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At Large

Let her be a girl!

“Let her be a girl!” was the chorus of a song marking the close of the Fourth International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) held in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia.

Led by youth delegates who enlivened (and enlightened) the proceedings of the three-day gathering, the song-and-rap number spoke of the need to let young people fully explore their potentials, dream their dreams, and enjoy their youth before being thrust into the world of adult concerns—motherhood (and fatherhood), marriage, and family responsibility.


But to give young people the time and space to enjoy this respite before they walk through the threshold of adulthood, they need the support of other adults: governments and government officials, health caregivers, educators, faith leaders, advocates, and most of all, their parents.

They need policies, laws, funds and respectful service and counseling from adults who not only are willing to help but are also ready to listen to them and respect their own desires to set the directions their lives would take. A young woman speaking in a plenary said it best: “Young people are not just the leaders of tomorrow, they are leaders today.”


In a plenary focused on youth issues, Nomtika Mjwana, a young leader from South Africa, enjoined adults to “look at strategies that can inform and educate young girls and empower them not to see themselves as objects waiting for men, but as women with pride and the agency to decide what they need to do with their own bodies.”

But first, let her—let all of them—be a girl today, so she can be fully a woman at the right time!

* * *

The world has not seen as many young people as we are seeing today, with the population of young people at an historic high, with 1.8 billion entering their reproductive years. For girls, especially, the risks are high and fraught with danger, with many facing pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications, a leading cause of death among young women aged 15-19 in low- and middle-income countries, where the Philippines belongs.

“Our youth leaders have told us loud and clear: Know our interests and work with us, co-design and co-create with us to drive successful programs; invest in our empowerment education, health and employment; recognize that we are our nations’ precious human resources, and investments in us will produce wealth and wellbeing for all nations; leverage our collective power for the collective transformation we can bring to the 2030 Agenda,” said Dr. Benoit Kalasa, director of the United Nations Population Fund’s Technical Division.

Conference presentations noted that many youth pregnancies and pregnancy-related deaths are preventable through access to family planning information and contraceptives, yet contraceptive use among girls lags behind that of older women. In parts of Asia and Africa, over half of the youth who want to avoid pregnancy don’t have access to contraception.

(And thanks to a Supreme Court intervention, before young Filipinos can gain access to family planning commodities or services, they need to present written consent from their parents, or else the healthcare delivery people risk sanctions. But if young people can’t even bring themselves to talk about sex with their parents [and vice-versa], how can you expect them to ask their parents for a note requesting family planning counseling and services from the health center staff?)


* * *

A question on most everyone else’s mind at the ICFP was: “What’s happening in the Philippines?” Of course, news of the “castration” of the allocation for contraceptives from the Department of Health budget had preceded the Filipino delegates to the ICFP. What many couldn’t understand was how, given the over-a-decade-long struggle to pass the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, Filipino legislators would let all that fire and passion, debate and deliberation come to nothing by cutting out the money needed to implement the program.

Still, champions need to be recognized for their persistence and perseverance, despite all the odds and all the obstacles thrown their way.

In the last-day plenary, the Excellence in Leadership for Family Planning (EXCELL) Awards were announced, recognizing “contributions to increase access to and use of voluntary family planning information and services.”

In the individual/team category, honored were Health Secretary Janette Loreto-Garin and former lawmaker Edcel Lagman (representing the first district of Albay). The two were honored for their years of hard work in the House of Representatives, leading the charge for the passage of the RPRH bill, persisting despite the waxing and waning of support for the measure from their colleagues and the executive branch. Lagman, who is once more seeking the congressional seat for his home district, slowly made his way up the stage, needing no assistance and giving the lie to black propagandists’ assertion that he is now wheelchair-bound. Watching the swing in his step, I fully expected him to even join in the group dancing that concluded the rites!

Awarded for the impressive strides their governments have made in promoting the reproductive health situations in their country were Kenya and Ethiopia, both represented by their Ministers of Health, with the Ethiopian official remarking that even in matters like family population, “the sports rivalry between our countries lives on.”

Given the organization/facility award was Yayasan Cipta Cara Padu, an Indonesian family planning NGO now headed by a former head of Indonesia’s National Population and Family Planning Board.

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TAGS: Adulthood, Edcel Lagman, Janette Garin, reproductive health
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