Does new Chief Justice's gender matter?
Should women's rights advocates celebrate with the appointment of the first woman Supreme Court Chief Justice?
This is definitely good news even just from the standpoint of women's substantive political participation. Another glass ceiling has been broken and another woman has the opportunity to prove that gender is not as important as one's qualifications and capability to do the required work.
The appointment of CJ Maria Lourdes Sereno is good for other women who are in the running for top government positions.
However, the more important question is, will CJ Sereno, the youngest in the high tribunal at 52 years of age, make a difference in the lives of ordinary Filipino women?
This is difficult to answer. A lesson women activists have learned is that sometimes, women can be more macho than some males in their approach to gender issues.
While generally, women are more understanding and sympathetic to women who are abused or discriminated against, there are also those who are insensitive, even oppressive against victims of gender inequity.
Moreover, the Supreme Court is unknown to ordinary people. Its relevance is barely understood.
To answer the second question, I did two things: first, I studied CJ Sereno's profile. I believe that perspectives on things are shaped by our experiences, our exposure.
While the profile made no mention of any direct involvement in gender issues, what I learned made me hopeful.
CJ Sereno's previous work with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), UP Institute of Legal Studies, and even the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) made me think that the new CJ is not only an academic, she has some familiarity with social issues.
The thought that we have a CJ who knows the real world beyond the courts is encouraging. It is possible that she has developed some progressive thinking, and this should include an understanding of gender issues.
Also, two of those who endorsed her candidacy for the CJ, Bishop Efraim Tendero and the UP Women's Circle, are progressives as far as women's issues are concerned.
Lastly, it is said that CJ Sereno's core advocacy is access to justice and she was instrumental in the very first dialogue between the SC and basic sectors, women included.
Second, I looked at what the SC has already done on gender issues and what I found got me excited.
Unknown to many, the SC since 2003 has had a Committee on Gender Responsiveness in the Judiciary! Further, the Committee has developed a Strategic Gender and Development (GAD) Mainstreaming Plan for the Philippine Judicial System.
Records show that the Committee has decided on strategies that would:
"1. Transform paradigm and enhance the commitment of the judicial system to gender equality through training and capability building;
2. Review or conduct gender audit of policies, programs and practices to make these more gender-responsive;
3. Establish a gender-responsive database on the judicial system;
4. Promote the use of gender-fair language, core gender messages and rituals for higher gender awareness;
5. Enhance partnerships and networking with other GAD advocates;
6. Organize regular Family Courts throughout the country; and
7. Create Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CODI) in each court and train CODI members."
A gender-responsive SC will indeed benefit ordinary women who find themselves in need of court protection or who seek justice for being wronged.
I checked for more information on the committee but it seems that it has barely started to work on what it set out to do.
Thus, we have a situation where the CJ lacks a track record on gender issues BUT may be considered progressive enough to take them on. And she leads a Supreme Court that has already started some work on gender-responsiveness.
If CJ Sereno decides to champion women's access to justice as part of her over-all judicial reforms, she can indeed make a difference in the lives of ordinary women.
Elizabeth Angsioco is National Chairperson of Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines.
– GMA News