workers worldwide, especially for those who need to work outside their countries of birth and where they are considered strangers in their ‘adopted land.’ It also recognizes the special conditions under which domestic work is carried out which, as the Convention’s Preamble eloquently explains, ‘continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mainly carried out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities and who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in respect of conditions of employment and of work, and to other abuses of human rights.’

Together with the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, ILO Convention 189 embodies the commitment of member-states of the ILO and the United Nations to take measures to ensure the effective promotion and protection of the human rights of all domestic workers.

Back in 2009, as president of the Committee of Women Parliamentarians of the IPU, I addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at the French National Assembly calling on European Parliaments to ratify the UN Convention. As of date, only 47 countries have ratified the same. So, for those countries which have not ratified both the UN and ILO Conventions, I ask the invaluable help of all of us gathered here today to call on your respective governments and urge them to ratify these very important international agreements now.

Alone we can continue making small strides, but together, we can change the world and make it a better place for women and their families.

Thank you.

Photo: Sen. Pia Cayetano delivers before the 131st IPU Assembly the Philippine statement which called on parliaments to pass ILO Convention 189 which promotes decent work for demestic workers, and the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers.

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