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Philippines: Supporting Women through Pregnancy and Motherhood

Image by Photo Mojo

Are human rights related to motherhood reserved only for married women? Philippine men and women are blogging about a new legislation related to a pregnant woman's right to study and work.

In Philippines, a landmark legislation on Women's Rights recently passed after seven years of debates. It is the Republic Act 9710, also known as the Magna Carta of Women. It states that womens’ rights are human rights, and their rights need to be respected at home, at work and in school, also addressing the subjects of planned parenthood, pregnancy, and pregnant women's rights.

One of the most discussed points in the Magna Carta has to do with the rights an unmarried pregnant woman has to maintain her job and be able to stay in school. This is the specific text:

Expulsion and non-readmission of women faculty due to pregnancy outside of marriage shall be outlawed. No primary or secondary school shall turn out or refuse admission to a female student solely on account of her having contracted pregnancy outside of marriage during her term in school

The Magna Carta clearly states that it is unlawful to fire a pregnant woman even if she is unwed, but the Catholic Bishop's Conference for the Philippines (CBCP) is insisting on an exemption for women who study or work in Catholic schools: They believe they should have the right to fire or expel unmarried women who are pregnant since it goes against the Catholic Church's moral religious teachings.

To find out a bit more about the Magna Carta, here is a video by the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women where they explain why the Magna Carta and all its provisions are important:

Reactions to the Catholic church

A Philippine blogger, Lindy Lois Gamolo criticizes the Catholic church's position. Not only did they try to boycott the Magna Carta for Women by threatening to excommunicate and deny communion to the politicians who voted in favor, but now that it passed the are insisting that they will not support any candidates who are in favor of the Magna Carta because it doesn't include the addendum they wanted to add to the text, exempting Catholic schools from following the law. She asks the politicians to not give in to what she calls blackmail because:

Let us remind them that they [politicians] are accountable to the sovereign Filipino people and not to the Catholic Church and not to the bishops.

However, there are some bloggers who do understand where the Church is coming from to propose this exemption. Such is the case with one of the comments of a blog post in The Feed, where olive writes:

i agree that if you get pregnant in highschool when studying in a catholic school, they should kick her out. why? it doesnt set a good example. imagine they teach us to only have sex during marriage and somebody walks around with a baby in her belly!?!?! its like in your face, sucker!

In fact, not all Catholic schools agree with this proposed exemption. According to Rachel C. Barawid who writes for the Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation there are some schools who believe that denying education to pregnant women who are unmarried will cause greater harm than good, and she quotes the Dean of Student Affairs of one of these schools who explains why they don't expel students:

If you expel students out of wedlock, it’s a double whammy for them. Now that they immediately become mothers, you immediately negate their chance of earning a college degree and therefore becoming a professional and providing for their child. Not only is she faced with the prospect of being a single mother, she is also facing the prospect of not getting a good job because she is not a college graduate and will not be able to provide well for her child,” she explains.

Legalizing discrimination against pregnant women?

Philippine bloggers are also discussing whether it is fair that the Catholic church, on the basis of their religious teachings is trying to deny human rights, like the one to hold a job or to receive education, to unwed pregnant women but doesn't mention the unwed father. It seems to be the just the type of discrimination against women that the Magna Carta is trying to correct.

Bong C. Austero insists that the Catholic church's proposal ruling is pure discrimination against women and goes against Catholic teachings of punishing the sin and not the sinner:

It penalizes women simply for being women; for having been assigned the social responsibility of bearing life. Catholic schools do not punish with expulsion or dismissal male teachers who get their girlfriends pregnant when they are also just as responsible for the pregnancy.

In the I am Nobe blog, where the author humorously steps into a different set of shoes for each post, it is the turn of the Unwed Mother

Now you’re telling me that I can’t go to school? Or go to work? (insecure)

I did not have this baby via asexual reproduction! If you should really do this to me, let those unwed fathers have a slice of the bitter cake too! And for crying out loud, stop giving God a bad name! (beyond hormonal)

Joyce Talag, a single mother herself and blogger, puts forth an argument that illustrates why, even if the Catholic church penalized unwed fathers as well, it wouldn't make things better for the mother. Since most single parents are mothers, denying them of work opportunities or schooling while they are pregnant will mean they won't be able to provide for themselves or the child:

A case in point: the single parent. Being one actually means having to provide both the economic and nurturing needs of the child. What puts women instead of men at a disadvantage is the fact that they comprise most of the solo parent population. (Only the US Single Parent Statistics was found on the Internet. It says that “in 2006, 5 out of every 6 custodial parents were mothers.” The Philippines’ should not be any different.)

A Philippine law blogger, Jun Bautista, points out that it is unlikely the Catholic church will include the unwed fathers into the discussion, since the laws under discussion discuss mainly women.

What this means is that this exception would have to stand on its own, as the denying of education and work only to pregnant single women, going against their human rights, and putting their lives at risk, since some even state, this will morally backfire: if Catholic schools expel and fire pregnant unwed students, would this push them into having abortions or a life of destitution? A First District Representative, Janette Loreto-Garin, seems to think so.

So, what do you think? Does a religious organization have the right to decide who they employ or accept as students, or do the rights of the pregnant woman overrule these restrictions?

Image illustrating this post by Photo Mojo, used according to Creative Commons attribution license.

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