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January 16, 2013
Challenge to Philippine RH Law: Going beyond population control

The experience of India may be a case in point in warning all the poor women and men in the Philippines that such step is just a beginning in policy changes that may hamper gender equality and women empowerment. It requires people’s vigilance as to remind us of India’s case. India has been a population control/reproductive health project of the USA and Europe where these countries take history of policies along population control for the global consumption.

By PROF. MAE FE ANCHETA-TEMPLA
Davao Today

While in South Africa’s University of Cape Town for six months, I had the chance to skim on some journals relevant to the study of world population and health. In the global gathering of health rights activists at the Third People’s Health Assembly held at the University of Western Cape last July, I also heard views on social inequities in the Third World countries which were represented in the event. Foremost in the plenary presentations and workshops were the social determinants of health which were echoed in strongest terms. Equally highlighted were the commonalities and challenges among poverty-stricken nations where colonialism, neo-colonialism and neoliberalism are predominant.

This global context brings to light the divide created by the reproductive health policy recently approved by Philippine legislative bodies. It was a divide on population and development where concepts of population control crisscross framework on nature-life sacrosanctity, women empowerment, gender equity and national sovereignty.

The social policy on comprehensive women and girl children’s health and men’s responsibility over people’s health is grounded on global policy drivers which the Philippine policy itself states, “adopts generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land” (Article 2, Section2, 1987 Philippine Constitution.

Indeed with the passage of the Reproductive Health law, An Act providing for a Comprehensive Policy on Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Developmentthe Philippines abides by the State obligations to international human rights commitments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The RH law is a public policy that recognizes the unequal power relations between couples on decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health. It includes men’s roles and responsibilities and addresses the concerns of adolescents in their developmental stage tasks.

I recall the time when I gathered some Mindanao peasant women in a participatory research in 1986 through focus group discussions on land and health. Back then, they freely talked about their own initiatives — satisfying their own bodies and their concerns over not being able to say “no” when their partners suggest or demand sex. They sadly told their stories of missed monthly menstrual periods and other women’s struggle on miscarriages and incomplete abortions. Their revelations signaled a lack and or inadequate information on various ways of fertility management at the grassroots communities especially in the remote countryside. The burden always lies on the women, not only on reproductive health but on whether there would be food on the table. They also talked about land use-and crop conversions which affected their own villages.

Mainstreaming women human rights with particular stress on their health has been a long journey. Thus, the national law is only reaffirming women’s rights to health, specifically, complementing the provisions of recently enacted Republic Act 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women (MCW, a comprehensive national women human rights law).

I see the enlightened Filipino women rejoice over the policy that instructs the state to provide better access to RH information and services, in public and private spheres, at the national and local levels of governance amidst highly skewed arguments of the Philippine Catholic hierarchy.

While we, women, celebrate this act of the state, it should not be taken to automatically mean an act that may lead the Filipino people to more gains.

The experience of India may be a case in point in warning all the poor women and men in the Philippines that such step is just a beginning in policy changes that may hamper gender equality and women empowerment. It requires people’s vigilance as to remind us of India’s case. India has been a population control/reproductive health project of the USA and Europe where these countries take history of policies along population control for the global consumption.

In a study on India’s fit to the 20th century development regime: democracy plus bureaucracy plus market, India is described as a country open to international agencies and philanthropic organizations’ interventions and a country that has, over the past few decades, been increasingly open to its own marketization (Hodges, 2010).

India’s social policy is closer to the Philippines. It is therefore significant for the RH rights activists to advance a campaign for genuine response to the overall health issues and problems of the Filipino people than be in a language trap brought about by neoliberal ideology being peddled by the international organizations. There is a blend of thoughts here from the concerned segment of the Philippine population who are strongly wary about the control over the RH supplies and gadgets by the foreign monopoly capitalists. This is even reflected in the words of scholar, Hartmann (Hodges, 2010), “post-Cairo language does not constitute reproductive choice and unconvinced on emancipatory potential of this change in language.”

But scholar Connelly further argued that the ‘reproductive health’ agenda after the 1994 ‘Cairo Consensus,’ is a feminist triumph of organizing against the Malthusian-Catholic anti-feminist nexus. It is clear that drivers towards the passage of the RH law are many and the women’s movement in the Philippines together with its allies within the people’s movement for social transformation are conscious of the dynamics behind the political discourse as it does not end in the promulgation but a continuing struggle of women ourselves in advancing the right to have control over our own bodies and the nation’s resources.

Just like in India, a critique of the anti-people policies of most population control efforts and marketization is growing in our country.

Optimism to the women’s movement’s capacity to read the concrete needs and assert the health rights of Filipino women (majority of whom are in the rural areas with minimal if not nil health services) would help the contours of the new policy framework.

Let us not be ensnared by the language shift even if we, “womanists” and “feminists,” pursue reproductive health in its comprehensive application in the context of Philippine social realities, the majority policy framers who are corporate allies may swing the pendulum that go near India’s line — where issues of health have not received the attention they should have and the health infrastructure has been suited for family planning (Rao in Hodges, 2010). The outcome of this, according to Rao, is that the failures of the health system are used as evidence to privatize further health care provision.

Militancy is a continuing spirit in whatever undertakings within the state. Let us rely and trust the masses of women and men in realizing the true meaning of reproductive choice, broad-based public health agenda and national sovereignty.

Prof. Mae Fe Ancheta-Templa is a women and children rights activist, social worker, peace advocate and chair of the Social Work Program of the Assumption College of Davao, Southern Philippines. Her fields of interest in research include gender, women, children, Moro and indigenous peoples, psychosocial help, community organization, indigenous social work and social administration. She was a research fellow at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
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