Written Statement for the Virtual Day of General Discussion on the Rights of Indigenous Women and Girls

Written Statement for the Virtual Day of General Discussion on the Rights of Indigenous Women and Girls

June 24, 2021

Theme 1: “Equality and non-discrimination with a focus on indigenous women and girls and intersecting forms of discrimination”

  1. The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (hereinafter the “Commission” or the “CHRP”), as a national human rights institution (NHRI) welcomes this opportunity to be able to submit its statement on the occasion of the day of general discussion on the rights of indigenous women and girls.

I. Legislative Framework/Policies on Indigenous Women and Girls (indigenous women and girls)

  1. The Philippines as a State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), has the obligation to ensure that the economic, social and cultural rights of all its citizens are respected, protected and fulfilled, regardless of their ethnicity, cultural or religious background.  Article 2.2 of ICESCR states that: “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to guarantee that the rights enunciated in the present Covenant will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Based on this, governments should exert conscious effort to ensure that indigenous communities, who usually have different norms, culture and religion as compared to the majority of the citizens, equally enjoy the same rights.  Indigenous women and the fulfilment of their rights should be given more attention given that they receive triple discrimination based on their ethnicity, gender and social status.[1]
  1. Under the Philippine Constitution, the state (a) recognizes and promotes the rights of indigenous peoples within the framework of national unity and development[2]; (b) protects their rights to their lands to ensure their economic, social and cultural well-being[3]; and (c) recognizes, respects and protects their rights to preserve and develop their cultures, traditions and institutions.[4]
  1. The Philippines is also a party to the the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The CEDAW legally binds States Parties to respect, protect and fulfill women’s humans rights through the elimination of all forms of discrimination that are perpetrated by agents of the State and non-state actors.
  1. Article 14 of the CEDAW pertains to the rights of rural women, which can be applied to the situations of indigenous women. It states that: “State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development.” Further, Article 14 of CEDAW, General Recommendation No. 34 (CEDAW/C/GC/34), stated the following recommendation to State Parties for rural and indigenous women:
    • “Eliminate all forms of discrimination against disadvantaged and marginalized groups of rural women. For example, State parties should ensure that disadvantaged and marginalized groups of rural women including indigenous; afro-descendent; ethnic and religious minorities; female heads of household; peasant; pastoralists; fisherfolk; landless; migrant; and conflict-affected rural women are protected from intersecting forms of discrimination and have access to education, employment, water and sanitation, health care, etc.”
  1. As to domestic policies on women, the Magna Carta for Women (MCW) or Republic Act 9710 mandates the recognition and preservation of the cultural identity and integrity of indigenous peoples, and that these rights should be regarded in national policy formulation and implementation, given that these cultural systems and practices are not discriminatory towards women.
  1. Both CEDAW and the Magna Carta of Women ensure the respect, protection, and fulfilment of the rights of all women, particularly those facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. While the text of the convention itself does not mention indigenous women, the work of the CEDAW Committee has been clear in advocating for the rights of indigenous women and girls. General Recommendation 34 of the UN CEDAW Committee on Rural women direct States to eliminate all forms of discrimination against disadvantaged and marginalized groups of rural women, including indigenous women and calling for their protection from intersecting forms of discrimination, access to education, employment, water and sanitation and health care.[5]
  1. On the rights of indigenous women, the Philippines enacted the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA) or Republic Act No. 8371. The said law is the principal national legislation in the Philippines that recognizes, advocates and safeguards the rights of indigenous peoples and their surrounding cultural communities. The IPRA ensures the regard for the intrinsic character and unique identity of indigenous peoples within Philippine society, by acknowledging past historical injustices and implementing policies that comply with international standards. The protections of the IPRA, as a whole, may be categorized into four (4) sections, namely: rights to ancestral property; rights to self-governance and empowerment; rights to cultural integrity and both social justice and human rights.
  1. Section 25 of the IPRA states that: “The indigenous cultural communities/indigenous have the right to special measures for the immediate, effective and continuing improvement of their economic and social conditions, including in the areas of employment, vocational training and retraining (to be fully participate in all aspects of social life), housing, sanitation, health and social security. Particular attention should be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous women, elderly, youth, children and differently-abled persons.”

II. National Situation of Indigenous Women and Girls

  1.  As an NHRI, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines upholds the promotion of gender equality as part of its mandate. It has been designated as the Gender and Development Ombud (Gender Ombud) by the Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710), which represents the Philippine government’s commitment to the CEDAW.
  1.  The Commission, as Gender and Development Ombud under the Magna Carta of Women, recognizes issues faced by indigenous peoples, especially those experienced by women and girls, and affirms its role to uphold and protect their rights. In this regard, The Commission regularly participates in the sectoral monitoring and forwarding of policy recommendations to key government agencies to address the problems of indigenous peoples, particularly indigenous women and children, in the best possible manner.
  1. Indigenous women and girls face triple discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status making them amongst the most vulnerable within indigenous communities. Some of the main issues confronting indigenous women are high levels of poverty; low levels of education and illiteracy; limitations in the access to health, basic sanitation, credit and employment; limited participation in political life; and the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence.[6]
  1. In 2016, the Commission conducted a National Inquiry on Reproductive Health (RH) and Rights of Women. This was followed by a sectoral monitoring of the situation of indigenous women in 2018. During the 2016 RH Inquiry, among the key issues identified were the barriers experienced by indigenous women and girls in the fulfillment of their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). The inquiry particularly documented how women in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas are often unable to access RH information, commodities, and services. Indigenous women who were interviewed during the fact-finding missions or who spoke during the inquiry spoke of maternal deaths during transit and due to the distance of health facilities. There were also accounts of discriminatory practices of health care workers targeting indigenous women, specifically accounts of degrading treatment and verbal abuse. The issue of criminalizing traditional home births was also raised. Indigenous women and council of indigenous elders denounce the continued criminalization of traditional home births without dialogue with indigenous communities, without recognition of traditional practices, and without providing alternatives that are accessible for indigenous women. Specific to the access to SRHR of indigenous women, the national inquiry particularly recommended ensuring access to information, services, and commodities by indigenous women and girls, the need to address discriminatory treatment, and of the need to address the proliferation of ordinances criminalizing home births. Conduct of broad-based consultations with health professionals, traditional and indigenous birth attendants, and indigenous peoples was recommended, with the end of putting in place a human rights-based and sustainable strategy towards safe deliveries.
  2. In the 2018 sectoral monitoring of the Commission on the situation of indigenous women[7], issues related to housing, (landlessness and displacement), health, water and healthy environment (including family planning and teenage pregnancy), right to food, right to education, issues related to work, social security, cultural rights, and other issues including violence against women were covered. Recommendations from the report included the need for concerned government agencies to respond to the issues raised and to fulfill indigenous women’s economic, social, and cultural rights; to initiate reporting and collection of data of indigenous women and girls in order to monitor their situation and empower indigenous women and girls.
  3. Despite this initial monitoring of the situation of women and girls and recommendations developed, the Commission understands that indigenous women and girls continue to face relentless challenges in the fulfillment of their human rights. Issues previously identified persisted and are exacerbated by the systemic challenges and the current crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  1. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected marginalized and vulnerable groups. It has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, with its impact on health, livelihood, social protection, freedom from discrimination, and general well-being most felt by individuals and groups already facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. Among those severely impacted and are at risk are indigenous peoples. As has been aptly stressed, the pandemic poses a grave health threat to indigenous peoples around the world, they already face challenges in accessing health and other government services; and even when they do, they are faced with stigma and discrimination.[8] The situation of indigenous women is even graver, indigenous women are overly-represented in vulnerable and underpaid sectors, they are  likely to be the caretakers of children, elderly parents, the ill, extended family members, and are often burdened with issues of food security. [9]
  1. The Commission received complaints claiming a lack of food provisions to Mangyan ICCs/IPs within barangays around Occidental Mindoro as a result of government-imposed restrictions on movement. The crops of indigenous farmers are left to rot because they are unable to transport them while under rigid mobility restrictions, inflicting even more losses on their end.[10]
  2. Monitoring by the Commission’s Center for Economic Social and Cultural Rights and its regional offices also document continuing human rights violations against indigenous communities during the crisis. Reports were received during this period of violations of the Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) processes in the Cordillera Administrative Region, Region X, and Region VI.[11] Development aggression affecting women and girls were reported in Region VI while displacement of women and girls, including a pregnant woman was reported in CARAGA.63 IPs also reported transportation and mobility constraints during quarantine affecting access to economic opportunities and access to government support and services.64 Some IPs like Badjaos in Region VII were also stranded as a result of the containment measures of the government.[12]
  1. Webinars held by NGOs working with indigenous women further highlight the impact of the pandemic on IP women and girls. Discussing the impact of the passage of the Anti-Terror Bill, and the continuing attacks of lumad schools, Save our Schools network emphasized that ‘Lumad communities have been rendered vulnerable due to the pandemic,’ that they ‘continue to face militarization and displacement.’ Further, according to SOS representative ‘176 Lumad schools were forcibly closed as of May 2020, stressing that ‘the government’s apparent priority is not to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), but to silence its critics.’66 Lilak Purple Action for Women, through a series of webinars highlighted issues faced by IP women including hunger, inadequacy or unavailability or relief goods and other government support, repressive implementation of lockdown policies, red-tagging and militarization, violence against women, the threats of the anti-terror bill, and access to education and other basic services by IP women during the pandemic.[13]
  2. According to the 2020 report written by the Lilak Purple Action for Women,[14] the spread of COVID-19 threatened food security and livelihood for indigenous women, which are heightened by the long periods of lockdown. The lockdown has prevented many indigenous women from work and from selling their products. The increased reliance on the internet while residing in geographically isolated areas has made it difficult to access much-needed information, and has made it challenging for these indigenous peoples to be aided by the government’s social amelioration programs.
  1. Regarding the provision of relief goods and assistance, initial monitoring done by the Commission confirmed limited inclusion, if not exclusion, of essential hygiene products in government provided relief packages. These concerns were echoed by urban poor women, women with disability and indigenous peoples in Mindanao. [15]
  1. A Policy Brief issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights[16] stressed that “the pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities” and that “across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impact of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by the virtue of their sex.”  Guidance notes released from the United Nations Populations Fund regarding a gendered response to COVID-19 underline that women and girls that fall under cross-cutting issues such as disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age and ethnic minorities are made more vulnerable during the current health crisis.[17] These exacerbated inequalities are expected to be seen through the disproportionate increase of unpaid care work in the household and in taking care of the sick.[18]
  1. In the Philippines, there are also concerns regarding rampant human rights violations caused by the militaristic approach of the government to handle the pandemic, resulting in the red-tagging, arrest and detention of indigenous peoples. The enactment of the Anti-Terror Law heightened this discrimination by warranting unlawful arrests, criminalization and increased political repression. A recent investigation carried out by authorities involves the killing of 3 indigenous peoples, including a 12-year old minor, by the military in Surigao del Sur. [19]  As of writing, the military personnel involved deny the killing of the minor and are facing rape allegations towards the child and female farmer before they were shot and killed. [20] The victims were purported to be members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA), though human rights groups assert that they were merely part of the Manobo tribe and had been casualties of red-tagging.[21] The CHRP released a statement on this matter[22] acknowledging its unlawfulness and injustice while stating that an investigation team will be dispatched in the region to assist in the further investigation of the case.
  1. The Commission underlines the need to continue monitoring the situation of indigenous women and girls, and to continue monitoring the government’s response to the human rights situation of indigenous women and girls during the pandemic, the new normal and period of recovery.
  • Recommendations
  1. In view of the foregoing and through this space provided by the CEDAW Committee, the Commission calls on the Philippine government to:
    1. Actively implement the recommendations set forth by the UN CEDAW Committee in its 2016 Philippines concluding observations which include the following:
      1. To take measures to strengthen gender responsiveness and gender sensitivity of legal system and ensure that the various religious, customary and indigenous justice systems harmonize their norms, procedures and practices with the Convention
      2. Ensure diversity in the representation of women in legislative, administrative and judicial bodies, including Muslim women, indigenous women and women with disabilities;
      3. Investigate and prosecute all acts of violence against indigenous women human rights defenders, provide effective remedies to the victims and prevent the recurrence of such acts; (Para 46 d)
      4. Harmonize the Code of Muslim Personal Laws and indigenous and Muslim customary laws with the Convention and the Magna Carta of Women, in particular by explicitly discouraging polygamy with a view to prohibiting it and prohibiting child and forced marriage, through consultation with the communities concerned and local women’s rights organizations;
      5. Eliminate the root causes of child and forced marriage, including poverty, conflicts and insecurity, as well as vulnerability to the impact of natural disasters;  (Para 50,c,d)
    2. Develop a system for the collection, recording and reporting of data pertaining to indigenous women. Without baseline data, it will be difficult to monitor changes in the situation of indigenous women. Local government units must plan and develop a system to capture data on the situation of IP women and include these data in their reports.[23]
    3. Strengthen advocacy for a change in views on gender stereotypes and inequality and strengthening IPW’s capacities that lead to their economic empowerment through education, skills development and livelihood training and assistance.
    4. Empower indigenous women and girls by means of capacity and skills-building that will help provide them sustainable economic opportunities and remove their financial dependence on their husbands or partners.
    5. Develop and adopt indicators for implementing agencies that measure the health and well-being of the most vulnerable constituents which include indigenous women and girls.
    6. Train accountable duty-bearers to detect discrimination, exploitation and abuse of authority in accordance to humanitarian codes of conduct and minimum standards.
    7. Ensure indigenous women and girl’s access to justice in cases of gender-based violence, including those committed in the context of development aggression and/or state military operations;
    8. Include indigenous women and girls in governance and decision-making processes to pave the way for more targeted and appropriate programs that are also culturally-sensitive.
    9. Emphasize the need for concerned government agencies to respond to the issues raised and to fulfill indigenous women’s economic, social and cultural rights.

Specific to the Pandemic, the Commission calls on the government to:

  1. Ensure that indigenous women and girls have access to culturally acceptable healthcare, aiming at an integrated approach between modern medicine and indigenous traditional medicine, including access to equipment, testing and urgent emergency treatment for COVID-19.”[24]
  2. Provide services in collaboration with local indigenous authorities and ensure respect for their right to self-determination and territorial protection against virus propagation and for  state  to ensure that indigenous women and girls have access to continuous education and COVID-19 related information, including in native languages.”[25]
  3. Render visible the needs of indigenous women and girls in all their diversities, and design, implement interventions with these needs and multiple and intersecting vulnerabilities in mind. More particularly:
  4. Provide socio-economic support to women, enhancing access to social services and livelihood opportunities.
  5. Ensure support for continuous education especially for indigenous women and girls who face a wide digital divide gap.
  6. Address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women’s health. Ensure access to needed information and services, including those related to vaccines and addressing health emergencies during pandemic;
  7. Sexual and reproductive health services should be considered as essential services. Access to SRHR for indigenous women and girls, including maternal health should be ensured despite imposition of lockdowns.
  1. Ensure Prompt, Effective, and Survivor-Centered Response to Gender-Based Violence against indigenous women and girls. In view of the barriers posed by the pandemic, to ensure functionality of referral mechanisms including availability of localized temporary shelters, medical and psycho-social assistance. Access to justice should cover investigation of alleged killings, sexual violence, and red tagging of indigenous women and girls.
  2. Ensure gendered and Intersectional Response during transition and recovery      
  3. Adopt targeted measures for indigenous women and girls taking into consideration their distance from government centers
  4. Address needs of hidden households, including the updating of LGU beneficiaries to include indigenous women and girls residing in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas, and those taking care of the ill, the elderly or with disability. Complaints of exclusions from previous social amelioration programs should be duly addressed.

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[1]Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, Social Realities Affecting the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) of Indigenous Women in the Philippines, 2019

[2] 1987 Constitution, Article II, Section 22.

[3] Id, Article XII, Section 5.

[4] Id, Article XIV, Section 17.

[5] UN CEDAW Committee. General Recommendation No. 34 (CEDAW/C/GC/34)

[6] Supra Note 1

[7] The Commission on Human Rights, as Gender and Development Ombud under the Magna Carta of Women undertakes regular monitoring of women’s human rights, especially women in the marginalized sectors. Since the establishment of its Center for Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights Center, sectoral monitoring of women, girls, and LGBTQI human rights have been undertaken.

[8] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs of Indigenous Peoples, COVID 19 and Indigenous Peoples, available at https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/covid-19.html (last accessed June 18, 2021).

[9] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, The Impact of COVID 19 on Indigenous Peoples, available at https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/covid-19.htmlhttps://www.un.org/development/desa/dpad/wp-content/uploads/sites/45/publication/PB_70.pdf (last accessed June 18, 2021).

[10]Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, Human Rights Advisory on Indigenous Communities/Indigenous Peoples, (ICCs/IPs) Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic (CHR (V) A2020-006.  Available at https://chr2bucket.storage.googleapis.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/08165544/Human-Rights-Advisory-on-Indigenous-Cultural-Communities-Indigenous-Peoples-ICCsIps-Amidst-the-COVID-19-Pandemic-CHR-V-A2020-006.pdf, (last accessed June 18, 2021).

[11] Commission on Human Rights. 2nd and 3rd Quarter Gender Ombud Situationer 2020.

[12] Supra Note 11

[13] See series of webinars posted in Lilak’s FB page: https://www.facebook.com/katutubonglilak/; See also Martinez, Bianca ‘COVID-19 exposes twin crises of Neoliberalism and Authoritarianism in Philippines.’ 7 May 2020. https://focusweb.org/covid-19-exposes-twin-crises-of-neoliberalism-and-authoritarianism-in-philippines/

[14]Supra Note 7

[15] In 17 March-17 April 2020, the Center for Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights, through its Sectoral Monitoring Program undertook a Community Based Peer Monitoring on the situation of women with disabilities amidst the COVID Pandemic and Enhanced CommunityQuarantine. The peer monitoring is conducted in partnership with WDARE (Women who Dare to take Action on their reproductive health) and other women with disabilities.

[16]OHCHR. COVID-19 Guidance Documents, 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/IPeoples/OHCHRGuidance_COVID19_IndigenousPeoplesRights.pdf (last accessed, June 18, 2021).

[17] 5 UNFPA Asia Pacific Program. Guidance Note on COVID-19, available at https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/covid-19.html.             

[18] Id.

[19] Jairo Bolledo, 3 Lumads, including 12-year-old, killed by military in Surigao – Karapatan, Rappler, June 16, 2021, available at https://www.rappler.com/nation/lumad-manobo-tribe-members-killed-by-military-surigao (last accessed, June 18, 2021)

[20] Froilan Gallardo, General says soldiers didn’t see child in Surigao del Sur encounter, Rappler, June 17, 2021, available at https://www.rappler.com/nation/general-says-soldiers-did-not-see-child-surigao-del-sur-encounter (last accessed, June 18, 2021)

[21] Neil Arwin Mercado, Surigao del Sur gov’t to probe killing of 3 Lumads in Lianga town, Inquirer, June 18, 2021, available at https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1447816/surigao-del-sur-govt-to-probe-killing-of-3-lumads-in-lianga-town (last accessed, June 18, 2021)

[22]  Attorney Jacqueline Ann de Guia, CHR Spokesperson, Commission on Human Rights (June 18, 2021) available at https://chr.gov.ph/statement-of-chr-spokesperson-atty-jacqueline-ann-de-guia-on-the-alleged-military-killing-of-three-lumad-in-lianga-surigao-del-sur/ (last accessed, June 18, 2021)

[23] Supra Note 1

[24]OHCHR. Guidance Note on CEDAW and COVID 19,  available at https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/TB/COVID19/Guidance_Note.docx (last accessed June 18, 2021).

[25] Id.