The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), in partnership with the House Committees on Women and Gender Equality, and Population and Family Relations, with support from UNFPA Philippines, organized on June 3 a roundtable discussion on the importance of recognizing and protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the envisioned Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.
Dr. Sherjan Kalim of the Bangsamoro Development Authority lamented the fact that the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao rates poorly in reproductive health indicators. He cited the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) that showed Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has among the highest unmet need for family planning and the lowest contraceptive prevalence rate in the Philippines. The NDHS also reported that women in the region have little access to skilled birth attendance and antenatal and postnatal care.
Dr. Kalim noted, however, that the maternal mortality ratio in ARMM has gone down to 66 per 100,000 in 2013 from 245 in 2008. But he said that this decline might have been because pregnant women usually go to hospitals in Cotabato City, which is not part of ARMM, to give birth.
The decades-long conflict in the region has exacerbated these problems, according to Klaus Beck, UNFPA Philippines country representative.
“[War] disempowers [women] physically, psychologically, economically, socially,” he said. He added that armed conflict exposes women to sexual violence and abuse.
Right to access information and services
Beck emphasized the need to improve access to SRHR information and services. “Improved access to SRHR information and services means more women survive childbirth and less at risk of complications of childbirth,” he said.
The right to access to information and services on sexual and reproductive health is based on international conventions that recognize the right of women and couples to “safe and satisfying sex” and the freedom to decide freely and responsibly on matters of their reproductive health, particularly the number and spacing of their children, according to Dr. Junice Melgar, executive director of Likhaan Center for Women’s Health.
SRHR and the proposed BBL
Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman also underscored the importance of promoting and protecting the rights of women in the Bangsamoro.
She and Bulacan Rep. Linabelle Ruth Villarica, chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equality, shared about their efforts to strengthen provisions on women’s rights and welfare in the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (now called the Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in the House of Representatives).
Meanwhile, Rom Dongeto, PLCPD executive director, said in a statement that “it will greatly benefit Bangsamoro people if the bill will include the recognition of the basic human right to reproductive health…(to) give us assurance that the Bangsamoro regional government will stay committed to respect, protect and fulfill the right to reproductive health.”
Beck echoed this sentiment, stressing that safeguarding women’s rights will help spur development in the region.
“We hope to see a Bangsamoro where no woman dies giving birth and where every young person’s potential is fulfilled,” he said.