KALUSUGAN NG KABABAIHAN: Making Women Matter in the 2010 Elections
by Elizabeth Angsioco
Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP)
Women comprise half of the country’s population and thus, experience all the problems faced by all Filipinos. Ordinary women, those in classes C, D, and E are the hardest hit. Poverty, inferior quality of education, lack of sustainable livelihood and employment opportunities, poor quality of education, limited access to social services, crimes – these are some of the issues affecting most of our citizens, including women. On top of these, women (particularly those in poverty) face specific problems by virtue of their being women such as: gender-based discrimination and abuse, violence against women (VAW), the very high maternal mortality and morbidity rates, lack of access to reproductive health (RH) information and services, and teen-age pregnancies. Poor Filipino women seek solutions to these.
The 2010 elections is deemed as an opportunity to effect significant changes that will make people’s quality of life better. This presumes electing into office candidates who will give paramount importance to the common good and address issues affecting vulnerable and marginalized groups in Philippine society – such as the women. An intelligent electorate is thus, needed.
Voters will be able to choose wisely if candidates focus on making known to people their platforms, credentials and track record. Beyond the propaganda, voters must understand what candidates stand for and the concrete programs they will implement once voted into office.
I. FILIPINO WOMEN, POLITICS AND ELECTIONS
Filipino women have been politically active since they acquired the right to vote. They form a significant part of candidates’ and political parties’ machinery in every election. They actively campaign, do organizing work, serve as watchers, protect votes of their candidates, etc.
Studies show that historically, the past elections saw more women voting than men. Yet, specific programs for women are most often marginalized, if not totally excluded in candidates’ platforms. This is symptomatic of existing thinking that women are generally less important than men and that women are merely followers.
Women voters need to know what candidates plan to do to address their needs and interests.
II. WOMEN’S HEALTH AS AN AGENDA FOR THE 2010 ELECTIONS
For decades, women’s organizations have been working so that their issues are significantly addressed by government. Women’s advocacy work has resulted in some success with women-focused legislations like the Anti-Rape, Anti-Sexual Harassment, Women in Nation-building, Anti-Trafficking in Persons, Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children laws. This shows that women are and can be effective advocates for candidates who will be proven to put women’s welfare in their agenda.
The potential of women’s vote has not yet been fully appreciated and tapped by politicians, especially the males. The late Sen. Raul Roco tried and was partially successful. He showed that women will work for those who are mindful of women’s issues and needs. Other candidates who are true in their intentions of looking after women’s needs should follow suit.
THE AGENDA – KALUSUGAN NG KABABAIHAN
A lot more needs to be done. Putting emphasis on women’s concerns in the ongoing political debates is particularly critical in the urgent need to address health-related issues of women, particularly those on reproductive health (RH).
Women’s health is an urgent issue. This is not only a matter of right, it is a matter of life. The issue of Reproductive Health (RH), despite the strong opposition of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy is integral to women’s health.
‘No woman should die in giving life,’ is a statement that no one will disagree with. 11 Filipino women, many of them in poverty, dying daily due to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications is not a joke. These are senseless deaths that could have been prevented. This number represents the Philippines’ Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), which is one of the highest in Asia.
Surely, if candidates to the coming national elections are asked, all will say that this problem must be addressed. It is, therefore, reasonable for voters to expect concrete solutions from these candidates, especially those who are after the highest position of the land – the Presidency.
II.1. REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH (RH)- is a state of complete physical, mental & social well-being & not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system & to its functions and processes. (WHO & ICPD)
RH implies that people are able to have:
- a satisfying & safe sex life;
- the capability to reproduce; &
- freedom to decide if, when & how often to do so.
- Rights of women & men to be informed & to have access to safe, effective, affordable & acceptable family planning methods of their choice, as well as other methods for regulation of fertility WHICH ARE NOT AGAINST THE LAW;
- The right to access to appropriate health care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy & childbirth & provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.
REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE
- the constellation of methods, techniques & services that contribute to reproductive health & well-being by preventing & solving RH problems;
- also includes sexual health, the purpose of which is the enhancement of life & personal relations, & not merely counseling & care related to reproduction & STDs.
PHILIPPINE RH PROGRAM 10 ELEMENTS (DOH AO 1-A s. 1998)
- Family Planning
- Maternal & Child Health & Nutrition
- Prevention & Management of Abortion Complications
- Prevention & Treatment of RTIs including STIs & HIV & AIDS
- Education & Counseling on Sexuality & Sexual Health
- Breast & Reproductive Tract Cancers & other Gynecologic Conditions
- Men’s Role & Participation in RH
- Adolescent RH
- Violence Against Women (VAW)
- Prevention & Treatment of Infertility & Sexual Disorders
II.2. LEGAL BASES FOR RH
International Human Rights Commitments such as: The Convention Against all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action (ICPD-POA); Beijing Platform of Action (BPA); and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) esp. MDG5.
- Art. II. Sec. 15. – The State shall protect & promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them.
- Art. XIII. Sec. 11. – The State shall adopt an integrated & comprehensive approach to health development which shall endeavor to make essential goods, health & other social services available to all the people at affordable cost. There shall be priority for the needs of the underprivileged, sick, elderly, disabled, women & children. The State shall endeavor to provide free medical care to paupers.
- Art. XV. Sec. 3.  – The State shall defend the right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions & the demands of responsible parenthood.
II.3. RH: PHILIPPINE SITUATION:
MMR is just one of the burning issues related with RH. Consider the following data:
On marriage, pregnancy and childbirth:
- At 19, 1 of every 5 young women is already married and 90% of them have already given birth (DOH, 1999)
- Adolescent pregnancy is 30% of annual births (DOH/WHO/UNFPA)
- Poor and uneducated women marry and give birth earlier in life, and have more children than women with higher education (2003 NDHS)
- More than 60% of pregnancies in the Philippines is classified as high-risk (2003 NDHS)
- The desired fertility rate of Filipino women is 2.5/woman but the actual rate is 3.5 or a difference of 1 child/woman (2003 NDHS)
- Mean age at having 1st child is 19. (YAFS3, 2002)
- Only about 25% of the poorest women is attended by skilled attendants upon delivery. (NDHS, 2003)
- Almost 10% of young Filipino women aged 15-19 has already given birth. (NDHS, 1998)
- Adolescent pregnancy is 30% of all annual births. (DOH/WHO/UNFPA Training Manual)
- 11 Filipino women die daily due to pregnancy & childbirth-related complications (UNFPA, 2007) & over half (56%) of yearly maternal deaths are unreported.
- The WHO indicates that more than 95% maternal mortality comes from developing countries.
- Poor women have 3 times more children than the rich.
CLASS Desired Fertility Actual Fertility Lowest (Poorest) 3.8 5.9 Second 3.1 4.6 Middle 2.6 3.5 Fourth 2.2 2.8 Highest (Richest) 1.7 2.0
- Population growth rate (PGR) is pegged at 2.04% which translates to about 2 million new Filipinos yearly.
- Poverty incidence is higher among big families.
- Family size
On sex and contraception:
- Mean age at 1st sex for males and females is 17 and 18 respectively (YAFS3, 2002)
- 16% of youth had 1st sex before age 15 (SPPR2, 2002)
- 27% of males and 14.5% of females used contraception during 1st sex (YAFS3, 2002)
- 60% of women source their Family Planning (FP) supplies/services from the public sector
- Less than 1% of couples using Family Planning methods use Natural Family Planning (NFP) (2003 NDHS)
- 31.2% of males & 15.9% of females had premarital sex. (YAFS 3, 2002)
- The lowest rate of contraceptive use is among the 15-19 years age bracket. (NDHS, 1998)
- The majority of women practicing family planning uses modern instead of traditional (calendar, rhythm, abstinence & withdrawal) methods. (FPS, 2006)
- Only 0.4% of women uses natural family planning (NFP) methods (Mucus/Billings/Ovulation, Standard Days, LAM) & only 13.2% uses traditional methods. (FPS, 2005)
- Almost 60% of women source their supply of FP services & supplies from the public sector. The government has been dependent on outside donors for its contraceptive commodities. USAID has completely phased out its donations.
- 61% of currently married women does not want additional children anymore. (NDHS, 2003)
- 50.6% of the youth wants to have only 2 children. (YAFS 3, 2002)
- 97% of all Filipinos believe it is important to have the ability to control one’s fertility or to plan one’s family. 87% of total respondents are Roman Catholic. (Pulse Asia Survey, February 2004)
- FP can reduce maternal deaths by 32%. (DOH)
- The unmet need for contraceptives is 23.15% for poor women (2003 NDHS) and much lower for those who are not in poverty.
- Unplanned/unwanted pregnancy causes over 400,000 induced abortions every year (UPPU-AGI, 2006)
- About 16 out of every 100 pregnancies end in abortion (Perez, Aurora et al. 1997)
- The big majority of women having induced abortions are poor (68%), married (91%), with more than 3 children (57%), and Catholic (87%) (UPPU-AGI, 2006)
- Unwanted pregnancy causes over 400,000 induced abortions every year. (UPPU-AGI, 2006)
- Some reasons why women have abortions:
- Too many children
- Birth spacing
- Unstable relationship
- Too young
- (Safe Motherhood Fact Sheet: Unsafe Abortion, 1999)
On HIV and AIDS
- Has reached an epidemic level. (DOH)
- At least 30% of young people thinks that HIV & AIDS are curable. (YAFS)
II.4 WHAT FILIPINOS SAY:
About family planning:
- 92% says FP important. (Ulat ng Bayan, Pulse Asia Survey, 2007)
- 97% says it’s important to have the ability to plan one’s family. 87% of respondents is Roman Catholic. (Pulse Asia Survey, February 2004)
- 89% thinks gov’t should provide budgets for FP including contraceptives. (Ulat ng Bayan, Pulse Asia Survey, 2007)
About pro-RH politicians:
- 86% says that candidates for elective positions who advocate a program for women’s health should be supported;
- 82% of the population says that candidates in favor of couples’ free choice of FP should be supported;
- 82% considers candidates supporting a law on population issues worthy of their votes; and
- 83% in favor of candidates supporting allocation of government funds for FP.
Thus, within the context of the Constitutional provisions on women’s right to health and the State’s international commitments, the State is bound to address RH-related issues.
II.5. NEEDED RH PROGRAM
To succeed in this, the State needs to implement a rights-based, comprehensive, and integrated national program that includes:
- Training of more skilled birth attendants;
- Upgrading of personnel, equipment, and services of public hospitals, clinics, and health centers particularly on obstetrics and gynaecology;
- Periodic MMR and morbidity review;
- A strong and age-appropriate RH education for the youth;
- Prevention and treatment of: HIV and AIDS, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), post abortion complications, breast cancer and other reproductive track infections (RTIs);
- Provision of ALL family planning (FP) methods especially to those who want and/or need these;
- A massive and popularized information and education campaign on FP;
- Mobile health clinics in all Congressional districts;
- Strict implementation of RH-related provisions of the Labor Code and VAW-related laws;
- Adequate financing;
- Enactment of an RH law so that the government policy is not dependent on personal positions of national and local officials.
Poor Filipinos have the right to quality life. The youth have the right to a better future, and WOMEN have the right to life. An RH-responsive government will promote women’s rights & save thousands of lives. Healthy women beget healthy children & will result in healthy families. Make women matter….
MAKE RH MATTER IN THE 2010 ELECTIONS!!!