Investing in girls
It’s not easy being a girl—even in the Philippines that, in 2015, ranked seventh in the world’s gender equality index (GEI), the highest in the Asia-Pacific region. The high GEI ranking means that given a few exceptions, women in the country can expect the same opportunities and enjoy the same privileges that men have.
But, first, young girls have to overcome the mindset that still prevails in rural areas—that being meant to be wives and mothers, they don’t need to finish school or prepare for a trade or profession. Seen mainly as dependents instead of breadwinners, young girls in poor households also get last dibs to food and healthcare, and are often expected to care for younger siblings. They are thus deprived of crucial study time and leisure that contribute significantly to their mental and emotional health and self-esteem.
Without a proper education and with bleak prospects ahead, these young girls succumb to romantic relationships and early marriages that, most often, effectively close more doors on their future. According to Klaus Beck, country representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), adolescent girls, or those aged 10 to 19 years old, make up 10 percent of the Philippines’ population of over 100 million. And yet, teenage girls are among the marginalized sectors of society in terms of accessing social services that respond to their real needs, the UN official said.
It doesn’t help that among the 15- to 19-year-old Filipino girls, four in 10 are already or soon-to-be mothers. This means they have to drop out of school and are risking their future as they are less likely to realize their full potential, Beck said.
The UN official underscored the need to take action, citing a study spearheaded by the National Economic and Development Authority, with support from UNFPA, that showed the “high probability that the Philippines will miss the rare opportunity of additional economic growth.” This is due to the country’s relatively high fertility rate, or the average number of children by women, and the relatively high unemployment rate, particularly among the youth sector.
Such early and unplanned pregnancies block the future productivity of the country as well, as we lose a precious resource—what Vice President Leni Robredo described as “a major social and economic force in the next 45 years.” In her speech marking World Population Day on Monday, Robredo spoke of “the demographic dividend,” that she defined as “the one thing that is expected to propel our country into becoming the 17th biggest economy in the world by 2050.”
She explained: “As majority of our population enters the ages of 15 to 24 and they become “effective workers” more than “effective consumers,” the number of people who are employed and earn more income (will outnumber) those who are dependent on them.”
However, gainful employment is a welcome development that comes with certain conditions. As the Vice President counseled young girls, “You need to be educated well, get a good job, and marry at the right time.
Attention to good health is a priority as well, Robredo said, adding that the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law includes information on reproductive health in the school curriculum, not to mention sex education and safe sex, vital issues in a country where the rising number of unplanned pregnancies and HIV/AIDS cases is alarming.
Beck, too, cited the need to fully implement the RH Law. “With the right policies and investments in human capital, countries can empower young people to drive economic and social development and boost per-capita incomes,” he said.
Education, good health, the RH law are basic conditions meant to empower even young girls to make their own decisions, plan their future, and realize their dreams, Beck said, adding that this would ensure that the community and country would thrive and prosper as well.
Political participation also helps, Robredo said, citing the Sangunian Kabataan Law that, she said, “would give the youth a voice in policymaking in their respective localities and an avenue to air out concerns.” The Vice President batted for support for the K-to-12 program of the Department of Education as well, noting that it would arm graduates with sufficient skills and specialties to help them succeed in their chosen profession. “Young girls have a power all their own. There is much potential in each one of you!” Robredo stressed.
Indeed, she added, “You save a girl and you save a generation.”
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