Philippines

Women’s groups call for unhampered delivery of reproductive health services

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Various women’s groups are calling for the continued and unhampered delivery of reproductive health (RH) services, saying the provision of RH services is life-saving and should be made integral and essential to the government’s COVID-19 response.

In a statement, the groups said that ensuring the unhampered delivery of RH services contributes to preventing unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, preventable maternal and infant deaths, and the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

They added that the call will also support the already stretched healthcare system and will enable health workers and frontliners to focus their efforts in caring for patients with COVID-19.

“Now is not the time to stop the delivery of reproductive health services and information. We need this more than ever to protect and promote the rights of women and girls especially those in the most vulnerable sector,” Oxfam Pilipinas’ Sexual Health and Empowerment (SHE) Project Officer Rina Fulo said.

The groups are particularly calling for the inclusion of reproductive health commodities, such as menstrual health items and contraceptives, in relief packages and dignity kits distributed during and immediately after the enhanced community quarantine.

They are also calling for the availability of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services such as the continuity of post and pre-natal care, and information to reduce unsafe and unhealthy sexual practices.

Even before COVID-19, the state of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of women and girls was already a grave public health challenge in the Philippines.

Approximately 196,000 girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 19 years old get pregnant each year, which led the Commission on Population and Development to declare a “national social emergency” in 2019.

Data from the 2017 National Democratic Health Survey showed that one in five girls is a mother by age 19, and two thirds of women are not using any form of birth control. It added that 24 percent of women with little or no education have unmet need for family planning, leading to a lot of unplanned and even forced pregnancies

"The pandemic does not have to put our women population at risk twice over with the virus and unplanned pregnancies, destroying their aspirations for their families' health and well-being. Family planning reminders, counselling, needed supplies and quality services cannot and must not be left behind in the time of COVID-19,” FriendlyCare Foundation Chief Executive Officer Teresita Panganiban said.

The groups also expressed concern over the possible rise in sexual and physical violence, and child abuse cases as mandatory home isolation reinforces the conditions that force sexual abuse perpetrators and survivors to stay in a confined space.

“The impacts of asymmetrical gender relations are alarmingly magnified during periods of humanitarian crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The urgency of immediately responding to women’s gender-specific vulnerabilities is not only a matter of upholding dignity and rights, or reducing risk, loss, harm, and suffering - it is about survival,” University of the Philippines’ Center for Women and Gender Studies Director Nathalie Lourdes Verceles said.

Thus, the groups cited the need to strengthen referral pathyways, including hotlines, social protection, and community care services, to enable the timely reporting of gender-based violence and the availability of safe houses. “Today, more than ever, in spite of the physical distance, we work in solidarity and continue our collective effort to oppose systemic violations to sexual and reproductive health and rights," Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights Executive Director Marevic Parcon said.

The groups are also calling for psychosocial support to all affected individuals, including women who represent 70 percent of the health and social workforce combatting COVID-19.

The women’s groups are currently working on a five-year project called Sexual Health and Empowerment (SHE) funded by Global Affairs Canada, which aims to improve the access to sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services of 85,000 people across 13 provinces in the country.

The project is being implemented by Oxfam Pilipinas with eleven partners, namely: Al-Mujadillah Development Foundation, United Youth of the Philippines Women, Mayon Integrated Development Alternatives and Services, Family Planning Organization of the Philippines, Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan, Sibog Katawhan Alang sa Paglambo, University of the Philippines Women and Gender Studies, Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, Davao Medical School Foundation-Institute of Primary Health Care, FriendlyCare Foundation, and Jhpiego.

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For further inquiry, please contact:
April Bulanadi |Senior Officer for Media and Digital Influencing | Oxfam Pilipinas
Mobile: 09062822562 | Email: abulanadi@oxfam.org.uk