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Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 - 17 comments

Philippines: A pregnant woman’s right to study and work

Image by Photo Mojo

Are human rights related to motherhood reserved only for married women? Philippine men and women are blogging about a new legislation related to a pregnant woman’s right to study and work.

In Philippines, a landmark legislation on Women’s Rights recently passed after seven years of debates. It is the Republic Act 9710, also known as the Magna Carta of Women. It states that womens’ rights are human rights, and their rights need to be respected at home, at work and in school, also addressing the subjects of planned parenthood, pregnancy, and pregnant women’s rights.

One of the most discussed points in the Magna Carta has to do with the rights an unmarried pregnant woman has to maintain her job and be able to stay in school. This is the specific text:

Expulsion and non-readmission of women faculty due to pregnancy outside of marriage shall be outlawed. No primary or secondary school shall turn out or refuse admission to a female student solely on account of her having contracted pregnancy outside of marriage during her term in school

The Magna Carta clearly states that it is unlawful to fire a pregnant woman even if she is unwed, but the Catholic Bishop’s Conference for the Philippines (CBCP) is insisting on an exemption for women who study or work in Catholic schools: They believe they should have the right to fire or expel unmarried women who are pregnant since it goes against the Catholic Church’s moral religious teachings.

To find out a bit more about the Magna Carta, here is a video by the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women where they explain why the Magna Carta and all its provisions are important:

YouTube Preview Image

Reactions to the Catholic church

A Philippine blogger, Lindy Lois Gamolo criticizes the Catholic church’s position. Not only did they try to boycott the Magna Carta for Women by threatening to excommunicate and deny communion to the politicians who voted in favor, but now that it passed the are insisting that they will not support any candidates who are in favor of the Magna Carta because it doesn’t include the addendum they wanted to add to the text, exempting Catholic schools from following the law. She asks the politicians to not give in to what she calls blackmail because:

Let us remind them that they [politicians] are accountable to the sovereign Filipino people and not to the Catholic Church and not to the bishops.

However, there are some bloggers who do understand where the Church is coming from to propose this exemption. Such is the case with one of  the comments of a blog post in The Feed, where olive writes:

i agree that if you get pregnant in highschool when studying in a catholic school, they should kick her out. why? it doesnt set a good example. imagine they teach us to only have sex during marriage and somebody walks around with a baby in her belly!?!?! its like in your face, sucker!

In fact, not all Catholic schools agree with this proposed exemption. According to Rachel C. Barawid who writes for the Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation there are some schools who believe that denying education to pregnant women who are unmarried will cause greater harm than good, and she quotes the Dean of Student Affairs of one of these schools who explains why they don’t expel students:

If you expel students out of wedlock, it’s a double whammy for them. Now that they immediately become mothers, you immediately negate their chance of earning a college degree and therefore becoming a professional and providing for their child. Not only is she faced with the prospect of being a single mother, she is also facing the prospect of not getting a good job because she is not a college graduate and will not be able to provide well for her child,” she explains.

Legalizing discrimination against pregnant women?

Philippine bloggers are also discussing whether it is fair that the Catholic church, on the basis of their religious teachings  is trying to deny human rights, like the one to hold a job or to receive education, to unwed pregnant women  but doesn’t mention the unwed father. It seems to be the just the type of discrimination against women that the Magna Carta is trying to correct.

Bong C. Austero insists that the Catholic church’s proposal  ruling is pure discrimination against women and goes against Catholic teachings of punishing the sin and not the sinner:

It penalizes women simply for being women; for having been assigned the social responsibility of bearing life. Catholic schools do not punish with expulsion or dismissal male teachers who get their girlfriends pregnant when they are also just as responsible for the pregnancy.

In the I am Nobe blog, where the author humorously steps into a different set of shoes for each post, it is the turn of the Unwed Mother

Now you’re telling me that I can’t go to school? Or go to work? (insecure)

I did not have this baby via asexual reproduction! If you should really do this to me, let those unwed fathers have a slice of the bitter cake too! And for crying out loud, stop giving God a bad name! (beyond hormonal)

Joyce Talag, a single mother herself and blogger, puts forth an argument that illustrates why, even if the Catholic church penalized unwed fathers as well, it wouldn’t make things better for the mother. Since most single parents are mothers, denying them of work opportunities or schooling while they are pregnant will mean they won’t be able to provide for themselves or the child:

A case in point: the single parent. Being one actually means having to provide both the economic and nurturing needs of the child. What puts women instead of men at a disadvantage is the fact that they comprise most of the solo parent population. (Only the US Single Parent Statistics was found on the Internet. It says that “in 2006, 5 out of every 6 custodial parents were mothers.” The Philippines’ should not be any different.)

A Philippine law blogger, Jun Bautista, points out that it is unlikely the Catholic church will include the unwed fathers into the discussion, since the laws under discussion discuss mainly women.

What this means is that this exception would have to stand on its own, as the denying of education and work only to pregnant single women, going against their human rights, and putting their lives at risk, since some even state, this will morally backfire: if Catholic schools expel and fire pregnant unwed students, would this push them into having abortions or a life of destitution? A First District Representative, Janette Loreto-Garin, seems to think so.

So, what do you think? Does a religious organization have the right to decide who they employ or accept as students, or do the rights of the pregnant woman overrule these restrictions?

Image illustrating this post by Photo Mojo, used according to Creative Commons attribution license.

The views expressed in this blog-post are solely those of the author.

Comments (17)

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Tuesday 6th October, 2009, 9:43pm

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Wednesday 7th October, 2009, 10:43am

This is a very interesting piece.

Some of the concerns i had were already raised, what about the fathers? it seems everywhere in the world, the father gets away with this, the problem is mostly faced by the woman, but it takes two to tango.

In my opinion, i think the Catholic Church shouldnt have the right to fire or expel unmarried women who are pregnant, with what is going on in the world today we cant ignore sexuality any longer, i think its high time that they include sex education in their curriculum, if it can be prevented why not start with that.

I also agree with causing greater harm to these women by denying them an education/job, then it becomes this vicious cycle. I think we need to step out of this morality thing and look at things from a more holistic point of view, i dont think someone should spend their whole life paying for a mistake ( that's if the pregnancy was unwanted).

Also the question of abortion, are they not then indirectly promoting abortion? at least if the fetus gets aborted without people's knowledge then the girl's education and job is still secured.

Joyce Talag
Thursday 8th October, 2009, 8:55pm

Hi Juliana. Thanks for citing my post in your blog. I like the fact that it's balanced and that you cited views from different camps.

I was actually studying in a Catholic university when I got pregnant. I remember telling my Theology professor that I cannot join our immersion in an informal settlement because I was afraid that it might not be good for my baby. I had no qualms about telling her. In fact, it just took me about five minutes to state my case and get her permission.

I also agree with Rachel Barawid. If I was expelled because I was pregnant, it would have been very hard for me now. Thankfully, I got to graduate on time and my college education has so far helped me in my professional progress. (My ability to provide for my child's needs follows.) I may have sinned but I was only able to fully appreciate the Church's teachings because of the kindness and fairness of parents, employers, teachers and other individuals.

More power to your blog!

Juliana Rincon
Thursday 8th October, 2009, 10:21pm

Thanks for your comments!

SMA, You make an interesting point: prevention should also be a focus of the Catholic organizations, not just the consequences.

Joyce, thank you for telling us more about your experience, I am glad that you were fortunate and could finish studying. You also add an aditional detail: if a Catholic institution expells an unwed pregnant student or employee, that would certainly have a negative impact on her faith. However, if they, like Rachel Barawid mentions, support the student it would strengthen her faith, which should be the main objective of a Catholic organization.

Thursday 8th October, 2009, 11:28pm

wow, thank you for creating a forum for discussion! :)

please allow me to play devil's advocate (as i am personally an almost-rabid advocate of reproductive health and rights :) and argue "academic freedom." it's a virtually arbitrary and much abused term, but in a court of law here--where these unhappy disputes often end up, because disputants will rarely just compromise on controversial matters like this--academic freedom will likely be treated as inviolate. unlike women's rights to equality (of opportunity and others), academic freedom is a right enshrined in our Constitution that our courts uphold more often than not. it encompasses the right of a school (quite independent of the actual quality of their education, hehehe) to choose "who shall teach, whom to teach, what and how to teach." so that necessarily includes the power to hire and fire teachers and to refuse or grant admission to students. there are guidelines--e.g. procedures must be followed, they must have broken some kind of established rule of conduct--but the guidelines themselves can be just about anything. this is whether or not a school is run by religious.

that said, i think--unless we are going to argue for government intervention in religious-run schools, which would be an interesting and exciting arena for debate in itself--there should instead by more non-sectarian schools put up in the philippines, where supposed religious/moral dogma doesn't unfairly shape school policies. there are almost none of these in the private sector. (and those that do exist, e.g. public schools, are sometimes run by religious-minded people anyway, who also discriminate.) at the moment, it falls to joyce's and my generation, and perhaps two or three of the generations before us, to put up these schools.

at the moment, i have to admit that i don't see a viable, realistic, universal argument that could "force" religious-run schools to admit, say, unmarried pregnant students. but i would fully and loudly support those religious-run schools who don't allow faith to excuse bigotry and still accord these students the same privileges and rights as all their other students.

Joyce Talag
Friday 9th October, 2009, 9:41pm

@Andrea: Thanks for pointing out what could be the legal argument of the "religious-run schools."

But I dunno, would this academic freedom mean or at least, give permission for such schools to violate children's right to education and single mothers' right to livelihood? If so, then this is totally alienating and as said, very much contrary to Christian values.

Saturday 10th October, 2009, 2:37am

hi joyce! the problem is that there is no legal 'right to education' per se. and although there is a 'right to livelihood,' it's been conveniently buried under a lot of legal qualifications. i hate to be legalistic here, but i'm afraid there's a very real possibility that all this will ultimately boil down to legalese, in our country. and if it's not enforced legally, then the magna carta will become just yet another meaningless, empty law.

unfortunately, the State can't dictate what religious orders do with their schools. (and we can bet that those schools WILL fight back!) even if it's against Christian values... well, honestly, there's so much that religious people do that's clearly against Christian values that i just wouldn't be surprised anymore. :p (i suppose you heard of the strong-arm tactics they used against the QC councilors who finally instituted RH rights a while ago. :p)

Saturday 10th October, 2009, 2:39am

oops--to add, about livelihood/employment, though, there's hope. there isn't as much of a legal obstacle as with schools. the government can generally regulate/require employers to not do this or that. so discrimination on the basis of being unmarried and pregnant will probably be easy to enforce. that's better than nothing. :)

Saturday 10th October, 2009, 8:30pm

Thank you Andrea for pointing out one of the reasons why the law in the Philippines when it comes to protecting pregnant unmarried women from being discriminated against in Catholic-run schools. Academic freedom trumps women's rights in this country. Quite sad, when you think about it, because the term "academic freedom" is so vague when compared to women's rights.

Juliana Rincon
Monday 12th October, 2009, 6:29pm

Hi Andrea!
Definitely this is a topic that benefits from the Devil's Advocate, if you will.

So far, any academic institution has the right to decide which students they receive and which ones they don't. For example, male only (or female only) schools exclude the other gender from education in their institution, and although it could be considered segregation and discrimination, they continue to do so, allegedly to benefit their target group. It is so common, it is accepted.

What is the difference then? That we seem to believe it to be OK to refuse entry to a woman in an all-male school as long as there is an alternative nearby with similar education level. Also that there is no stigma attached to not being admitted at an all-male school if you are a girl, or vice-versa. However, I believe that the Academic Freedom wouldn't hold if the only school in a village or community were an all male or all female school.

When schools establish their code of conduct, they can include behaviors which would result in being expelled: stealing, cheating, violence, and others. To me, this would be their academic freedom. These rules would affect both males and females in the institutions. However, being expelled due to pregnancy, would only affect the female, and would be considered discrimination. I think that this is when Academic Freedom has to bow down to constitutional rights.

Being expelled due to pregnancy would stigmatize the student when other academic options are considered. If expelled in the middle of the semester, what options would a student have to enroll in another program in another school? A few months would make all the difference if she would be able to finish her education before having the baby.

If an unwed female asked for admittance in a Catholic School, would she be accepted? What would happen to a girl who was expelled from a school on account of being pregnant, would she be able to find alternative means of education? Or would being expelled from a school because she is pregnant mean she would be outside of the educational system? What about when the baby is born, would she be allowed then to enroll in an educational institution?

I think that academic freedom is an option to institutions when students have other means of receiving an education. However, when their decision would mean that the student would be left outside of the system, I think that's when other rights override that freedom.

Tuesday 26th January, 2010, 2:40pm

Expelling a single pregnant or postpartum mother from her education is a violation of human rights, period. It is also, worldwide, a significant cause of abortion, which denies any rights the fetus/unborn child may have, too.

No one has the right to discriminate against women & children this way. especially a religious institution that professes respect for life. This is highly disrespectful towards *both* lives.

Tuesday 1st February, 2011, 1:40am

what about women in the service., military in particular., can they have thier own child out of marriage?

Jodi Chua
Wednesday 23rd March, 2011, 10:15am

I am a 20 years old, unwed and pregnant. I am about to graduate from school in a few weeks. I recently applied for a job in a multinational company. I have already passed all the job interviews and during the last interview, it was mentioned that I may work right after graduation. After the interview, the medical test was next. The clinic nurse told me that my pre-employment is now put on pending (she said most likely I won't continue to be employed) because they found out that I am pregnant and unwed. Is this act lawful? Do they have the right to discriminate me due to my pregnancy? Please help. I read in some websites that the US has a law against discrimination against pregnant women (during the hiring process) but I am not sure if we have a similar law here in the Philippines. I am not yet formally employed (no contracts have been signed yet). If someone can help me, please do.

Joyce Talag
Sunday 3rd April, 2011, 9:22am

Hi Jodi, this is not the first time I have heard of a Philippine company that discriminates against solo parents. Just to let you know, our laws prohibit this kind of discrimination as provided by Section 7 of the Republic Act 8972 or Solo Parents' Welfare Act:

Work Discrimination. - No employer shall discriminate against any solo parent employee with respect to terms and conditions of employment on account of his/her status.

This should apply to all employment decisions that include hiring applicants.

You may read the full-text of RA 8972 here:

More stuff to read at:

Feel free to send me a message via @joycetalag on Twitter if you need help.

All the best,

Thursday 17th November, 2011, 9:49pm

Hi... This is a fairly interesting topic, and if I may, I would just like to express some of the things that are happening in some schools through the experience of friends and relatives alike...

There are schools and catholic universities that do not expel unmarried pregnant students and there are those that do. However, I believe that these things are taken on a case to case basis. For example, Catholic schools may require the female student to wed her partner in exchange for continuing school that semester, especially if the student/s involved are open to such arrangements -- with parental consent, of course. If in any case that the student is not amenable to this condition, then another option is set that requires the student to go on leave for such time -- go to classes while her "tummy" still doesn't show, and when it does start to show, take a leave for the rest of the semester and come back after giving birth.

Many of the Catholic schools now follow some sort of arrangement just like that mentioned above, and I praise these schools for the understanding they give to the student, as there is still a "Christianity" in their actions towards the person involved. However, I also agree that those schools who do not even give a single consideration to these kids be condemned, as they really are doing more harm that helping the student by denying her the capacity to provide a better life for her and her child...

There are and should be limitations and standards set - YES, of course - but it should not mean that we can just start discriminating against other women - especially with the kind of generation that we have now. Women in this case is only half - even a fourth of the problem. It always takes two to tango, so what of their partners? Shouldn't they carry the burden together? And what of the academic system? The parents? There will always be some sort of liability to all parties involved and affected, but in this battle, it is the soon-to-be mother and her child that is left to suffer - which should not be the case...

Friday 3rd February, 2012, 6:12am

Hi, i'm 2 months pregnant and a solo parent i want to work but no company here in our country accept pregnant women...i am a degree holder, i've been working before as an accounting clerk and then a call center agent..where do can i ask help...thanks and more power..

Friday 10th February, 2012, 8:59pm

im not married living in with my partner and now im 4 mos pregnan.when the company knew that .they give me an option to get married or else i wil bbe working in private company for almost 6 yrs.i want to know what is my right for the discrimination for women like me.

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Guest Editor

Juliana Rincon

Teacher and Writer, Global Voices Online


I live and work in Colombia, where I teach a course on emerging media to Communications students and I curate and write content for Global Voices Online on citizen uploaded video.

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