Women's health directly affects the health and welfare of families, communities, and even the economy. Thus, in our every stride to pursue national development, promoting women and girls’ health must also be prioritized.
On the occasion of the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), urges everyone to turn the spotlight on women’s health. The Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710) mandates the provision of comprehensive, culture-sensitive, and gender-responsive health services and programs covering all stages of a woman’s life cycle.
The 2014-2019 Philippine Progress Report on the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) noted the expanded access of women to health services through enhanced health financing schemes and benefit packages. Health and social protection policies such as the Social Insurance Coverage and Benefits for Women About to Give Birth, the No Balance Billing Policy, the 1st the Anti-Hospital Deposit Law (RA 10932), the "First 1,000 Days" Law (RA 11148), the 105-Day Expanded Maternity Leave Law (RA 11210), and the Universal Health Care Law (RA 11223) help support flagship health programs on maternal and child, sexual, reproductive, and mental health to ensure positive health outcomes for women.
While the expanded access of women to health services is a notable accomplishment, let us not lose sight of other women’s health issues that need to be addressed as women face health risks all throughout their life.
The 2017 Progress Report on the implementation of the RPRH Law (RA 10354) estimated maternal mortality ratio at 114 per 100,000 live births indicating that we are still far from attaining our target to reduce maternal mortality to 90 and 70 per 100,000 live births under the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 and the Sustainable Development Goals respectively. The report also noted that mothers die mostly of conditions that are highly preventable with quality obstetric care.
Results of the 2017 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) show that almost 10% of teenagers aged 15 to 19 years old have begun childbearing. The incidence of childbearing for this age group increases with age, with rural teens starting childbearing slightly earlier than those in urban areas.
The 2015 Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) Survey shows that 8.7% of women and 5% of men suffer from obesity. The Philippine Nutrition Facts and Figures 2015, meanwhile, shows that among children zero to 59 months, more males (34.3%) were stunted than females (32.5%). The same study also shows that stunting was prevalent among adolescents 16 to 19 years old (33.5%), with more males affected (33.3%) than females (30.4%).
Women continue to suffer from various forms of violence against women (VAW). The 2017 NDHS shows that 26% of women experience physical, sexual, or emotional violence from their intimate partners but only one third seek help from service providers. According to a report submitted by the Philippine National Police (PNP)- Women and Children Protection Center, there were 14,116 recorded cases on Republic Act 9262 (Anti-VAWC Law) in 2018, while the number of rape cases declined from 2,599 recorded in 2016 to last year's 2,319 cases.
These numbers tell us that despite laws and programs on women and health, women continue to face risks and vulnerabilities in the Philippine society. Inadequate information about available programs and services, and the lack of empathy, victim blaming, and sexism hinder to women’s enjoyment of their right to health.
Having policies and programs in place is not enough. Financing for women’s health will not result in the achievement of desired outcomes if access to information and a society that encourages health-seeking behavior is sidelined.
Thus, the PCW calls on the health sector agencies, including local government units, public hospitals and rural health units to utilize their GAD budget to fully implement the Women’s Health Section of the Magna Carta of Women, including the establishment of birthing centers especially in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDA), setting-up of Basic Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care (BEmONC) and comprehensive obstetric care (CEmOC), and early detection of gender-based violence (GBV). We likewise call for more intensified public information campaigns on the availability of contraceptives and other health and nutrition services.
We also call for a more compassionate healthcare system as we encourage all Juanas to live a healthy lifestyle. Exercise responsible choice over your bodies. Never be afraid to demand and compel the government to uphold your rights, to determine whether to have or not to have children, or to determine the number and spacing of their children, particularly your right to health. Women’s health reflects the state of health of the future generation.