Noemi Senining is 31 years old and married to an electrician. She has one child and wants only two kids. Noemi is a college graduate and a social worker. She went to the fair and got an implant because she wants to space her pregnancies and does not want another child in the next three years.
Sheryl Gallares is 21. A college undergraduate, she married at 19 to a ship mechanic. The couple recently lost their firstborn. Sheryl was at the fair to get an injectable because she and her husband do not yet want another child. Poverty and the desire to be able to move on from her loss made her want to look for a job.
Anna Liza Aligado is 31 with six children from seven pregnancies. She last gave birth in September 2011 and was at the fair for a ligation. Anna Liza complains of extreme poverty and her too many children. Her husband is an occasional pedicab driver while she is unemployed, having only reached second year high school.
Jacqueline, now 18, already had two pregnancies. She was unable to finish high school when she lived in with her boyfriend at 16. She suffered from a miscarriage but now has a one-year-old baby via caesarian section. She wanted an implant from the fair because she does not want another pregnancy soon. Jacqueline said she recently separated from her unemployed partner because of battering and the latter’s philandering. She wants to get a job.
Imelda Berre is now 39 but got “married” at 14. She first got pregnant at 15 and has since gone through 13 pregnancies. She has 10 living children but only her eldest reached third year in high school. Seven of them only went to elementary but her twins never went to school. Imelda never used contraceptives because her mother, who also had 12 children, scared her by saying that she would suffer from side effects.
Imelda is unemployed and her husband is a seasonal construction worker who only earns minimum wages. As expected, Imelda’s family is deep in poverty. She went to the FP fair for a ligation because she no longer wants another pregnancy after having 13.
The FP fair was organized by Likhaan Center for Women’s Health in partnership with the United Nation Population Fund Philippines and the European Union Philippine Delegation.
The huge turnout was a concrete manifestation of the urgent need for access to RH and FP services in a city where distribution of contraceptives by public health providers remains ‘prohibited’.
Recall that former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, known to be staunchly against the RH bill, issued Executive Order 003 that resulted in a total ban of contraceptives.
Due to work of advocacy groups, this was replaced by Mayor Alfredo Lim’s E.O. 030 saying, “Sec. 1. The City shall adopt a policy of allowing couples to exercise full and absolute discretion in deciding on which form of family planning to use conformably with their religious beliefs and practices;” BUT “Sec. 2. The City shall not disburse and appropriate funds or finance any program or purchase materials, medicines for artificial birth control”.
Clearly, Lim’s order is at best an effort to pass the buck to private entities, national government or civil society groups when it is the LGUs responsibility to look after its constituents’ health and welfare. How I wish Lim was at the FP fair to see for himself how much his poorest constituents want and need FP services. SHAME!
On that same day, in London, the international Family Planning Summit organized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom government was held. The summit succeeded in focusing political will and financial resources to women’s RH through the provision of voluntary family planning services.
A total of $4.6 billion was pledged by both developing and donor countries to provide services to 120 million people needing such.
Melinda Gates in particular has been severely criticized by allies of the Catholic church for her commitment to respect and promote women’s, particularly poor women’s and girls’ right to decide on their own on RH matters. This commitment, with the financial resources of the Gates Foundation and the pledges from all over the world, will save millions of mothers’ lives.
In my book, Melinda Gates should be honored for taking on a struggle that women like her need not worry about. SHAME on those who criticize but do nothing in the face of increasing maternal deaths and the very disturbing adolescent pregnancy rates!
In a statement, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA executive director correctly said, “If we succeed, and we will, millions more women will finally have the power to decide how many children to have and when. Millions more adolescent girls will be able to avoid unintended pregnancies, stay in school, and realize their full potential.”
He added that “UNFPA will increase the proportion of its programme funds for family planning from 25 to 40 per cent.”
The whole world is committing political will and resources to save adolescent girls from getting pregnant and mothers from dying from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications.
Yet, what is the Philippine government doing? Our unmet need for FP among the poor, uneducated women and girls is huge. Our maternal mortality rates have drastically increased. And annually, we have 200,000 adolescent pregnancies happening. Why is Congress held hostaged by the archaic thinking of a minority of its members? Why is the President not calling on Congress to already pass the much needed RH bill despite the fact that it is among his campaign promises?
How many more stories of Noemis, Sheryls, Anna Lizas, Jacquelines, and Imeldas would you want to hear?
Naiiwan na naman tayo sa kangkungan. What a shame!
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