MANILA, Philippines – Women can only achieve genuine political and social power if they have full control over their bodies.
This belief guides Oxfam Pilipinas when they work with women and girls in disaster-stricken and conflict-ridden areas in the Philippines, according to project officer Rina Gascon Fulo.
It is especially central in the organization’s Sexual Health and Empowerment or SHE project, which seeks to change “discriminatory social norms” by providing information and services so women and girls will learn to demand for assert their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“In the Philippines, 9% of girls have already begun childbearing,” Fulo told the audience at the 2019 Social Good Summit: #2030Now #InsightforImpact at the De La Salle University in Manila on Saturday, September 21.
This means 9.7 million girls aged 10 to 19 in the country will most likely be mothers by the age of 19.
Poverty and conflict make the burden worse. The picture is bleaker in Mindanao, for example, where, in 3 regions, 15% to 18% of teenagers had become mothers, based on the 2017 National Demographic Health Survey.
“The sad reality is many of these teenagers suffer from sexual violence and rape, which often result in pregnancy,” Fulo said. (READ: Too young to marry)
“In many parts of the Philippines, we find a lot of young women marrying at an early age for economic survival,” Fulo added. “A lot of young teenage girls who are pregnant often have to quit school or leave school to care for their children.”
The SHE project recognizes the strain that poverty, conflict, and disaster add to the already alarming problem of teenage pregnancy in the country. This is why the organization chose to focus on 6 disadvantaged areas in the Philippines for its sexual and reproductive health rights project.
Oxfam Pilipinas – with Global Affairs Canada and its local partners in Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Caraga, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Northern Mindanao, and the Zamboanga Peninsula – seeks to hold information drives, reaching out to both individuals and communities. It also aims to make health service providers more gender-sensitive.
SHE project wants to correct the mindset that revolves around shame in a country that sees sex as a taboo topic.
“Even saying the words vagina or penis or clitoris or orgasm makes people very uncomfortable, and some laugh it off by using, by replacing these words with, Filipino words like talong, or birdie, or flower. We feel uncomfortable talking about our own bodies,” Fulo said.
This mindset, according to her, only increases the risk of teenage pregnancy, sexual violence, effectively preventing women and girls from exercising and enjoying our rights.
“Gender inequality is a pervasive form of discrimination, and sometimes we don’t even think about it because, growing up, we have all of these rules, norms, values, and beliefs of what it is to be a man and what it is to be woman,” Fulo said.
She added that these are difficult to unlearn, and may cause harm to both women and men, but affect the former disproportionately.
“We need to remove the veil of stigma and shame and instead view our bodies and our sexuality as sites of empowerment, where consent is valued, pleasure is acceptable, and sexual health and satisfaction are achieved. This is what it takes to transform our bodies from a site of shame to a site of power. This is gender justice,” she said. – Rappler.com