International Women’s Day is marked today with the theme of empowering rural women as a means to end hunger and poverty. The theme for 2012 resonates even in a country that has had two women presidents and where there are tough laws promoting gender equality. As important as the theme, particularly in this country where there are strong laws but weak enforcement, is the Women’s Day message of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “Invest in rural women. Eliminate discrimination against them in law and in practice.”
The message is relevant in the Philippines, where millions of impoverished women are unaware of the tough laws that have been passed to protect them from various forms of abuse and discrimination. Women and their children continue to suffer from domestic violence despite the enactment of a law specifically targeting the crime. Women and young girls continue to be trafficked for sex and illegal forms of labor. Male lawmakers and the male-controlled Catholic Church have long stood in the way of legislation to give all Filipino women, including the poor and less educated, access to reproductive health care, despite the country’s commitment to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. UN studies also show that only a third of rural women in developing countries receive prenatal care compared to 50 percent in developed regions.
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