Once again, the Philippines is the best performing country in Asia in terms of gender parity.
According to the Philippine Commission on Women, the Philippines has been among the top 20 countries in the Global Gender Gap since 2006. The Global Gender Gap is the World Economic Forum survey which measures gender parity or the female-to-male ratio for indicators such as women’s economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The closer the gap between men and women in these indicators, the closer to attaining gender equality.
But the Philippines’ consistent top performance in the Global Gender Gap is ironic.
The Philippines has the most restrictive, most punitive laws when it comes to women’s sexuality and sexual and reproductive health and rights – the very laws that determine a woman’s economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival.
No sex education.
Restricted access to birth control.
No abortion. No exceptions.
Consider the restrictions when it comes to body autonomy, sexual citizenship, and reprodutive and sexual health.
No sex education.
The Reproductive Health Law was passed in 2012, mandating comprehensive sexuality education in all schools. For over a decade, the Department of Education has dragged its feet on the implementation of sex ed in schools. Until now, adolescents are told that they only need to close their legs and pray to prevent a mistimed pregnancy.
Restricted access to birth control.
If you can afford to buy birth control – great. The nearest pharmacy should have it. Except for that time that there was a stock outage of birth control because the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order on contraceptive implants and the product registration of all oral contraceptives.
I still remember how, when this happened, my friends in the reproductive health advocacy network pooled their supplies and gave them to me. How unfair it was for millions of other Filipino women who did not have this kind of safety net.
Even when this issue was resolved, Congress under the leadership of Tito Sotto, blocked adequate funding for the purchase of contraceptive implant, those thin rods inserted in your upper arm that can prevent pregnancy for about three years.
No access to safe and legal abortion–with no exception.
The Philippines has one of most unforgiving laws when it comes to abortion. There are no clear exceptions for abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnancy threatens the life of the pregnant person. Pregnant people who seek an abortion and medical providers who help them risk imprisonment and fines. About three women die everyday from complications related to unsafe induced abortions.
Cases of unsafe induced abortions and miscarriage both require post-abortion care. But in many cases, healthcare providers shame women, calling them all sorts of names and threatening to report them to the police.
The Philippines is the only country in the world – apart from The Vatican – that does not have divorce. It is a reality that is unimaginable in any other part of the world.
I have said and written this many times but I will say it again: the Filipino woman is free except when it comes to matters of her heart and her vagina. Those parts of her are legislated by the state, regulated by the Church, and enforced by a society that will not hesitate to pass judgement.
Consider how these laws contribute to inequalities, compound over a woman’s life time, and diminish her chances of achieving her dreams.
There is no comprehensive sex ed that not only teaches them about birth control but about what healthy, supportive, and equal relationships look like. If she is a minor, she cannot get free birth control from a government clinic without parental consent.
The absence of birth control and honest discussions about boundaries and consent all contribute to the skyrocketing rates of teen pregnancy. A number of teen mothers are having a second child before the age of 20. There is little chance of going back to school or completing a level of education that will allow her sustainable employment.
If she has a mistimed or unwanted pregnancy because of the restricted access to birth control, she cannot get a safe and legal abortion. She is condemned to a pregnancy that she did not want or possibly cannot afford.
If she is forced into a marriage because of an early pregnancy and that marriage becomes abusive and loveless, she cannot leave. She is condemned to a life time of unhappiness. If she has a relationship, she may be charged with adultery. Her estranged husband cannot be charged with the same crime. He is a man and can only be charged with concubinage.
From the time she starts exploring her sexuality and having her first relationships as an adolescent, throughout her reproductive years, a Filipino woman’s most productive years are straitjacketed by a system that is built to leave her to blindly explore the terrain of intimate relationships, sex, and marriage without proper information and services. But this same system is ready to punish her when she fails.
There will be no gender equality unless women and girls are given their right to decide over their heart and their vaginas. Only then can they decide and take control of their future. – Rappler.com
Ana P. Santos writes about the intersections of sexuality, sexual health, and female migrant labor. She has a postgraduate degree in Gender (Sexuality) from the London School of Economics as a Chevening Scholar. Follow her on https://www.facebook.com/sexandsensibilities and Twitter: @iamAnaSantos