Discrimination through expectations

AS EASY AS ABC - The Philippine Star

To solve important problems, we need diversity in the organization, said our global chairman. Talking about gender diversity, it was a source of laughter among my colleagues when I said that in the Philippines, the gender diversity issue is the other way around: the male species is emasculated by the females in the profession, and a healthy policy of inclusion is required to not exclude the men.

Before I get accused of stereotyping men in the country, I would like to go directly to the point. For me, the heart of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, also known as the International Bill of Rights of Women) that was adapted by the United Nations (UN) in 1979 is this: stereotyping or having standard expectations from the female gender is the root of all evil, and toleration perpetrates it.

Since then, there are at least two cases brought before the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which oversees the CEDAW. These cases may do the job in explaining what stereotyping means.

What makes these two cases game-changing is that the Filipinas complained before the UN against the Philippine government because the country’s justice system already decided with finality against them.

One case has already been reviewed by the Committee, which ruled in favor of the complainant and is expected to be a precedent for another case that is still pending. Note that this is the first case of its kind brought to the UN from an Asia-Pacific country.

The fact of filing the case before the Committee was fortunately shared by her lawyer through a blog. It involves a case decided by the Supreme Court against the complainant where graphic facts will be interesting, but will need some dilution for purposes of discussion this Sunday. The female complainant, who herself is already occupying a managerial position then, said she was forced to resign by the sexual harassment of her boss. What made her lose before the Supreme Court arose from what the facts suggest in the minds of the Justices.

At a corporate party, she alleged that her aggressor/boss that beside her, stroked her thighs and tried touching her privates. Even if she resisted, she decided not to create a scene at this corporate affair. She even danced with her aggressor/boss that same evening and the latter made improper advances on her while dancing. Again, she resisted, but did not react violently and decided not to cause any commotion during corporate affair. When she resigned because of the harassment she suffered, and had been continuing to suffer from, her resignation letter even thanked her boss for giving her the opportunity to work for the company.

It seems plain, one would say, that her own allegations would cause doubts. She could have shouted and slapped the aggressor, and filed a criminal complaint even the following day. Instead, she seemed to have gone along with it and even submitted a resignation letter with words of appreciation.

In the preceding case, the Supreme Court confirmed the dismissal of the charge of rape by a woman in her 40s against an aggressor in his 60s. Her character was perceived by the court as one who is not timid and could not easily be cowed. The court also said she could have escaped the motel room where the alleged crime was perpetrated – but she did not do this.

The Committee considered following the gender-based myths and stereotypes raised by the complainants, which were relied upon by the Supreme Court:

1. The rape victim must try to escape at every opportunity.

2. Rape victims are timid and easily cowed.

3. There must be threat such as the use of a gun.

4. Any relationship between the accused and victim makes the sex consensual.

5. It is unbelievable for an old man to commit rape.

What has come to light at least in this case which was decided by the Committee in favor of the “author” is that no one should expect a woman to react in the same way. Rights accorded to women are not only for the weak among the lot; they are available even to the strong.

Interestingly, since this is beyond the justice system of the Philippines, the Committee’s general recommendation was sent to the Philippine government. It was in the hope that the government would take appropriate measures to modify social and cultural practices that are predicated on stereotypes, especially since the Philippines is one of the 188 state parties that agreed to implement the provisions of CEDAW.

The other case that’s pending is interesting as it has the tendency to be more commonplace. Strong resistance that’s determined enough is not the only way for a woman to say no.

After the CEDAW took effect in 1981, the Philippines passed Republic Act 9710, or the Magna Carta for Women. What is evident to me is that the CEDAW and the Magna Carta should always be used to supplement causes of action in a labor or criminal case. In a labor case, an offended female party would need to prove illegal dismissal, which is difficult to do if she resigns. In a criminal case, it is always proof beyond reasonable doubt, and there are ways to establish doubt. But using the CEDAW and Magna Carta for Women hand in hand allows easier access to protection and damages, especially if the courts will take part in destroying age-old myths and stereotypes – so old and so common that we fail to notice many of them, even those before our very eyes.

A working mother does most of the household chores versus the less cooperative husband. This is a cultural stereotype. It can be overcome by new age thinking that work-life balance, or quality of life, is a gift everyone should have. Gender or culture should have absolutely nothing to do with it.

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Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He also chairs the tax committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Email your comments and questions to [email protected]. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.











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