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Women, are your reproductive rights protected?

Fritzie Rodriguez
Women, are your reproductive rights protected?
On the International Day of Action for Women's Health, advocates urge the Philippine government to address the country’s 'grave and systematic violations of women’s reproductive rights'.

MANILA, Philippines — Women’s lives matter.

May 28 is the International Day of Action for Women’s Health. Today advocates from over 30 countries worldwide are asking governments to recognize, protect, and support women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

The campaign was launched in 1987 by women’s rights advocates during an international conference in Costa Rica. 

SRHR does not only mean one’s physical health but also their emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality and reproduction.

The absence of disease alone does not spell a woman’s SRHR. Women, advocates stressed, should be given full access to RH services and information. 

SRHR also includes the “possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence,” the World Health Organization said. 

In the Philippines, various advocacy groups commemorated the event by calling on the government to address the country’s “grave and systematic violations of women’s reproductive rights,” as reported by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in April 2015.

The report found the Philippine government accountable for Manila’s local policies which limited women’s access to modern family planning methods.

“We urge the Philippine government to hold accountable, all those responsible for the reproductive rights violations and to ensure that women are given access to effective legal remedies to ensure redress for violations of their sexual and reproductive health and rights,” the groups said in a joint statement.

The call was led by Women’s Global Network for Reproductive, EnGendeRights, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Population Services Pilipinas Inc, and the Filipino Freethinkers. 

Why celebrate?

Improving women’s maternal health is among the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to be accomplished by the end of 2015. However, the Philippines failed to significantly reduce its maternal mortality ratio. In fact, it even increased from 209 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 221 in 2011 – a far cry from the MDG target of decreasing it to 52.

The National Statistical Coordination Board also showed that although the number of Filipinos using contraception increased, progress has been slow over the past two decades. Meanwhile, teenage pregnancies continue to rise.

PH MDG progress
Source: NSCB, As of March 2014
Goal 1993 2015 target 2013
Increase prevalance of contraceptive use 40% 100% 55.1%
Reduce adolescent birth rate 50% 0% 57%

Advocates, however, argue that the MDGs gave a limited understanding of maternal health, forgetting to include “women and girls’ autonomy, privacy, and dignity rights.” 

The May 28 campaign stressed that the MDGs ignored the committments governments made during the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), “which placed gender equality, women’s empowerment, and sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights at the heart of sustainable development.”

The Philippines was among the ICPD’s signatories.

A 2013 UN report also said that the MDGs left out the issues of violence against women, homophobia, breast and cervical cancer, and forced marriages.

With 2015 coming to a close, the international community is once again crafting a new development agenda as a successor to the MDGs. The global Day of Action pushes for the inclusion of SRHR, as well as the issues missed by the MDGs, in the said agenda. 

Such sentiments are shared by the UN Foundation, adding that the SRHR should be prioritized during the inter-governmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda, which will be launched in September 2015.

Demands

To ensure better SRHR for all, Filipino women’s rights advocates highlighted the following demands for the government:

  • Universal and affordable access to modern contraceptive methods, including emergency contraceptives

  • Monitoring and reporting mechanisms to ensure compliance with international and national health laws

  • Eliminate all ideological barriers limiting women’s access to SRHR services, commodities, and information

  • Provide legal access to life-saving drugs such as misoprostol to treat incomplete abortion or miscarriage

  • Provide access to humane, nonjudgmental, and quality post-abortion care as guaranteed under Philippine laws

  • Ensure that women experiencing abortion-related complications are not threatened with arrest or reported to law enforcement authorities

  • Decriminalize abortion on justified grounds and all other cases where women undergo abortion.

The May 28 campaign also clarifies that the SRHR of all women – regardless of age, social class, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, and race – must be upheld. It also urges governments to pay more attention to women living with HIV/AIDS, women with disabilities, indigenous women, migrants, sex workers, and women in informal sectors.

To do all these, advocates encourage the public to start conversations about SRHR not only among themselves, but also with their local governments. – Rappler.com

Got stories to tell? Share your ideas, stories, or campaigns with move.ph@rappler.com. You can also let us know what your local government, community, or NGO is doing. Speak up on #GenderIssues!

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