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Archive for March, 2012

On Vagrancy and Prostitution

Recent amendments to Article No. 202 of the Revised Penal Code (circa 1932) repealed those “anti-poor” provisions on vagrancy. No longer will a person loitering in public, wandering about without visible means of support, or an idle person with no reasonable means of subsistence be arrested or penalized. Pending cases for vagrancy shall be dismissed and people currently incarcerated for vagrancy shall be released. Even ruffians and pimps, or those who habitually associate with prostitutes are absolved of any liability. However, the provision criminalizing so-called “prostitutes”, defined as “women who for money or profit, habitually indulge in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct,” was retained.

The primary consideration should be a unique perspective on law-making which should change the mindset of people. Legislation tackling prostitution should address the demand-side and curb the demand by punishing even the “attempt” to buy services. Clients and customers should also be the ones criminalized and prosecuted, not the prostituted women and children. More importantly, prostituted women and children should be looked upon as the “victims” that they really are.

There are several takes on prostitution legislation, and one strategy is to actually “legalize” the sex trade as it is in the Netherlands, Australia, Germany and Thailand. However, this would entail an in-depth discussion about sexuality issues within the State, including sexual practices. It would require the introduction of clear measures to regulate the industry, that would include the implementation of programs and services for prostituted women and children “after the harm has been done”, i.e. issuance of Identification Cards, regular medical-check-ups, accessible health information and services.

This practical approach actually acknowledges the issue of gender equality, and recognizes the inherent economic vulnerability of women. But women are subject to numerous other “vulnerabilities” and legalizing prostitution does not necessarily translate into economic stability or financial security. On the other hand, it has certain “de-humanizing” effects that result in long-term implications like stigmatization, as well as short-term implications, i.e. risk of STDs/STIs, HIV/AIDS, pregnancy.

Legalization of prostitution is a take-off from the concept of sexual liberation. It caters to the idea that it is “empowering” for women to be in prostitution as a source of livelihood. But even as they portray it as a matter of personal “choice” to engage in the sex trade, we must consider also that some life decisions are made depending on the only available options to a person. Various factors actually “force” them to make that decision or choice. As such, note that prostitution apologists always fail to consider that the option is not a viable choice for MEN.

Prostitution must be looked at for the reality that it is-a form of male violence. Trafficking and sexual exploitation are forms of oppression and subordination. Prostitution is enforced sexual slavery, greatly contrary to the standard of respect for human rights and dignity. Thus, there are actually no “prostitutes” or “sex workers”, only females “exploited through prostitution”.

The current situation of women in the sex industry is characterized by political oppression, violence and inequality. Criminalization of prostituted women and children as well as other derogatory policies still remain. Legislation to address the issue of prostitution must likewise aim to change these.

Firstly, there must be a clear political vision to change the mindset of people. What must be addressed is the “culture” of sexual exploitation of women and children. Hence, legislators and leaders must have the political will to face this issue and learn to prioritize it in their agendas. Continuous education and information campaigns, as well as trainings which actually have “attitude-changing” results especially among police officers and judges. The government must also develop and implement comprehensive social services and “exit” programs for formerly exploited women and children who “survived” the sex industry. Finally, legislation which criminalize participants in the sex trade should go after the owners and operators of these brothels and sex dens and bear down on them HARD with the full force of the law.

R-Rights Call on Phil Mission to Geneva

The Philippines’ has one of the most vibrant Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) advocacy movements in Asia. Filipino LGBT rights activists are also known to be the most vigilant and progressive human rights defenders in the country. And there is a reason for all this hard work – Filipino LGBTs still suffer numerous instances of discrimination and violence in their daily lives. Homophobia and gender stereotyping borne of religious prejudice and a patriarchal society have allowed injustices against sexual minorities to be propagated. Children with homosexual tendencies are subjected by their own parents to corporal punishment that already constitute child abuse, LGBT youth are disciplined or expelled by officials of private schools run by religious denominations, educated and skilled LGBTs are unable to get employment or obtain a as source of livelihood to sustain themselves and their families. Of late, instances of bullying of LGBT youth by peers and school officials have increased, and documented killings of LGBTs have shown a shocking number of attacks and deaths. And yet, the Anti-discrimination bill being proposed in Congress has continued to languish.

On March 7, 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council will have a special panel on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). This is both a ground-breaking and monumental event for LGBTs around the world, especially for those risking their lives everyday. But since the Philippine Government has yet to adopt a clear human rights framework that is inclusive of sexual minorities and explicitly addresses human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), we cannot expect a statement from the Philippine Mission to Geneva. Such representation by the Philippines can be a big disappointment for the whole Filipino LGBT Community who know all too well the discrimination and violence one can be subjected to, including the risk of being killed in a hate crime.

Rainbow Rights Project hopes for a more supportive position from the Philippine diplomatic missions to participate in UN panels on special human rights concerns of LGBTs. R-Rights strongly enjoins the Philippine Government to finally have a national policy for protecting the rights of Filipino LGBTs and to pass appropriate legislations that will address our unique concerns. In fact, with the Philippines’ reputation of abiding by international human rights standards and complying with our obligations under human rights conventions, adopting such a national policy tackling sexual orientation and gender identity would not be contrary to any international human rights principle or our Constitution. Rainbow Rights only asks that the Philippine Government finally acknowledges the existence of the Filipino LGBT Community and that as sexual minorities, they have human rights entitled to State protection.

During his campaign for the Presidency, PNoy was one of the candidates to openly declare that LGBTs have human rights too and should not be discriminated against. With President Aquino’s ascension to the country’s highest leadership, Rainbow Rights now calls on this promise to be fulfilled through all branches of government.