Tuesday, May 23, 2017
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At Large

Women, democracy and our bodies

Sisters—perennials, millennials, or mere buds—are invited to take part in tomorrow’s observance of International Women’s Day.

In particular, there will be a forum on “Women and Democracy” to be held at the Little Theater, Miriam College on Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon.

A special guest at the forum is Vice President Leni Robredo, and she will be joined by Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Sen. Leila de Lima, the last perhaps digitally. The renowned and much-missed duo Inang Laya will lend their artistry to the event. A “public conversation” with all the women present and guests will then follow.

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Why should Filipino women be talking of democracy? Well, now more than ever! There is no better time, no more urgent a topic than the threats to democracy presented in these days of EJKs, “tokhang” and creeping authoritarianism, as exemplified by the arrest and detention of De Lima.  If, with the exception of a few hardy champions, our legislators and officials choose to hide behind political expediency and cowardly accommodation, then Filipino women will have to take up the slack. After all, we have long been on the frontline of the battle to establish and then restore democracy on our shores, and I believe we will not shirk our duty and our mission this time around.

Celebrate International Women’s Day, tomorrow at Miriam College, and for the rest of Women’s Month in the streets, in our classrooms, in our homes. The fight continues and grows more urgent with each passing day.

Another “arena” in our battle for our rights and autonomy as women hews closer to home, in our own bodies, in fact, in each woman’s uterus, vagina, and, most important, mind and will.

Women’s groups, reproductive health advocates and even government bodies like the Department of Health and the Population Commission, have issued an urgent message directed at the Supreme Court to lift, as soon as possible, a temporary restraining order blocking the full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law.

Acting on the petition of RH opponents, the Supreme Court in 2015 issued an order preventing the DOH from distributing contraceptive implants, on grounds that these might cause abortions (a fear that has been scientifically disproved).

At the same time, the tribunal also ordered the Food and Drug Administration to go through the entire cycle of certification for ALL family planning devices and supplies, including those that have long been in use but whose licenses will soon expire.

If the TRO lasts much longer, Filipino women will soon lose all access to most forms of contraception. What this means is that our access to life-saving forms of contraception will be curtailed. Already, we are seeing an uptick not just in the number of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, but also in maternal and infant deaths.

This is why the PopCom considers the situation created by the TRO on contraceptives as a looming “public health emergency.” This is because, unless conditions change drastically, the PopCom estimates that the number of mothers dying during childbirth “may also rise by an additional 1,000 deaths a year during the next six years.”

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Some people, especially the self-righteous and narrow-minded, may not consider an additional 1,000 mothers dying every year a public health crisis. (Perhaps they’re the same folks who can accept with equanimity over 7,000 EJKs in less than a year?) But I certainly do!

In addition, the PopCom sees the total Philippine population rising to more than 113 million by 2022, from its current total of 104 million. The explosion in the number of new births can be traced in part to the lack of access of women—especially younger women—to contraception. Not only would mistimed pregnancy take a toll on the health of younger (and older) mothers, it would also have adverse effects on the health and chances of survival of newborns and of their surviving siblings as well.

The PopCom in a press release says the lifting of the TRO would be a “gift of health” to Filipino women. It would also be an acknowledgment of the inherent right of women (and men) to reproductive health and to choose the life they want for themselves.

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TAGS: democracy, forum, leni robredo, opinion, reproductive health, Risa Hontiveros, Women’s Day
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