This morning, I was reading a daily and I came across a UNICEF report warning the Philippine government that maternal deaths continue to rise with some 230 women dying here for every 100,000 live births, as compared with 110 in Thailand, 62 in Malaysia and 14 in Singapore.
The news story has it that UNICEF representative Vanessa Tobin is reportedly puzzled why despite the health services available, many women still choose to deliver without the presence of an experienced health worker.
I think the Ms. Tobin misses the point. Most Filipino mothers never have a choice. If she had looked outside Manila, she will understand.
Here in Mindanao, where most of poorest provinces are found, women do not have access to quality health services, especially to reproductive services including family planning. A family planning survey shows that particularly in Mindanao, only 24% of births are supervised.
Not only mothers are dying every day because the government does not prioritize the provision of health and reproductive services. Mothers are dying because the Catholic Church continues to bully the government and its Catholic members into taking a stand against passing the reproductive health bill. That is why the reproductive health bill is still languishing from inaction because no politician would dare touch it with a 10-foot pole. No, not when election is just around the corner.
Not only is the bullying taking place at the policy level. It is happening at the ground level as well.
While I was working in a women’s health program, several years ago, we came across a news about a Catholic priest in a small town near our city, who insisted that all Catholic women under his parish should have their IUD removed or else they will not received any holy communion. Mothers frightened by such threat reportedly agreed resulting in more babies born in that place sometime afterward.
A few months ago, our city mayor made news when he threatened to throw to the river all the pills and other contraceptives because he will only allow natural family planning method. It angered me to think of his presumptuous action to decide what family planning method should be made available to us women!
I wonder how ordinary women feel about their power to choose is being taken away from them by these men in the pulpit and men in power? My helper is a young widow who had her 4th child as a result of her relationship with a man who disappeared right after he got her pregnant.Now she is saddled with an additional child while trying to make both ends meet as a single parent. I wonder if she ever dream that is possible to enjoy a relationship with a man without having to worry about getting pregnant?
When will the women stand up and take what is primarily ours to decide? When will the state listen to our voice as women and for once respect our choice?
Meanwhile, Filipino mothers continue to die.