Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Magna Carta of Women passes Senate's third and final reading

On Monday, 18 out of 24 Philippine Senators approved the Magna Carta of Women (Senate Bill or SB 2396) which seeks to empower all Filipinas and protect them against all forms of discrimination. It will still be tweaked in a "bicam" conference involving both upper and lower houses of Congress but it's already a done deal. So come March 8, Filipino women the world over will have more reason to celebrate International Women's Day.

The passage of the Magna Carta, like the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) that seeks to penalize discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and that of the Reproductive Health Bill, which gives parents the right to choose what type of family planning method they want, has been delayed by strong opposition of lobby groups for the Catholic church. Right-wing conservatives have criticized the bill's usage of the term "gender" which they claimed was a cover-up for LGBT rights. Allowing the Magna Carta of Women, according to them, would allow lesbians and gays to marry and even adopt children.

That is hardly the case of course but Catholic lobbyists love making up these straw man arguments against bills that affirm the human rights of people. At the height of the debate on the Reproductive Health Bill, for instance, the right-wingers said the bill would allow abortions when there was a clause in the bill that expressly forbade it. During hearings on the ADB, the same lobby groups showed up saying the bill would allow same-sex marriage when it did not. Both the Reproductive Health Bill and the ADB have been languishing in the lower house for at least the last three Congresses.

I am sure that the women's groups that worked hard for the passage of SB 2396 did their best in arguing their case on the merits of the bill. I just wish though that the bill or its proponents offered a critique of the one thing that got the Catholic lobbyists' goat: gender. I have met many feminists who still believe that gender is merely a social construction with not basis in biology. The experience of many people including those with trans and intersex histories of course refute this and yet many in the women's movement refuse to acknowledge this fact.

Certainly, gender cannot just be purely a matter of culture. Otherwise how do you explain trans people's formation of gender identities opposite to the one they've been socialized into based on their sex assignment at birth? As well, many intersex children with ambiguous sex characteristics, chromosomes and genitalia raised as one gender grow up identifying as the exact opposite. Social constructionism alone will fail to explain such phenomena.

Still the passage of the Magna Carta of Women is a landmark victory for all womankind. And although I am not entirely sure where trans women stand in view of this bill, it is a victory that we must all celebrate.

1 comment:

Monica Roberts said...

Let's just hope and pray that transpinays get to use this new law to help speed their integration into Philippine society, and reaffirm you basic humanity.