[Dash of SAS] ‘Pregnant students not allowed’
The first two days of this week were spent talking about sex and sexuality.
It might not have been different from any other week except that Unesco and UNAIDS organized a workshop which gathered various groups to put together a Comprehensive Sexuality Education Module for out-of-school youth.
Various sectors included the Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Social Welfare and Development, Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, and NGOs for people living with HIV (PLHIVs).
They shared a goal of drafting a sexuality education module for our youth to arrest the problem of rising incidence of teen pregnancy and the exponential rise in HIV cases among the 15-24 age group.
For both issues, the Philippines has made the cut. The Philippines has the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the region, next to Lao PR and Timor Leste and remains one of the 7 remaining countries in the world where HIV continues to rise.
During the presentation of Dr Sally Masilang from the DepEd, she mentioned that under their “Child Friendly School System” all secondary public schools and universities are prohibited from expelling students who get pregnant or even stopping them from going to school.
It was a welcome announcement.
In the table where I was sitting, 3 of us had nieces who had gotten pregnant and had to stop going to school. Almost everyone in the room of about 40 participants knew someone or was related to a young girl with a mistimed pregnancy.
“We are not saying that the other students should become like them,” said Masilang, voicing out the concern of many about pregnant students possibly setting a (bad) example and starting a trend. “We are simply not going to deny these girls their right to an education.”
One of the participants sadly relayed that his niece who is currently pregnant is no longer going to school. “It’s so unfair that she has to stop schooling and the boy who got her pregnant continues to go – nothing changes for him.”
That is the crux of the matter.
Strained and shamed
When a girl gets pregnant while still in school, her life dramatically changes. And the change is not limited to the 9 months when she is with child.
Family finances are strained by the cost of childcare; budgets that would have gone to books will go to baby products. Even if her family could still afford to send her to school, she is slut-shamed and stigmatized; some girls opt to just stay away to avoid being the object of gossip and ridicule.
Inadequate education automatically disqualifies her from many jobs that will offer her advancement.
As I have seen in many girls and in my own family, a mistimed pregnancy is the start of a slow downward spiraling from middle-class life. It is a strain to an average middle class family and the hopes of the future for a better life afforded by education are no longer within reach.
It doesn’t have to be that way
The whole incident made me think back to when I was in university. One of our classmates, a girl whom I shall simply refer to as “G,” got pregnant.
She and her boyfriend, whom I shall just refer to as “B,” were a very hot and visible couple on campus. Visible, meaning, they were unmistakably a couple, given their level of PDA or public display of affection.
If I had just dated myself with the use of that acronym, it is intentional. That was the early 90s, back when pre-marital sex and getting pregnant while still in uni was considered a scandal. Or at least, it should have been.
In UP Diliman, it was no big deal.
After the initial observation that G seemed to be gaining weight, and later confirmation that it was because she was eating for two, everybody just went about their business. We girls just wondered if her “rocker-chick” look came in a maternity version.
It was no big deal to us students, to our teachers, and to G.
She continued going to class, presented papers and reports and went through exams, gave birth during the break (I can’t remember now if it was semestral or summer) and was back in school right after giving birth.
I recently got word about G and B. They are happily married and now live abroad with their children.
It is just one example of how one can rise above a temporary circumstance and how important continuing to get an education is.
After the conference, I sat down with Masilang and asked her about the private schools – would they be required to follow the DepEd policy?
“No,” she told me. “Private schools enjoy a certain autonomy because their students pay. It is really their discretion if they are going to allow a pregnant student to continue to come to class.”
Masilang also specifically pointed out that since students sign a contract with the school, it means they agree to terms set by the school.
Of course the root of the issue is really preventing young girls from getting pregnant when they should be getting an education, but DepEd is making a stand. They are declaring that pregnant students should not be discriminated against or denied their right to an education.
Maybe then our culture of punishment will give way to a culture of encouragement that tells young girls: “Okay, so you messed up. It’ll be hard in the beginning, but it’ll be okay. Getting an education and graduating is the first step.” – Rappler.com
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