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Delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted in the age of inequality

A few weeks ago, Klaus Beck, Country Representative for the UN Population Fund in the Philippines, presented the state of World Population 2017 at Ascott Hotel. Editor Richard Collodge of the 136-page report Worlds Apart states, “In today’s world, gaps in wealth have grown shockingly wide. The combined wealth of the world’s 2,473 billionaires, as calculated by Wealth-X exceeds $7.7 trillion. That’s equivalent to the combined gross domestic product (GDP) of an astonishing four fifths of the world’s countries in 2015. Hundreds of millions of families barely scrape by on less than $1.25 a day, pushing the world ever further from the vision of equality embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Emmeline L. Verzosa, executive director of the Philippine Commission on Women, reiterated that women in general are more disadvantaged in this age of inequality. She helped to craft the Magna Carta of Women (MCW) or RA 9710 of 2009 and the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law or RA 10354 of 2012. While the RPRH is meant to control our population, it has become a subject of moral debate among various sectors. Let’s regard contraceptives as medicine to regulate population, allowing women to better contribute to the economy. Instead, their choice to be more productive and equalize access to employment has been put on hold by the Supreme Court. The existing Temporary Restraining Order specifically ordered Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) to refrain from “granting any and all pending applications for registration and/or recertification for contraceptive drugs and devices.”

Women in a tangled web of inequalities

Michelle, born to a poor family in a rural community, is “poised to be left behind by a world that is surging forward.” As her life unfolds, she may go to school, but probably end it prematurely because she marries young or is expected to care for younger siblings. She may know how to perform household tasks and cultivate a field, but little else that might help her to one day join the paid labor force.

If her brother can hope to travel to a city to find decent work, she is more likely to stay home, bearing children even before she exits her teens. The risk of giving birth at an early age is compounded by the lack of quality maternal health service in the rural community. The disparities she suffers will be transmitted to her children, particularly her daughters, leading to multi-generational poverty.

Motherhood penalty

In every part of the world, mothers who are in the labor force earn less than women who do not have children (ILO, 2016c). The motherhood wage penalty may linger even after children are grown, because mothers are likely to lose ground in earnings for taking time off during pregnancy or after giving birth. In the Philippines, Ms. Versoza reports that there are still below 50 percent of Filipino women in the labor force. This does not account for the housewives who are technically “working” at home but are not paid employees.

Employers’ expectations about women becoming pregnant can contribute to the gender wage gap. Employers may justify paying women less because of a perception that women lack commitment to their jobs when they have the added work of family (Lips, 2013). Some employers pass them over for more challenging assignments, or even promotions, because of a risk of unexpected pregnancy-related leave (ILO, 2016). Workplace discrimination against pregnant women and workers with family responsibilities takes place in many forms and is a violation of labor rights.

Adolescent      pregnancy

Ninety-five percent of the world’s births to adolescents occur in developing countries, higher in rural areas where adolescents are poorer and less educated. 1.1 million of the 7.3 million births happen to girls under the age of 15, occurring within marriage or a union.

Dr. Juan Antonio A. Perez III is the executive director of the Commission on Population, the government’s head agency in promoting population activities. He is concerned that the TRO on the RPRH Law has prevented the Department of Health from distributing loads of contraceptives, which will soon be expired. At present only one out of three women have access to reproductive health services. This is approximately 17 percent of the Filipino women’s population.

Among the Asian countries, Filipino teens have the highest rate of pregnancies. In the past years, our neighboring ASEAN countries have decreased this trend while the Philippines has gone the other way. Despite the government’s desire to implement RH to address our growing population and the cycle of poverty brought about by unwanted pregnancies among female teens, traditional attitude towards contraceptives has hindered it. The bill sponsored by Rep. Sol Aragones, chairperson of population and family relations in Congress, and Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who chairs the committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality, hopes to incorporate sex and gender education in the K-12 curriculum. This will be vital in educating the youth about reproductive health and hopefully reduce unwanted teenage pregnancies. Contraceptives should be made available to teenagers. Conservative adults may disagree to distributing condoms in schools among high school students. But this is being done in the US, where condoms are freely given out by the school nurse or even the guidance counselors. Contrary to traditional belief that this promotes sex, instead it raises the awareness among teenagers about being responsible of their health and their future.

Give women the choice and access to RHS but ensure the quality of children produced

Dr. Esperanza I. Cabral, convenor of the Purple Ribbon for RH Movement is hopeful that the TRO on the RPRH Law will be lifted soon. As former DSWD and DOH Secretary, she understands the need to give women the choice and access to reproductive health services. We need to redefine our view of population control to that of not only reducing the number of births but also ensuring the quality of children produced by women who are healthy and productive.

Some 179 governments endorsed the Program of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which guides the work of UNFPA. The ICPD affirmed that closing disparities for women and girls in income, education, employment and other areas will largely depend on enabling them to fully realize their reproductive rights. If the objectives of the ICPD and the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are met, humanity will be well on its way to a more equal world, with more inclusive and vibrant economies. Most important of all, this is the path to human dignity for every woman and every girl, everywhere.

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