THIS IS a shameless plug, but only because it’s the only way I can thank as many people as I can—here and abroad—for their support and encouragement.
Earlier, Women Deliver selected me, the only journalist from the Philippines and one of four from Asia, as one of 15 journalists from around the world “advocating for sexual and reproductive health and rights.” Women Deliver carries out the selection each year as its way of celebrating International Women’s Day, “honoring people, organizations and innovations that are delivering for girls and women.” The 15 of us were selected by an international review board from a “competitive pool” of more than 100 journalists.
But the good news doesn’t end there. Women Deliver then asked the public—mainly through social media and traditional media outlets—to vote “for the journalist who inspired you the most.”
Originally, only the top three of the 15 honorees were to receive a scholarship to the next Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, Denmark early next year, but organizers said the numbers came so close together they decided to expand the list to five. And I’m happy to say that I am one of the five selected journalists!
So here’s a most sincere and heartfelt thank you to everyone who, first of all, voted for me and then sent in their congratulations, both when I made it to the list of 15 honorees and then the “Top Five.” My “beauty contest” or “Oscar awards” standard reply was that it was enough of an honor to be named, and I meant that with no reservations. But of course, getting the scholarship and the free trip to Copenhagen is more than just the leche flan on the halo-halo. It’s the cooked saba, red beans, gelatin and ube jam as well!
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THE other four journos coming to Denmark next year are: Comfort Mussa from Cameroon; Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam from Pakistan; Florencia Goldsman from Argentina; and Tareq Salahuddin from Bangladesh.
Of the four, I know Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam best, as she and I were in the same batch of participants in “Women’s Edition” (2010-2012), a project of the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) that gathers women journalists from the developing world for seminars and study tours around the world. Women’s Edition brought Farah and me to Washington, DC, Ethiopia, Senegal and Indonesia, where we met with village women, health professionals, policymakers and religious leaders, talking about reproductive health concerns and women’s rights. A special shout-out to PRB from me—and Farah, too, I’m sure—for opening the gate by nominating us to the Women Deliver search. What I best remember about Farah, though, is that in one of our get-togethers, her souvenirs for the rest of the group were kohl eyeliners, a “trademark of Pakistani women.” We all had a lot of fun trying out the makeup on ourselves and on each other.
In Pakistan, Farah is known for her stories that confront and challenge “cultural and religious norms that threaten girls’ and women’s health and rights.” No matter how controversial, Farah is not afraid to touch on such topics as female genital mutilation, fistula, sexual violence and religious extremism. She has even helped bring perpetrators of sexual assault behind bars. Farah admits: “I tilt towards the female side of the story, not just because I am a woman, but because I understand Pakistani women’s indigenous sensibilities as I am one. Hence, my stories are not just sob stories. I am a positive person. So my stories are stories of triumphant women.”
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CERTAINLY a “triumphant woman” is Comfort Mussa, a radio host, blogger and multi-award winning journalist in Cameroon, who hosts a weekly broadcast where she “leads young people in open and vibrant conversations about sexual and reproductive health.” As a reporter for Global Press Journal, Comfort writes about such sensitive topics as the risk of sexual harassment for mentally disabled women and the ripple effect of antichild labor laws on middle-class women. She also founded SisterSpeak237, a blog where girls and women can openly discuss taboo topics, such as sexual harassment on public transportation.
A “cyberfeminist” is how Florencia Goldsman from Argentina describes herself. As the Women Deliver website puts it: “Florencia is passionate about using digital technology and photography to raise awareness about issues affecting women’s rights across Latin America and the Caribbean, from the rural jungles of Guatemala to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.”
Tareq Salahuddin of Bangladesh is one of two men on Women Deliver’s list of 15 media RH champions. A physician-turned-journalist, Tareq is health editor of The Daily Star, the leading English-language newspaper in his country, and often covers maternal and reproductive health global policies and programs. A real women’s advocate, Tareq says: “If I could only tell one more story, I would convince policymakers to invest in simple, cost-effective interventions that help save women’s lives, like access to oxytocin to prevent postpartum hemorrhage and death. We need to remind our governments, time and time again, that the health and safety of our women is a top priority.”
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WHEN I began writing about reproductive health, the term hadn’t even been in popular use, since it entered the public lexicon only during and after the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, in 1994.
One would think, given the passage of the Reproductive Health Law and the health department gearing up for its full national implementation, there would no longer be a need to advocate for RH, much less to cover it.
But it seems that new issues, new controversies are still cropping up, with many more bound to crop up. The “RH beat” remains as relevant as ever.