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Vote for mothers

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If I were a woman of (still) childbearing age, and if I had the means or the choice (or inclination), I would give birth in Finland. Or in any of the other Nordic countries, which all ranked at the top of the list of “mother-friendly” locales as compiled by the international NGO Save the Children.

The ranking, included in the London-based group’s annual “State of the World’s Mothers” report, compared 176 countries in terms of maternal health, child mortality, education and levels of women’s income and political status.

Reading the list, I realized that if I don’t have the means to travel to Finland to give birth, I could do so in Singapore, the “best place for mothers in Asia,” which ranked No. 15, or in Malaysia (70), Thailand (80), and Vietnam (86).

What about good ol’ ’Pinas? It ranked No. 106, tied with Indonesia, and ahead of Timor Leste (110), Laos (121), and Cambodia (130).

Of course, we are quite a ways from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which can be said to be “the worst place in the world to be a mother,” with countries in sub-Saharan Africa taking up “each of the bottom 10 places for the first time in the 14 years that the report has been produced.”

But my country trawling the bottom tier of a list that indicates the status of mothers—past, present and future—around the world gives me no comfort. Investment-grade or not, the Philippines is not a friendly place for mothers. Indeed, judging by how far and how fast we have fallen in the list, it has only become less friendlier through the years. We ranked No. 95 in a listing of 165 countries last year, and I can guess at the reason we have fallen 11 places since the 2012 report was released.

* * *

SINCE maternal health was a major factor in determining a country’s status, it’s fairly accurate to say that the delayed passage and implementation of the Reproductive Health Law contributed to our low ranking.

Indeed, the Philippines is one of only a few countries in the world where maternal mortality—the deaths of women due to pregnancy and childbirth—has been getting worse, not better. From an estimated 11 mothers dying a day, the count has now risen to an estimated 13-15 a day. How many hundreds of mothers would have died between now and June, when the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the petitions seeking to overturn the RH Law? And how many thousands—if not millions—of mothers and newborns have died in the more than 20 years that women’s and RH groups, along with legislators, have battled to pass the RH Law?

Of course, there are pregnancy and birthing stories across the broad spectrum of society. A Filipino mother giving birth at St. Luke’s or Makati Med faces the same level of risk perhaps as in hospitals in Singapore, the United States, or maybe even Finland. While a mother living in a remote barrio who must travel many kilometers to deliver at a birthing center is in as much danger as a mother in sub-Saharan Africa. Or as the “State of the World’s Mothers” report observes: “Disparities within countries like Bolivia, Cambodia, India, Morocco, Mozambique and the Philippines are especially dramatic.”

* * *

WHY am I writing about mothers on the last working day before the elections on Monday? Because, on May 13, we must vote for mothers. We need to vote into office, at the national and local levels, officials who will devote thought, time, money and effort to make the world a safer place for mothers and children.

We need to support candidates who we know, in the event the RH Law is upheld, will protect its provisions, especially the budgetary allocations, and ensure that it is implemented to the full extent and intent it was conceived and enacted.

We need to vote into office candidates who will protect mothers—and babies—from unnecessary, premature and wasteful death. We need to go beyond, literally, “motherhood” statements, and look into a candidate’s voting record (for those aspiring for a Senate or House seat, or local council) on RH and women-friendly legislation; the candidate’s public statements and work for women; and even his or her personal life, whether he or she “lives” the principles of gender fairness, and behaves in a manner that is respectful and empowering of people of all genders.

* * *

My personal standard of judging candidates depends, first of all, on gender. Even if a man and a woman share the same track record and common advocacy, I would give a preferential option for the woman.

But not every woman candidate will get my vote. True, a woman, by virtue of her unique life experience, especially of gender disparities, will bring to politics a different point of view. But some women choose to be “gender-blind” in their dealings and transactions. Other women are even hostile to prowomen causes, or dismiss them outright as “flower issues.”  And as the vote on the RH Law proves, women may often be the biggest enemies of other women.

Moving beyond gender, I look into qualifications and track record, in government, in NGO work, or work and advocacy experience. I also try to look more deeply into a candidate’s public statements and even behavior, or at least behavior that he or she opens to public scrutiny.

Then there is the nebulous factor called “personality.” Like it or not, we vote for people we get along with, or think we would get along with if we were to meet face to face.

Readers may have the order of priorities the other way around, or dismiss gender or gender-friendliness outright. But all I ask is that we at least think carefully of why we want to vote a candidate into office. Because we all will live with the consequences of how we do—or do not—study the candidates we favor.


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