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Protecting Gender Rights in Society Last Friday, June 29, a forum was held at the Palma Hall to discuss

issues in the promotion and protection of gender rights. Speakers include Prof. Danton Remoto, Prof. Eric Manalastas, Akbayan President Riza Hontiveros-Barraquel, among other distinguished guests. They shed light on the different issues regarding gender in the country, from schools to workplaces to society in general. Indeed, the audience learned a lot of insights. Regarding the current state of gender rights in the country, the speakers were united in saying that there is progress. "Patches of rainbow" can be seen in the country's laws, policies and programs, but indeed, there is much work needed to be done. What could be the greatest challenge is changing societal norms and stigmas that is still deeply ingrained in the populace, especially on issues regarding discrimination and harassment. Citing that the Philippines being deeply religious and patriarchal, it will take a long time for people to accept women and members of the LGBT community as co-equal members of society, them too being trapped in the norms society imposed to them. The discussion focused on the issues regarding gender rights in the university, but it can be seen that the issues we face as students and academics are the same issues we share with others in general. It can be lamentable that while the university is proud of itself as a place for freedom of expression and diversity, there are still cases of discrimination and harassment, especially for members of the LGBT. While there are offices and mechanisms where victims can report and seek advice, most cases are not reported for fear of being ostracized. Also, while most students in the university are progressive enough to embrace the existence of the LGBT in the campus, some sectors, especially members of religious groups, are not tolerating, if not they harass members of gender minorities. The latter parts of the discussion focused on government laws and policies that affect women and the LGBT in general. Three laws currently govern gender issues in the country: The Magna Carta for Women, the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children, and Women in Nation-Building Act. In the university, its implementing rules and regulations has been liberalized to include the LGBT community; however, the laws itself do not mention the group. Through a strategy of "Respect, Promote, Fulfill", the university has made measures in the promotion and protection of gender rights in the campus. Aside from the establishment Women's Centers in the different units, the university has also launched different programs in promoting gender rights, even in campus where promotion seems to be challenging, such as Engineering. Courses tackling gender issues such as Psych 195 and SocSci 3 is now

available for students, and different organizations, such as UP Babaylan, have partnered with national and international movements to ensure gender issues is included in daily discourse. Still, on the local and national level, there is little or no movement of government officials in ensuring that gender issues are promoted and respected. The Reproductive Health Bill and the Anti-Discrimination Bill is still pending for years in congress due to political and religious opposition. There are still cases of harassment by policemen, especially to transgenders. Even the medical society is guilty of denying treatment to women and the LGBT for reasons of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Most local government still lack programs for reproductive health, worsening the high maternal and infant mortality rates. In a public personnel administration perspective, there are challenges that must be addressed so that gender issues are taken care of in government offices. While there is a law mandating a portion of an office's budget for gender development programs, it was cited most offices are either unaware of the law, or have no idea how to implement it. From the selection and development of personnel, to sexual harassment issues and maternal benefits, government offices must ensure that equal opportunities be given to gender minorities, evaluating them according to their skills, not by their physical appearance or sexual preference. It can therefore be concluded that while progress has been made in the promotion and protection of gender rights in the Philippines, much is needed to be done. It is not just the burden of government and civil society, but by all to ensure that everyone gets the same rights and they are respected as human beings.