Lockdown and sex
Back in 1977, on July 13-14 specifically, New York City and its environs were plunged into a massive statewide blackout. The fault was pinpointed to an electrical grid that had malfunctioned somewhere in New York state. This was something that no one thought could possibly occur in a major part of the richest country in the world.
Some nine months later, New York maternity hospitals reported a spike in childbirths. Figuring out the obvious wasn’t difficult: People engaged in more sex during the blackout than they otherwise would have done if the lights were on.
This leads to speculation on whether, because of the nationwide lockdown in the Philippines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lot of sexual activity going on during the over three months when everyone had to be cooped up in their homes. It’s not hard to imagine how many impoverished women have been dreading the prospect of having yet another mouth to feed in conditions where many are already going hungry since no one can go out to work and buy food.
Will there be many births in the early part of 2021 resulting from the lockdown? Our population now stands at almost 110 million, so once the lockdown is unlocked, how many more citizens will be added to that number?
Sadly, too many Filipino women do not have access to family planning clinics, especially in remote barrios where health care is sporadic or nonexistent. In a conservative country like the Philippines, where women’s groups have struggled to convince the patriarchy that women’s rights are human rights, progress on birth control has been erratic. The Department of Health has a program promoting family planning which falls under local government units, but presidents and mayors have traditionally tended to decide on how those are run.
When the deeply religious Cory Aquino and her followers attributed the people power expulsion of Marcos to a “miracle,” predictably she discontinued birth control assistance which had been provided by the United States so as not to upset the Catholic Church. The “natural” method of birth control was advocated instead which, needless to say, rarely works.
Trying to control population in this country is mainly a cultural problem. Males in general refuse to use condoms even if they’re readily available, with few considering vasectomies, while a small number of well-informed women opt for ligation.
In 1987, a provision was promulgated in the Constitution pronouncing the government’s obligation to protect the life of the unborn. This was to be expected since abortions have traditionally been highly stigmatized in this country, thanks to the heavy hand of the Catholic Church. Records vary on the numbers of illegal abortions, including deaths resulting from unsafe practices.
Congress passed the reproductive health bill in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2017 when it was signed into law over much opposition from conservative and religious quarters. Meanwhile, women’s groups, among them Likhaan, have soldiered on to provide counseling and contraceptive devices to women in need.
It’s a given that the Philippines’ population crisis also stems from the lack of sex education among youngsters, resulting in large numbers of teenage pregnancies which add to the rise of the country’s poverty index. Teenagers with less education, less income, and less opportunities for socioeconomic growth are caught in the grinding cycle of poverty. Filipino women aged 15-19 have the highest rates of pregnancy in Southeast Asia.
Predictably during critical times like a pandemic, domestic violence multiplies. Such abuse occurs even in ordinary times. In recent years, the estimated numbers of violence against women worldwide ranked the Philippines at 59 in the list of countries that include Australia #4, Canada #12, United Kingdom #81 and United States #83.
Social welfare officials are mandated to monitor domestic abuse in their communities, but low budgets and personnel shortages invariably stymie such efforts. An NGO called Lihok Pilipina has a watch program called Bantay Banay to tackle such problems, but scarce resources and official neglect keep such groups from adequately helping women cope with physical and emotional abuse.
Nowadays when most folks are sequestered involuntarily, men cooped up at home are bound to vent their anger and frustration by maltreating their wives and children. They’d be inclined to violence because they are unable to go out to earn a living, carouse with their buddies, or gamble at cockpits (the ordinary Pinoy’s favorite pastime).
There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended everyone’s lives. How Filipinos will cope and recover from the calamity is a great imponderable.
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Isabel Escoda has been writing for the Inquirer since the late 1980s.
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