'Push for divorce law needs RH-like support'
MANILA, Philippines – Two years since lawmakers defied Church pressure and passed a landmark reproductive health (RH) law, will the Philippines see a divorce law soon?
In a forum on gender issues, media, and the Catholic Church on Monday, November 24, Filipino journalist Ana Santos said pro-divorce advocates can hope for victory if public support and clamor builds up the way they did in the fight for the passage of the RH law.
The Philippines and Vatican City are the only two states in the world that ban divorce. Women's rights advocates have called on lawmakers to pass the divorce law, saying the measure could help protect women from violent and abusive marriages.
But to successfully pass a divorce law, Santos highlighted media's role in the discussions.
She said the way media frames the issue can have a positive or negative effect on public support and policy debates.
Santos noted that the support for the RH law grew when media shifted the way it portrayed the issue.
The forum came a day before the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25.
Thirteen years and 4 months since it was first filed in Congress, the RH law was finally passed in December 2012 after a long campaign by advocates and fierce opposition by conservative groups.
The law aims to provide contraception to couples, implement age-appropriate sex education, and improve maternal health care, among others.
Proponents have denied accusations that the law aims to promote abortion – which the Church vehemently opposes – but this has not stopped critics from slamming it as "anti-life."
Before the explosion of social media, Santos said the RH law issue had little exposure in national publications, and was framed in a way that excludes "ordinary people" from having a stake in the issue.
"Reproductive health was [framed] as very clinical or very political, or was just about sex or poor women," Santos said.
"These were the frames that we had for RH in the beginning. But then tipping points came," she added.
The tipping point came when mainstream media began to pick up on it, and later on, the reach and influence of social media.
She recalled a piece she wrote about RH, in which she talked to a diverse group of individuals and asked them why they support the RH bill.
"Why is this important? These guys look like you and me. They don't look like senators, they don't look like those priests, they don't look like those poor women who we all thought was not me," she said.
"And it began to answer the question, 'WTF should I care?'"
When social media came in, so did conversations and discussions on the RH issue.
"Content began to change. Everyone was a creator of content, and because of the feedback mechanism of social media, we began to have a conversation on reproductive health," Santos said.
"We were having a discussion, and what does it do? It gives you a stake in the issue," she added.
Santos said this is the same kind of support that the divorce law would need to gain traction.
Women's group Gabriela earlier filed a divorce bill that sets strict eligibility requirements, but will make the divorce process faster and more affordable for couples.
The bill, however, faces tough opposition both from the Church and from lawmakers, only a few of whom openly support a divorce law in the Philippines. – Rappler.com
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