From 21 May to 4 June, the second cycle of the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) will begin. One of the 14 countries being reviewed is the Philippines. The UPR is a unique mechanism for states and governments to tell other countries what they have achieved in promoting human rights – but also for non-state actors to raise issues of concern in a non-confrontational fashion. writer Sonia Randhawa spoke with Jelen Paclarin, executive director of the Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB) in the Philippines, who drafted a submission for the UPR.

Sonia Randhawa (SR): What is the UPR process and why is it important?

Jelen Paclarin (JP): The UPR process is where states provide updates on what they have been doing to improve the human rights situation. It is also a way for civil society organisations (CSOs) to demand state accountability. The Philippines was included in the first cycle in 2008, and was one of the first countries to report under the UPR.

The UPR is one of a kind, because it is a process where state parties’ human rights situation or record is being reviewed by other state parties in a cooperative process. We also think that the UPR process allows us to use the multi-treaty approach. And we have a lot of treaties. For example, the civil-political (ICCPR); the economic and social (ICESCR); and the treaty specifically focused on women, the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The UPR provides the opportunity to bring forward all CSOs' concerns relating to any of these treaty bodies. The reports can include demands and state obligations based on the treaties that they have signed and ratified.

It also provides an opportunity for CSOs and the people to ask their government what has been done to promote and protect the human rights of its people. This can also be an opportunity to lobby with other governments participating in the review to ensure compliance with international human rights obligations.

SR: And how important is this to making changes in the lives of women?

JP: It is really difficult to tell because this is only the second time that the Philippine government is reporting. If we're going to look at the recommendations to the Philippine government, there are some opportunities for advocacy, for example on what are the actions and programs implemented by the government since 2008 which show a gender-responsive approach to violence against women (VAW). This is one way that CSOs can make demands on the government.

The UPR has the potential to make significant changes to the lives of women: if it takes the same direction as the CEDAW, there are possibilities of building progressive interpretations to promote and protect women's rights. So we're hoping that eventually, as the process matures the UPR can be used to maximise opportunities for women and we hope that it will be a way for women's NGOs to demand accountability from the State.

SR: The report you've prepared has an extensive section on ICT-related VAW. Can you explain some of the trends here?

JP: The ICT, VAW and Sexuality research of WLB has focused on the three emerging forms of technology-related VAW: cyberpornography, cybersex and cybertrafficking. It was highlighted in this research that there are differing notions on cyberpornography, cybersex and cybertrafficking:


These issues should be explored more among women’s groups. In particular, questions as to what is sexuality, what constitutes violation and what is expression, should be looked into. This includes the following issues: 

  1. Expression vs. exploitation and harm.

  2. Privacy and anonymity on the internet.

  3. Discussion on the positive impact on sexuality and sexual rights.

There is a need to have a better understanding of the issue and determine if the acts are harmful or an exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

Second is the difficulty and barriers in tracing perpetrators in cyberspace. The problem still lies in identification of the perpetrator. This can only be done through technical means, but Telcos and ISPs refuse to cooperate in disclosing the identity of their users.

Another problem that we have been raising is the lack of monitoring and the availability of statistics on technology related VAW. It is difficult to document such cases because of their very nature. Moreover the victims usually do not report the incident to the police or to investigators, because they think reporting is useless and that there is no available remedy for them.

So the major issue we are facing in technology-related VAW is whether there is genuine access to justice for women, and if there is, how women can access justice when they file a case; they will face a lot of barriers due to the nature of the crime, the anonymity, its intractability, and the difficulty of identifying the perpetrators.

At this point, women advocates need to identify the specificities of the crime, what are the experiences of women here, how to further improve the law if needed, and how to further educate women so they do not become victims. There is a need to further study this particular issue, and come up with a comprehensive response to technology-related VAW.

SR: You discuss the importance of women's representation - what are the obstacles to women's representation in policy-making processes?

JP: I am not personally a fan of quota systems. We need to unpack the true meaning of representation. Representation should provide women with informed choices, and include knowledge of the issues and context. Moreover, the woman should be able to decide independently, and recognise the barriers and how these limitations hamper her rights. If these obstacles or barriers are present, then the government should do something to remove them.

So I think that even though some would claim that women's position in society is much better now than before, we have to look at the kind of participation and representation that is available, and the mechanisms provided by the government for women. Are they really meaningful and are they substantive. And if the answer is no, then we really need to question what kind of representation do we have right now.

Moreover, government should proactively involve community women in all decision-making processes. There are instances when CSOs represent community women or grassroots women in the consultation processes. The community women should eventually, or from the start, take charge of the process and issue demands from the government. The NGO should support instead of taking the lead role. Collaborative effort between the NGOs, the people's organisation, the community women and the government is important, otherwise it might just be token representation, which will mean it will always be the elite representing women in the community.

Meaningful and substantive participation of women from the community and the grassroots is important because they are carrying their own stories and experiences. We have to allow the women from the community to speak for themselves, and make demands of their government. And I think that's the true meaning of representation.


Photo by moroccanmary. Used with permission under Creative Commons licence 2.0.

The article is a part of APC's “Connect your rights: Internet rights are human rights” campaign financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

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