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At Large

Interesting time to be Filipina

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I’ve written columns on International Women’s Day, which we celebrate today, almost from the start of my column-writing career. And believe me, it’s been a rather long career.

At the beginning, it seemed almost an obligation to report on the “state of womanhood” in the Philippines, given that I embarked on this column with the intent of writing about Filipino women and issues close to our hearts.

At the time, in the late 1980s, there wasn’t much coverage—much less commentary—on women, feminism, children’s rights and related areas like family life, health, sexuality and, uhmm, reproduction. So when I was asked if I wanted to take on the task of writing an opinion column, the first thing I wanted to know was if I would be required to write about politics, which at that time, and still seems to be so today, the main concern of know-it-all columnists.

I didn’t think I would have much to say about politics, since all the other columnists then were doing such a fine job already. Of course, in time, I would end up writing about or commenting on political affairs. As the years rolled on, politics, or perhaps our view of it, expanded, and was no longer confined to partisan intramurals, accusations and denunciations, or the pricked feelings of a male elite.

And if there has been change in the past two decades or so, it’s a change that allowed for more viewpoints to be aired, more sectors whose needs and entitlements were paid attention to, more voices heard.

I’m talking about women, of course.

* * *

IT’S an interesting time to be a woman in the Philippines.

While we do not now have a woman president, we do have a male President whose policies, appointments, public statements and behavior indicate the value he places on women as coworkers, advisers, role models—not to mention sisters and sweethearts. Such comfort and familiarity with women is all the more notable because P-Noy doesn’t make much of it, and almost seems to take the presence of women in his Cabinet, in the Supreme Court and in the halls of Congress as natural and expected—though their numbers still fall short of equity. And taking his cue, the country has taken it all in stride.

Could P-Noy be in fact the Philippines’ first postfeminist President?

Certainly a landmark of women’s political involvement—if not empowerment—has been the passage of the Reproductive Health Law, which in legislative debates had been denounced as being “against God’s will” and “offensive to the feelings of Catholics.” One congressman even memorably punctuated his interpellation by reciting the “Apostles’ Creed”—in full.

Remarkable, though, was that the effort to muster support behind the “RH bill” crossed party and gender lines, in the House and Senate, and outside as well. Heartening was the sight of men and women, gay and straight,  bagets  and forgets, actually or metaphorically linking arms and joining voices to get our legislators to realize that, indeed, reproductive health and rights were an idea—and a reality—whose time had come.

* * *

STILL, hostility to the idea of sexual health—which at its core is really sexual rights—remains alive and kicking. Just look at the tarp on the walls of the Bacolod Cathedral, dramatically split in half, illustrating the split (however uneven) among the electorate’s views on reproductive health. “Team Buhay (Life)” and “Team Patay (Death)” may be catchy and memorable. But voters also need to examine and break down just what is meant by “life” and “death” in this instance. Is life just pregnancy and birth, or is it not rather survival (infant and maternal) and lasting health? Is death just the loss of a fetus or the prevention of pregnancy, or does it not also include the appalling toll of maternal and infant deaths, the poor health that results from malnutrition and untimely pregnancies?

Even more disheartening is that such a simple-minded dichotomy between women’s rights and men’s entitlement is not confined to the local hierarchy. This is even reflected on the global scale, where a cabal of “the Holy See, Iran and Russia” is leading attempts to “wipe out language in a final statement [of the UN Commission on the Status of Women] that says religion, custom or tradition must not be used as an excuse to avoid a government’s obligation to eliminate violence.”

This rather odd fraternity’s true aim is obvious: “stopping women from gaining sexual rights … the lack of will to see women as valuable as men.”

Shocking, indeed, considering how in the Vatican cardinals from around the world are gathered in consistory to choose the next pope even as they must cope with the noise created by controversies such as clergy sexual abuse (the latest poster boy of which is a Scottish cardinal) and the treatment of women in the Church.

Our objective is clear: Challenge the dichotomies of “life” and “death” during the campaign and organize around the issue of men’s, women’s and children’s rights. This includes our sexual rights—our right to live as healthily, happily, and honestly as possible.

* * *

IN Wednesday’s column on the assessment of the “4Ps” program of the administration, I referred to Social Weather Stations, which conducted the survey among more than 3,000 beneficiary households, as a “polling firm.” Clarified SWS head Dr. Mahar Mangahas: “We are not a firm but a nonstock, nonprofit institute.”

SWS does charge fees to conduct surveys for various clients, even as it carries out regular and independent surveys on such concerns as hunger, poverty, employment and public trust of government. Remaining financially viable, after all, is one way that SWS maintains its independence, assuring the veracity and reliability of its findings.


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Tags: reproductive health , Sexual Health , women



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