Rowena V. Guanzon and her students at the University of the Philippines
Rowena V. Guanzon will be getting honored next month for her impressive work in gender equality and the empowerment of women in the Philippines.
An attorney and educator, Guanzon is a former mayor of Cadiz City who is widely respected in the nation for her courtroom efforts to counter gender discrimination and violence against women.
In addition, Guanzon co-founded the Gender Justice Network, a group of women lawyers engaged in women's rights litigation. The network handles pro bono cases on rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence. She also co-founded the Asia Cause Lawyers Network.
Guanzon also helped to draft two key bills for the government of the Philippines: the Senate Substitute Bill on the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003. She has also taken part in global forums on similar issues.
In addition, she has written three books and many articles on the topics. Guanzon teaches at the University of the Philippines College of Law as well.
Next month, the University of the Philippines Alumni Association will be giving her a distinguished alumna award. Guanzon graduated in the top ten of her class at the University of the Philippines College of Law, and received a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she was an Edward Mason Fellow and class marshal.
In nominating Guanzon for the alumna award, Aurora de Dios, who is affiliated with the Women and Gender Institute, and is the Philippine representative to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Committee on Women's Rights and former member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said, “Atty. Rowena Guanzon's sterling record of public and government service, commitment and dedication to women's rights has been amply demonstrated through her life-long legal practice.”
“With a focused commitment to defend the rights of women in the justice system she has succeeded in demonstrating that it is not enough to pass laws on women … but it is even more important to test them in court given all the challenges and barriers that women have to confront to get justice,” de Dios said. “Trial lawyering is not for the faint of heart and only persistence, strength and courage can sustain you in the long drawn fight for justice. Atty. Guanzon has shown that she can be there for the long haul until justice is obtained.”
Guanzon has been given many awards from colleagues and women's groups for her efforts in the field. But just as important has been “the eternal gratefulness of her aggrieved women clients” who have suffered from sexual assaults, domestic violence and trafficking, de Dios added.
“She is one a few reliable women lawyers whose practice is dedicated to defending women's rights against discrimination, inequality and violence,” de Dios said.
Also, in recommending her, Junice Melgar, the executive director of Likhaan, a non-profit organization that advocates for reproductive health in the Philippines, said, “Atty. Guanzon has contributed not only to the molding of gender justice in the Philippines justice system, she has also concretely helped many women fight for, and gain justice in their lives.”
In addition, Guanzon has been a co-project leader of the Gender Justice Awards, which honor judges for their sensitive decisions on cases involving violence against women. “Many judges and prosecutors continue to perpetuate the misconceptions and biases against women in their decisions, which is largely a product of a patriarchal judicial system and Philippine society,” Guanzon has said. “Cases are lost because of the inability of judges and prosecutors to understand the situation of women, their lack of gender awareness and lack of appreciation of unequal relations of power between men and women within relations.”
The importance of women’s rights in the Philippines was recently illustrated by a widely followed decision this month at the Philippine Supreme Court, which confirmed that rape within marriage is something that can be prosecuted under criminal law. There are also efforts in the Philippines to allow for divorce, which is now forbidden. There is still a belief in some Philippines households that a wife is “her husband's property,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
Also, on a more personal level, Guanzon recognizes that women need adequate representation in courtroom settings.
“Women who are victims of rape, sexual harassment and VAW [violence against women], they need lawyers on their side. Not just lawyers they can pay, but lawyers on their side who understand the problem and can empathize with them,” she told The Philippine Star newspaper.
Looking back, Guanzon recalled how her mother, Elvira, was involved in politics in Negros Occidental during the 1960s and 1970s.
“I saw, through her, that women can also do it,” Guanzon told The Star. “My mother is really strong about women’s rights equality.”
That commitment continues today, as Guanzon is soon to receive the alumna award in honor of her work in women’s rights.