#DapatALL: Fulfilling the rights of women and girls requires meaningful and inclusive action

March 8, 2024

Every 8th of March, people across the globe join hands to commemorate International Women’s Day—a day dedicated to honoring the many accomplishments and contributions of women in every sphere of life.

Yet, amidst the celebration, it’s crucial to acknowledge the enduring challenges that women encounter daily, from systemic discrimination to gender-based violence. International Women’s Day is not only a celebration of progress but also a rallying cry for continued action toward gender equality and inclusion for women from all walks of life, at every stage of their lives.

In recent years, the Philippines has received praise for its strides in incorporating women’s rights and empowerment within its legal framework. In fact, in the 2023 Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum, the country ranks 4th regionally and 16th globally in closing the gender gap, achieving an impressive 79.1% score in gender parity.

Various pro-women legislations enacted over the years—such as the Magna Carta of Women, the Reproductive Health Law, the 105 Expanded Maternity Leave Law, the Safe Spaces Act, the Act Raising the Age to Determine Statutory Rape, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Law, to name a few—have contributed to this progress.

However, despite these achievements, Filipino women still grapple with a myriad of challenges from childhood to adulthood. These include adolescent pregnancies, unpaid care and domestic work, maternal mortality, and barriers to ending irreparably broken marriages, among others.

Including girls

Girls, in particular, face distinct hurdles, as highlighted in an ongoing longitudinal study by the University of San Carlos and UNFPA Philippines, which has been following Filipino children since 2016 when these children were 10 years old, charting their journey from adolescence to young adulthood. While girls excel in education, nutrition, and health indicators early in life, they eventually encounter setbacks as they navigate unique issues like early childbearing, early union or cohabitation, and unequal gender norms. These norms are particularly evident within households where girls often shoulder more household responsibilities as they grow up compared to their male siblings.

Recent data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) underscores the urgency of addressing adolescent pregnancies, with a significant surge observed in 2022. Records showed a 35 percent surge in live births among adolescent mothers aged 14 and below. This translates to 3,135 children giving birth to children of their own in just one year.

Early childbearing makes a girl more vulnerable to sexual abuse, violence, and discrimination. It poses significant health risks, as a child’s body is not yet prepared to carry a baby. It also restricts her personal development and earning potential.

The surge in adolescent pregnancy further highlights the need for implementing comprehensive sexuality education and providing everyone access to reproductive health services.

The Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy Bill or Senate Bill No. 1979 and its counterpart House Bill No. 8910 aim to address the alarming rate of adolescent pregnancies in the country. Once enacted, the measure will set preventive measures designed to safeguard adolescents while acknowledging their evolving capacity to make informed decisions and choices regarding their health and sexuality.

Including mothers and pregnant women

As girls transition to adulthood, sexual and reproductive health and rights remain crucial. Even in adulthood, a pregnant woman can still be at risk, especially with inadequate or poor healthcare.

In 2021, PSA recorded 2,478 maternal deaths or 189.2 deaths per 100,000 live births. This translates to roughly seven deaths per day due to complications of pregnancy or childbirth, marking the third deadliest year for childbirth in the country in 69 years. The last time the Philippines experienced a similar rate of seven maternal deaths per day was in 1952. This number is also far behind the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target of 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030.

Coincidentally, the annual national budget for reproductive health has continuously decreased over the years, including a 17% decrease in the same year the record high maternal deaths were documented.

The pressing issue of rising maternal deaths in the country underscores the need to increase financing for maternal health. Filipino mothers deserve access to high-quality care, and adequate funding is essential to ensure their well-being. They deserve nothing less.

Including married women seeking freedom, second chance at love

The plight of married women seeking freedom from broken marriages calls for legislative action. Aside from the small Vatican City-state comprised chiefly of priests and nuns, the Philippines remains the only country in the world that prohibits divorce for non-Muslim women. All other predominantly Catholic nations have embraced varying degrees of marital dissolution.

While legal separation and annulment options are available, they are often prohibitively expensive, complex, and involve lengthy processes, making them inaccessible to most Filipinos.

House Bill No. 9349 and Senate Bill No. 2443, also known as the Divorce Bill, seeks to close this long-standing gap, offering Filipinos the chance to move on from irreparable marriages and get another chance at love and happiness.

#DapatALL women’s and girls’ rights are fulfilled

This International Women’s Day, the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) reaffirms its commitment to uplifting lives and expanding choices for all.

Let us not forget girls’ unique challenges and ensure they can access the right resources and opportunities to thrive and reach their full potential. We enjoin the Congress, specifically the Senate, to swiftly pass the Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy Bill, so there will be no more children having children.

We also urge national government agencies and local government units to prioritize the needs of Filipino mothers and ensure their access to quality maternal healthcare. Investing in maternal health can save lives and create a brighter future for Filipino families.

Lastly, we call on both houses of Congress to pass the long-awaited Divorce Bill, which will allow Filipino spouses, as well as their children, to start anew and pursue happiness and fulfillment, free from the constraints of abusive relationships or irreconcilable marital conflicts.

This March 8, PLCPD invites everyone to work together to advance gender equality and inspire inclusion, ensuring meaningful legislative action and budget for women’s rights laws. Because #DapatALL women’s and girls’ rights are fulfilled. #