Reproductive health budget cut: A betrayal of women
In one of the far flung islands of Sulu live Bibing Antula, her husband and 5 children. For years, going to the town center in another island has been a perilous journey.
At the height of armed conflict, going to town, where markets, schools, pharmacies and government institutions are concentrated, must really be a matter of life and death.
For years too, Bibing and many other residents have been kept from participating in political processes and accessing social services, including those for sexual and reproductive well-being.
“Before we used to think that contraception causes terminal illnesses. We thought that it was haram,” she recalled. This, until she and other residents encountered a religious leader who clarified what family planning and birth control mean.
Since then, Bibing and the other women have benefitted from the discussions and services on these. Bibing herself had a contraceptive implant, a boon especially as her husband’s daily income of P65 from fishing could barely support a big and young family.
But with the impending zero budget for contraceptives, the other individuals who are just learning about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), may not benefit as much from the Responsible Parenthood law. (READ: Health chief: No allocation for contraceptives in 2016 DOH budget)
Instead it can expose them to unwanted and unsafe pregnancies which can have a long-term, if not fatal impact on both mother and child, especially in a context where the nearest hospitals are mountains or islands away.
Young women in urban poor areas are also at risk with the already limited public health services. Across the Philippines, one in 10 among young women aged 15 to 19 years old is already a mother as of 2014.
In 2011, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that there were 53 births out of every 1,000 women in this age bracket, the highest in the region.
In fact, we have seen an alarming 70% increase of teenage pregnancy in just one decade, which also covered the period when the Reproductive Health bill was repeatedly rejected by Congress.
By the time the RH bill was enacted in 2013, UNFPA raised the estimate of the number of women who are dying every day due to unsafe pregnancy from 11 deaths to 14 deaths per day.
Several concessions were already made with the current Responsible Parenthood Law and its implementation. These include the limited scope of sexual and reproductive health orientation in public schools and the temporary restraining order for implants, which would have been an effective birth control measure.
Crossing out the P1 billion budget for contraceptives is diminution, if not a withdrawal, of government’s commitment to SRHR.
The P1 billion budget is part of an already inadequate health budget. In 2015, the Department of Health received P102.178 billion or just 4.5% of the P2.265 trillion national budget.
The P1 billion allocation for contraceptives is small compared to the full range of sexual and reproductive health needs of 104 million Filipinos. Of this number, more than 60% are considered youth. Given the scale of the need, the budget cut is unreasonable.
But the needs are also intergenerational. About half of the rising number of the poor consist of women and girls who still encounter more forms of discrimination and require more resources to address the needs of their bodies.
More delays in government intervention on SRHR mean exponential risks that are far more complicated than population growth.
Aside from leaving risks, complications and deaths unmitigated, the delays have an acute impact on the quality of life of both mothers and children. The latter are likely to be exposed to the same vulnerable condition where they have to stop schooling, start working and engage in relationships with less capital and negotiating power. Clearly, the struggle for SRHR is historical.
It took 16 years for the RH bill before it was approved in 2012. That period saw a growing consensus, where surveys after surveys showed the Filipinos’ support for artificial birth control methods, where other segments of social movements embraced the flagship advocacy of the women’s movements, and where the support of international institutions for the legislative measure became more prominent.
Still, the Responsible Parenthood law has met barriers due to questions ranging from constitutionality to implants being seen as abortifacients to legal technicalities.
The manner of slashing this resource – which caught advocates even within the government by surprise – smacks of betrayal.
The Responsible Parenthood law is a step toward the right direction. As the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health Paul Hunt wrote in his 2006 report, “The right to health entitles women to reproductive health-care services, goods and facilities that are available in adequate numbers, accessible physically and economically, accessible without discrimination, and of good quality.”
The law offers us the opportunity and resources to harness its promising impact especially among the poor. It could have been consistent with the principle of sexual and reproductive justice which calls for duty-bearers – both state and non-state – to provide the enabling conditions for individuals to know and exercise their rights and reap the benefits from such exercise.
This principle envisions individuals and communities, who have been historically marginalized and rendered vulnerable, to have the means to take care of themselves and have the freedom to make informed choices. The budget cut simply robs Bibing and the rest of us this opportunity. – Rappler.com
Nina Somera is the gender advisor of Oxfam in the Philippines. Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations working in 94 countries, as part of a global movement for change, to build a future free from the injustice of poverty. At the heart of Oxfam's work is women's rights because it believes that empowering women is vital to ending poverty.