The idea of voluntary family planning and its relationship with poverty reduction may have come of age in the developed world but in the Philippines too often a lack of allocated resources and knowledge about contraception and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS prevails. At the intersection of population and development advocates of sexual and reproductive health and rights struggle against social and political institutions that usurp, rather than protect, Filipino women and girls.
The final report of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals initiative asserts that women who are able to read and write give birth to children who are more likely to survive beyond the age of five. Basic education is pivotal and empowering in the life experience of women but so, too, is basic knowledge of one’s body and the right to choose if, when, and how many children to have. These are the core tenets of family planning – that no woman should be denied the opportunity to time and or space her children so that she might be part of the planning in providing for a family.
Unmet need for Family planning across the Philippines remains significant. More than one-third of pregnancies are unplanned. They are either unwanted (16 percent) or mistimed (20 percent). Women want to have their children safely, they want them to thrive. Having more children than she is able to provide for is heartbreaking and takes a toll on women who are already struggling to feed, educate, and take care of the health care needs of their families. Having access to voluntary family planning has the potential to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. Wherever it is, poverty is destructive. It erodes families, communities, and nations. Women are central to global development and sustainability. It is their right to access modern family planning methods and it is the responsibility of governments to clear the way for women to avail themselves of the full scope of sexual and reproductive health care.
This year’s World Population Day theme is focused on “vulnerable populations in emergencies” striking the all too true chord that in times of conflict and humanitarian crises women and girls are the most vulnerable among us. They fall prey to abuse, rape, and trafficking. Their access to sexual and reproductive health care may be limited or eliminated altogether. According to an article from NBC News, in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan 200,000 women were pregnant across the country and 12,000 babies were expected to be born in December alone (the month following the typhoon) – many in places hardest hit by the storm and where health clinics or hospitals were obliterated. Getting equipment, supplies, and personnel into devastated areas took precious time and much resource.
Crises remind us of the vulnerability of life. But in times of calm we should not forget how fragile the lives of women and children are and, that given a choice, so many women would time and space their children in order to provide for them and to protect them. Universal access to voluntary family planning is essential to achieving stable societies and allows people to thrive in life rather than languish in poverty.