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 Phl accountable for violations of women’s rights – UN CEDAW Committee

The UN CEDAW released its findings on its inquiry on Manila EO 003 and E0 030, finding the Philippines accountable for grave and systematic violations of women’s rights under the CEDAW Convention. This is only the second inquiry conducted under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW and the first on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

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The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has released its findings on its inquiry on Manila EO 003 and E0 030, finding the Philippines accountable for grave and systematic violations of women’s rights under the CEDAW Convention. This is only the second inquiry conducted under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW and the first on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The release of the summary findings comes just as the CEDAW Committee will review the compliance or non-compliance of the Philippine government with its obligations under CEDAW in July 2016 during its periodic review. The recommendations of the CEDAW Committee in relation to the inquiry will be tackled during the periodic review.

According to Atty. Clara Rita Padilla, executive director of EnGendeRights, the impact of the findings will not only be useful in the Philippines but in other countries as well where there are similar violations of women’s rights. “With the release of the findings, we hope that the Philippine government will comply with its international treaty obligations to ensure that the women and girls in Manila City and throughout the Philippines are not discriminated against in accessing sexual and reproductive health services,” Padilla said.

EnGendeRights and WomenLEAD, as co-convenors of the Philippine-based Task Force CEDAW Inquiry (Task Force CEDAW Inquiry), together with the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, and Malaysia-based International Women’s Rights Action Watch-Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP) submitted the request for inquiry to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) in 2008 to investigate the impact on the health and lives of women resulting from Manila City Executive Order 003 Series of 2000 (EO 003). EO 003, issued on February 29, 2000, declared Manila City as a “pro-life city” and discouraged the use of modern contraceptives.

The joint submission and the rest of the submissions submitted until 2012 to the CEDAW Committee, six submissions altogether, were co-drafted by the Task Force CEDAW Inquiry (composed of twenty member NGOs with EnGendeRights and WomenLEAD as co-convenors), the Center for Reproductive Rights, and IWRAW-AP. The subsequent submissions documented the continuing impact of the EOs on women, the delay in the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill which was not yet passed into law at that time, the enactment of Manila EO 030 Series 2011 (EO 030), among others.

CEDAW experts, Pramila Patten and Violeta Neubauer, conducted the investigation in the Philippines in November 2012.

In the findings, the CEDAW Committee observed that, while the 1987 Philippine Constitution guarantees separation of the Church and the State, the Church has considerable influence on public policy where religion has been relied on as a basis for sexual and reproductive health policies, including at the level of local government units.

The CEDAW Committee found the Philippines accountable for the violations of rights of women and girls as the State party “failed to address the effects of the implementation of EO 003 and EO 030 and, between 2004 and 2010, has at times either supported or condoned the policies of the City of Manila” lasting for more than 12 years, during the successive terms of two different mayors of Manila City.

The CEDAW Committee found violations under CEDAW given the “tacit acceptance by the central Government of the policies issued by the Manila local government and its failure to take any action against the local public authorities, as of February 2004” with the national government taking “insufficient and inadequate measures to address the flaws of the Manila health system”; “the implementation of EO 003 and 030 over many years compelled women to have more children than they wanted or than their health permitted them to have” with “the impact of EO 003 compounded by the funding ban contained in EO 030”; “the failure of the State party to provide the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, commodities and information resulted in unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions and unnecessary and preventable maternal deaths” particularly harming disadvantaged groups of women, including poor women and adolescent girls, as well as women in abusive relationships.

The Committee stressed that the denial of access to full range of methods of contraception had severe consequences not only for the lives and health of many women, but also impacted their other rights in CEDAW such as employment and education by “limiting women’s rights to freely choose the number and spacing of their children, women and girls were effectively undermined in accessing and pursuing the same education and employment opportunities as men, and thereby driven further into… poverty.”

The CEDAW Committee recommended the following for the Philippine government: make modern contraceptives including emergency contraceptives accessible; remove all barriers that result in unequal access to sexual and reproductive health services including limitations pertaining to women’s marital status, age, and number of children; establish health care protocols to prevent and sanction discrimination against women; guarantee separation of the Church and the State to protect women’s sexual and reproductive health rights through sensitizing members of parliament and national and local government officials to eliminate all ideological barriers limiting women’s access to sexual reproductive health services, commodities and information; provide access to quality post abortion care to women including by reintroducing misoprostol to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity rates and ensure that women experiencing abortion-related complications are not reported to law enforcement authorities and are not threatened with arrest; amend articles 256 to 259 of the Revised Penal Code to “legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life and/or health of the mother, or serious malformation of the foetus and decriminalize all other cases where women undergo abortion.”

“Implementing the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee are concrete steps towards the Philippine government’s compliance with its obligations under CEDAW and towards ensuring women’s enjoyment of their rights under the Convention,” Padilla concluded.

There has only been one other inquiry conducted since the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW in December 2000 where the CEDAW Committee issued its report on the systematic rape and murder of women in and around Ciudad Juarez in Mexico 2005.

The summary of the inquiry report is available HERE.

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Negative transgender-related media messages linked with adverse mental health outcomes

A study found that exposure to negative media messages was associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and psychological distress among transgender adults.

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Exposure to negative media messages from multiple sources necessitates multilevel interventions to improve the mental health of transgender people and curb stigma at its source.

This is according to a study – “Negative Transgender-Related Media Messages Are Associated with Adverse Mental Health Outcomes in a Multistate Study of Transgender Adults” by Jaclyn M.W. Hughto, David Pletta, Lily Gordon, Sean Cahill, Matthew J. Mimiaga and Sari L. Reisner and published in LGBT Health – that eyed to examine the extent to which transgender people have observed negative transgender-related messages in the media, and the relationship between negative media message exposure and the mental health of transgender people.

For this study, 545 transgender adults completed an online survey assessing demographics, negative transgender-related media messages, violence, and mental health. Separate multivariable logistic regression models examined the association of frequency of negative media exposure and clinically significant symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and global psychological distress.

The study found that the mean frequency of exposure to negative transgender-related media was 6.41 (SD = 2.9) with 97.6% of the sample reporting exposure to negative media depictions of transgender people across a range of mediums.

In separate multivariable models adjusted for age, gender identity, race, education, income, and childhood/adult abuse, more frequent exposure to negative depictions of transgender people in the media was significantly associated with clinically significant symptoms of depression (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 1.18; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.08–1.29; p = 0.0003); anxiety (aOR = 1.26; 95% CI = 1.14–1.40; p < 0.0001); PTSD (aOR = 1.25; 95% CI = 1.16–1.34; p < 0.0001); and global psychological distress (aOR = 1.28; 95% CI = 1.15–1.42; p < 0.0001).

In a gist: The present study found that exposure to negative media messages was associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and psychological distress among transgender adults sampled even after controlling for known sources of poor mental health (i.e., physical and sexual abuse).

The study recommended for structural interventions that aim to increase transgender visibility by featuring positive, gender-affirming depictions of transgender people to help to counteract the harms of negative media messages both directly and indirectly.

“In terms of direct benefits, structural interventions depicting transgender people in a positive light could increase transgender people’s self-esteem and diminish internalized stigma. Such interventions could also indirectly improve the wellbeing of transgender people by helping cisgender individuals develop positive attitudes toward transgender people, in turn leading to reductions in enacted stigma,” stated in the study.

Clinical interventions can also help transgender people cope with the stress of being exposed to negative transgender-related media.

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Sexual minority adults more likely to experience harms from other people’s drinking

An interaction of sexual identity with the respondent’s own drinking showed that the increased odds of harm associated with heavy drinking was even greater among sexual minority respondents (both bisexual and lesbian/gay respondents) than among heterosexual respondents.

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Sexual minority adults may be more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to experience harms from other people’s drinking. 

This is according to a study – “Harm from Others’ Drinking Among Sexual Minority Adults in the United States” by Katherine J. Karriker-Jaffe, Laurie Drabble, Karen F. Trocki, Tonda L. Hughes, and Thomas K. Greenfield and published in LGBT Health – that compared prevalence of second-hand alcohol harms for sexual minority and heterosexual adults. Data from the 2014–15 US National Alcohol Survey (n = 5516; 10.2% sexual minority adults) were analyzed using logistic regression with survey weights to account for sampling and nonresponse. Multivariable models included simple main effects of sexual identity on the past-year harm outcomes, as well as interactions of drinker status with sexual identity.

In bivariate results stratified by sex, bisexual women were significantly more likely than heterosexual women to report all five types of harms. Lesbian respondents had greater odds relative to heterosexual women of reporting harm by a friend/coworker and assault or physical harm by a drinker.

Bisexual identity among men was associated with greater odds of reporting assault/physical harm relative to heterosexual men in bivariate models. In adjusted models, differences by sexual identity were substantially reduced, with significance remaining only for friend/coworker-perpetrated harms and assault/physical harm among lesbian respondents compared with heterosexual women.

For assault/physical harm, an interaction of sexual identity with the respondent’s own drinking showed that the increased odds of harm associated with heavy drinking was even greater among sexual minority respondents (both bisexual and lesbian/gay respondents) than among heterosexual respondents.

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Sexual harassment claims by less feminine women perceived as less credible

Women who do not fit female stereotypes are less likely to be seen as victims of sexual harassment, and if they claim they were harassed, they are less likely to be believed.

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Women who do not fit female stereotypes are less likely to be seen as victims of sexual harassment, and if they claim they were harassed, they are less likely to be believed, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Sexual harassment is pervasive and causes significant harm, yet far too many women cannot access fairness, justice and legal protection, leaving them susceptible to further victimization and harm within the legal system,” said Cheryl Kaiser, PhD, of the University of Washington and a co-author of the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “Our research found that a claim was deemed less credible and sexual harassment was perceived to be less psychologically harmful when it targeted a victim who was less attractive or did not act according to the stereotype of a typical woman.”

Sexual harassment is a widespread social problem with a broad range of harmful consequences, including decreased engagement with and performance in work and school, worse mental and physical health, and increased economic instability, according to Kaiser. 

“Perceiving sexual harassment involves noticing a behavior that might qualify as harassment and linking that behavior to gender-based group membership,” said co-author Bryn Bandt-Law, a doctoral student at the University of Washington. “We wanted to understand what happens when the victim does not look or act like a stereotypical member of that gender-based group.”

In Western societies, stereotypical women tend to be perceived as attractive, thin, relatively young and dressing in a feminine way. Stereotypically feminine hobbies include shopping, yoga or watching romantic movies, rather than stereotypically masculine hobbies such as fishing, contact sports or watching violent action movies. 

The researchers conducted a series of 11 multi-method experiments, involving more than 4,000 total participants, designed to investigate the effect a victim’s fit to the concept of a typical woman had on participants’ view of sexual harassment and the consequences of that mental association.

In five of the experiments, participants read scenarios in which women either did or did not experience sexual harassment. Participants then assessed the extent to which these women fit with the idealized image of women, either by drawing what they thought the woman might look like or selecting from a series of photos. Across all the experiments, participants perceived the targets of sexual harassment as more stereotypical than those who did not experience harassment.

In the next four experiments, participants were shown ambiguous sexual harassment scenarios, such as a boss inquiring about a woman’s dating life. These scenarios were paired with descriptions or photos of women who were either stereotypical or not. The participants then rated the likelihood that the incident constituted sexual harassment. 

“We found that participants were less likely to label these ambiguous scenarios as sexual harassment when the targets were non-stereotypical women compared with stereotypical women, despite the fact that both stereotypical and non-stereotypical targets experienced the same incident,” said Jin Goh, PhD, of Colby College and another author of the study.

The final two experiments found that sexual harassment claims were viewed as less credible and the harassment less likely to be recognized as psychologically harmful when the accuser adhered less to the female stereotype, even though the claims were identical.

“Our findings demonstrate that non-stereotypical women who are sexually harassed may be vulnerable to unjust and discriminatory treatment when they seek legal recourse,” said Bandt-Law. “If women’s nonconformity to feminine stereotypes biases perceptions of their credibility and harm caused by harassment, as our results suggest, it could prevent non-stereotypical women who are sexually harassed from receiving the civil rights protections afforded to them by law.”  

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Emotionally neglected or severely sexually abused girls report riskier sexual behavior

A noteworthy finding was that adolescents categorized as having had moderate emotional neglect without abuse, as well as those categorized as having experienced severe sexual abuse, reported more sexual risk behaviors than peers who reported low maltreatment. Those with severe sexual abuse also reported the fastest increase of sexually risky behaviors over time.

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Girls who are emotionally neglected or severely sexually abused early in their lives report riskier sexual behaviors during adolescence, Mount Sinai researchers report. The findings highlight the need–and suggest the potential for tailored approaches–to promote healthy sexual development in vulnerable populations.

The researchers identified four distinct patterns of neglect and sexual abuse in low-income, predominantly Black and/or Latina girls and young women that led to distinct trajectories of risky sexual behavior during adolescence. Their findings were published in Child Development in January.

The study was the first of its kind to identify categories of maltreatment among adolescent girls of color in an urban setting that correspond with measurable changes in sexual behavior as they get older. The four categories are low maltreatment, moderate emotional neglect only, severe physical and emotional abuse, and severe sexual abuse.

The study examined how different categories of maltreatment were related to changes in risky sexual behaviors between ages 13 and 23. Risky sexual behaviors included not using condoms, having five or more lifetime partners, having sex in return for money, having sex with someone known to be infected with a sexually transmitted disease, having a partner at least five years older than themselves, and having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

A noteworthy finding was that adolescents categorized as having had moderate emotional neglect without abuse, as well as those categorized as having experienced severe sexual abuse, reported more sexual risk behaviors than peers who reported low maltreatment. Those with severe sexual abuse also reported the fastest increase of sexually risky behaviors over time.

The girls who experienced moderate emotional neglect, which is the most common form of child maltreatment, may develop riskier behaviors than their peers who were not neglected because emotional neglect may interfere with the development of a secure bond with a parent and the self-esteem that bond produces; the lack of these may precipitate the onset and risky patterns of sexual behavior during middle adolescence, according to the study. Contrary to other research, the study did not find different sexual behaviors between girls and young women who reported severe physical and emotional abuse and those in the low-maltreatment group.

Given that sexually risky behavior often increases in adolescence and decelerates in young adulthood, effective sexual health intervention programs must be designed and implemented earlier in adolescence, particularly among youth with a history of maltreatment, the researchers say. The results from this longitudinal study can inform tailored prevention and intervention efforts, and clinical diagnostic tools, that recognize the different types of neglect and abuse in adolescents and young adults to meet their individual needs in a developmentally appropriate manner.

According to Li Niu, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in Environmental Medicine and Public Health, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai: “The larger society needs to recognize crucial social forces, such as stigma and victim-blaming, that affect girls’ sexual development, and work together to address factors such as gender inequalities and stereotypes.”

This study measured self-reported childhood maltreatment among 882 sexually active adolescents and young adults every six months between the ages of 13 and 25. The participants were enrolled in an ongoing human papillomavirus surveillance study at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center and were recruited on a rolling basis from 2007 to 2016.

The researchers believe that one outcome from the study could be that primary care physicians conduct interviews with girls about neglect and abuse to identify possible interventions. In addition, the study points to a need for further research into how details such as the relationship of a perpetrator of abuse or the chronicity of the maltreatment, might play in sexually risky behavior.

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Efforts to increase sexual orientation acceptance can address LGBTQ youth suicide

Interventions aimed at increasing sexual orientation acceptance from supportive adults and peers have strong potential to address the public health burden of LGBTQ youth suicide.

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Interventions aimed at increasing sexual orientation acceptance from supportive adults and peers have strong potential to address the public health burden of LGBTQ youth suicide.

This is according to a study – titled: “Association of Sexual Orientation Acceptance with Reduced Suicide Attempts Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Youth” – by Amy E. Green, Myeshia Price-Feeney and Samuel H. Dorison and published in LGBT Health.

The researchers noted the relationship between sexual orientation acceptance from others and suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth. So to look into this closely, they analyzed data from a 2018 cross-sectional survey of LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 years across the US. Youth reported sexual orientation acceptance levels from parents, other relatives, school professionals, health care professionals, friends, and classmates to whom who they were “out.” Adjusted logistic regression analyses were used to examine the association between sexual orientation acceptance and a past-year suicide attempt.

They found that all forms of peer and adult acceptance were associated with reduced reports of a past-year suicide attempt, with the strongest associations found for acceptance from parents (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 0.52) and straight/heterosexual friends (aOR = 0.54).

Youth who reported high levels of acceptance from any adult had nearly 40% (aOR = 0.61) lower odds of a past-year suicide attempt compared with LGBTQ peers with little to no acceptance. Youth with high levels of acceptance from any peer also had significantly lower odds of reporting a past-year suicide attempt (aOR = 0.55). These relationships remained significant even after controlling for the impact of each form of acceptance, suggesting unique associations with suicide risk for both peer and adult acceptance.

For the researchers, therefore, interventions aimed at increasing sexual orientation acceptance from supportive adults and peers should be considered as these have strong potential to address the public health burden of LGBTQ youth suicide.

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Childhood neglect leaves generational imprint

Early life experiences can have an outsized effect on brain development and neurobiological health.

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Early life experiences can have an outsized effect on brain development and neurobiological health. New research is showing that those effects can be passed down to subsequent generations, reporting that the infant children of mothers who had experienced childhood emotional neglect displayed altered brain circuitry involved in fear responses and anxiety.

The study appears in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, published by Elsevier.

“These results show that our brain development is not only shaped by what happens in our own life, but is also impacted by things that happened to our parents before we were even conceived,” said lead author of the study, Cassandra Hendrix, PhD, Department of Pyschology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.

Dr. Hendrix and her colleagues studied 48 Black mother-infant pairs starting in the first trimester of pregnancy. Mothers were given a questionnaire to assess childhood trauma (experiences of early abuse or neglect). The mothers were also evaluated for current, prenatal stress levels, and for anxiety and depression. One month after birth, infants underwent a brain scan using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging, a non-invasive technology that could be used while the babies slept naturally.

The researchers focused on brain connections between the amygdala, which is central to processing fearful emotions, and two other brain regions: the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex. Both areas play a key role in regulating emotions. Babies whose mothers experienced childhood emotional neglect had stronger functional connections between the amygdala and the cortical regions.

After controlling for mothers’ current stress levels, the researchers found that the more emotional neglect a mother had experienced during her own childhood, the more strongly her baby’s amygdala was connected to the frontal cortical regions. Physical abuse or neglect of the mother were not correlated with the stronger connectivity. The findings suggest that childhood emotional neglect has intergenerational effects on brain structure and function.

The significance of the stronger connection remains unclear, said Dr. Hendrix. “The neural signature we observed in the 1-month-old infants of emotionally neglected mothers may be a mechanism that leads to increased risk for anxiety, or it could be a compensatory mechanism that promotes resilience in case the infant has less supportive caregivers. In either case, emotional neglect from a mother’s own childhood seems to leave behind a neural signature in her baby that may predispose the infant to more readily detect threat in the environment almost from birth. Our findings highlight the importance of emotional support early in life, even for subsequent generations.”

This is, of course, an issue that is of importance to the LGBTQIA community, considering LGBTQIA people may have difficult family relationships.

In June 2020, for instance, a global report noted that family members are often the main perpetrators of abuse against lesbians, bisexual women and transgender people.

In the Philippines, the issue is just as complicated. For instance, in December 2020, after seeing abuses experienced by LGBTQIA youth even in the hands of family members, Atty. Clara Rita Padilla, who helms EnGendeRights, Inc., said that “LGBTQIA people in GBV/IPV/FV ought to know that their situation can be managed; they just need to – first – not fear seeking for help.”

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