[email protected]: Pursuing SRHR

"There remain a lot to do."


The world is now populated by an estimated 7.7 billion people with around 5.54 billion living in Asia. Philippine population now stands at around 108 million and the country is now the 13th most populous in the world.

In 1994, the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) was held in Cairo, Egypt. That was 25 years ago. The Conference came out with an ICPD Program of Action (POA) signed by 179 countries including the Philippines.

Advocates of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) hailed the ICPD for the shift of frameworks from population control to one of health and rights. Concretely, this meant that governments should veer away from having demographic targets because the tendency was to implement coercive policies that violate human rights, mainly of women to meet population targets. Numbers became more important than rights and lives. Instead of these numbers, the ICPD POA put emphasis on creating an enabling environment towards the fulfillment of SRHR, women’s rights, and gender equality.

These mean that people should be able to have a responsible, satisfying, and safe sex life; and have the capability to reproduce, and the freedom to decide if, when, and how many children they will have within the context of equal gender relations.

Concretely, achieving ICPD targets necessitates putting in place and implementing laws, policies and programs that will: empower women to be able to decide on their own bodies; enable families to plan their families; make pregnancy and childbirth safe; educate young people about SRHR and provide them the services they need; eliminate violence against women (VAW) and gender-based violence (GBV); address the problems of sexually transmittable infections (STIs) including HIV and AIDS; eliminate all forms of discrimination and abuse against women; remove discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression (SOGIE); equalize marriage laws; and address problems caused by unsafe abortion. This is a tall order especially for a country such as the Philippines where the Roman Catholic Church and allies manage to still significantly influence governance.

Twenty-five years after the ICPD, the country has made some progress relevant to its international commitments but a lot of major work still needs to be done. In the 2019 World Population Day Commemoration last July 11 jointly organized by the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) and the United Nations Fund for Family Planning (UNFPA), the importance of pushing harder toward achieving ICPD goals was emphasized. The event was attended by several UN bodies headed by the Resident Coordinator in the Philippines Mr. Ola Almgren, some Ambassadors, government agencies, and civil society organizations (CSOs).

Usec. Juan Antonio Perez III of POPCOM and Socio-economic Planning Sec. Dr. Ernesto Pernia of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) both highlighted government achievements in pursuing the ICPD goals.

Perez highlighted some areas of SRHR like family planning, adolescent health, and gender-based violence. For instance, the average number of children per woman went down from 4.1 in 1993 to 2.7 in 2017; and modern contraceptive use rate went up from 25 percent to 40 percent for the same years. However, teenage pregnancy rates significantly went up from 6.5 percent then to 8.6 percent in 2017.

Policies are now in place especially with the passage of the Reproductive Health and Universal Health Care laws, Perez said. The new Philippine Population Management Program (PPMP) with a new set of objectives and targets was also developed and will run in the next three years. For this, Perez said that they will need 100,000 volunteers down to the barangay level and women workers will be focused on. PhP10.4 billion will be devoted for the program.

Pernia noted the differences in the country’s status in 1994 when the ICPD was held and now, 25 years hence. The country’s population then was around 68 million and now, we have close to 110 million Filipinos, and poised to double in 39 years because the contraceptive prevalence rate goes down slowly. He stressed that if the Philippines only continued our family planning program that started in the ‘70s, fewer women would die from pregnancy and childbirth complications, teenage pregnancy rates would be lower, unplanned pregnancies will be fewer, much less Filipinos would be poor as intergenerational poverty would be significantly arrested, and our environment would be less taxed and stressed.

A big achievement relative to ICPD is the presence of the RH law. The full and efficient implementation of the law should be given utmost importance if Filipinos are to benefit from its promise. Usec. Perez is correct in prioritizing community-based initiatives because the women who need RH services are there. Here, women’s and other community organizations can play an important role. Hopefully, this really happens.

Much of the focus during the World Population Day event was on family planning. While this is quite important it should be noted that the ICPD is about SRHR and this encompasses much more than the right to modern family planning.

It is true that we have good laws and policies. However as said by UNFPA Country Representative Iori Kato during his address at the WPD event, the country needs more to address other related pressing problems. For women’s rights and SRHR advocates, the need is for laws on: divorce, prevention of teen pregnancy, marriage equality, prevention of child marriage, and SOGIE equality.

It is also important to note that existing laws must be fully implemented and if needed, strengthened. These include the anti-Rape, anti-VAWC, anti-sexual harassment, etc. Finally, Malacañang should now release the Republic Act No. of the Safe Public Spaces Act which has lapsed into law last April.

Lastly, it is time to not shirk from discussing the most contentious issue of abortion. Unknown to many, yearly at least 610,000 Filipinas undergo induced abortions, mostly unsafe. Tens of thousands of these women are hospitalized due to abortion complications, and at least 1,000 die yearly. The least that government and advocates can do is to understand the problem. While abortion is illegal in the country, talking about it is not.

As earlier said, to fulfill Philippine obligations under the ICPD, there are major things that we need to do. The challenge of [email protected] is the pursuit of SRHR.

@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Elizabeth Angsioco , United Nations , International Conference on Population and Development , ICPD , Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
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