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The Catholic Church, Women’s Rights, and the RH Bill

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The fact that the Philippines is a pre-dominantly Catholic country has not stopped violence against women including rape, marital rape, incest, intimate partner abuse, sexual harassment and sex trafficking. These abuses against women happen every day but you don’t hear the Catholic Church and those who oppose the Reproductive Health Care Bill (RH) bill speak out about these abuses.  If the Catholic Church is so concerned with “moral values,” then shouldn’t it take on a human rights stance where it should be upholding the equality and non-discrimination of women?  Shouldn’t the Catholic Church examine its policies on increasing women’s participation in its ranks such as having women priests, women bishops, women members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), and, yes, even a woman Pope?

In my practice as a feminist lawyer, I have interviewed, assisted, and represented countless victims of rape, marital rape, incest, intimate partner abuse, sexual harassment and trafficking.  I challenge those who oppose the RH bill to do volunteer counseling for women victims of violence for at least 17 years—the same length of time I have been assisting women victims of violence–to personally witness how women are discriminated against in our culture and society and to understand the importance of the provision on eliminating violence against women in the RH bill.  Perhaps with such exposure they will get a good grasp of the realities Filipino women face and they will realize how equality, non-discrimination, and empowerment of women are important in achieving effective changes in our country.

In my visits to poor communities and discussions with women, I have gotten to learn about women’s realities including husbands who threatened to leave their wives if their wives pushed through with ligation, women who were beaten by their husbands because they refused to have sex due to fear of another pregnancy, women who requested ligation in Manila City but were denied such service because Manny Pacquiao’s mentor, then-Mayor Atienza, declared Manila City as so-called “pro-life,” women in prostitution who were beaten by their clients when they asked them to use condoms, and women who were infected with HIV because they were unaware that their husbands were HIV positive.

Those who oppose the RH bill fail to recognize gender relations as a crucial issue that impacts women’s reproductive health and well-being including women’s access to reproductive health information, supplies, and services.  The National Demographic and Health Survey 2008 (NDHS) show that married women who are denied participation in decision-making and who accept more justifications for wife beating[1] are less likely to use modern methods of contraception[2]  and are less likely to seek ante-natal and post-natal care.[3]   The NDHS also shows that the more children a woman has, the more likely she is to have experienced violence.  These results show that disempowered women are unable to negotiate safe sex, they are unable to control their fertility, and they are unable to access ante-natal and post-natal care.

Take the case of women in the region of South Cotabato, Cotabato, Saranggani, and General Santos (SOCCSKSARGEN) where Manny Pacquiao is one of the congressional representatives.  In this region, the results of the NDHS show that there is a high rate of women aged 15-24 who have begun childbearing, there is a high rate of women who justify reasons for wife beating, it has the highest rate of women who have experienced violence since age 15, and women are most likely to have experienced violence by their husbands.

The Catholic Church is an example of an institution with a male-dominated hierarchy with its wealth being controlled by men starting from the Pope to the bishops and priests.

The Catholic Church hierarchy does not allow women priests more so a woman Pope.   Some people may take this as a given but, certainly, having no women priests manifestly discriminates against women.

The Philippine Catholic Church hierarchy’s opposition to the RH bill perpetuates discrimination and disempowerment of women.

Finally, perhaps the CBCP and the private Catholic schools should start paying taxes.  After all, it is the obligation of every responsible citizen of this country to contribute to the coffers of the state.

I remember having stayed a week at the bishop’s residence in Cagayan as a law student.  Oh, there was food, drinks, and wine galore.  The bishop even rang a bell during dinnertime to call for his food attendant.  Surely, the bishops can afford to pay taxes. -30- Atty. Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director, EnGendeRights

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