WYAAP Member’s International Solidarity Forum (ISF 2010 )Experience


real emPOWERment

In 10 years, or less, I will be a mother.

Just like every other woman, I am a driving force of a family – of children, of generations.

My life, just like the life of any other human being, deserve compassionate protection, support and holistic understanding – meaning, the different aspects – personal, spiritual, cultural, economic, etc. While I am responsible for my life, society has a duty to protect me and support my development as a human person.

In many parts of the world, most especially in developing countries like the Philippines – women struggle many development challenges, not limited to health concerns, not limited to maternity.

Let me share about the poorest of the poor families I have met in the past.

Reproductive Health and Population in the Philippine Setting

I have worked with families of 8-12 children, living in shanties supported by scrap metals and very weak foundations. They live right on the mouth of dirty rivers and smelly sewage systems, or in the middle of garbage dumps. While they are responsible for their poverty as a consequence of their lack of education, poor upbringing – they deserve the fruits of their labor, even as domestic laborers, toilet cleaners, roadside vendors.

We can blame all we want on the global financial crisis, but I cannot dismiss the fact that the unequal distribution of goods and services – causes us to think that there is ‘overpopulation’ in the Philippines. I have been to a big 8-room, 3-floor mansions, complete with 7 cars, and 5 dogs – but only housing 5 people – and on a regular basis, only 4 because one is on constant travel. While I have been to small squatters areas like in Tondo (one of the poorest communities of Manila Metro) with about 10 people packed together. Is this the real picture of overpopulation? Or maybe overpopulation only applies to POOR people?

Real Needs

Please help me imagine a “clean, safe abortion clinic” in the middle of the slums, where out of school children play around the dirty, swampy garbage dumps, and

Help me imagine an abortion clinic in the middle of an indigenous community where women and children have to walk 10 miles to fetch water.

Unfortunately, this is what I had been hearing back and forth during the 43rd Session on Population and Development at the United Nations.

Are these places where so-called ‘family planning’ or ‘reproductive health services’ are needed? Yes of course….but also where basic access to clean water, education of children, jobs for people, basic health and hygiene services, are needed.

Ask people what they need and they will respond to you with anything from ´jobs,´ ´educational opportunities,´´a government that looks after our needs,´ ´´microcredit to start a small time business, and not ´condoms or contraceptions or abortion clinics.´

Urgent action is required for basic social services, with explicit participation of the poor in regard to their needs and rights. Investment in reproductive health will only be long term and sustainable if it addresses urban growth and reach MDG #5 bearing in mind the holistic needs of women and their families.

Reaching our Goals

Like others who have spoken loudly, I raise much concern on the false claim that the legalization of abortion is the way to reduce maternal mortality in the developing world. I have grave concerns about the false and dangerous claims that the way to reduce maternal mortality in the developing world is to legalize abortion.

How many times should be reminded that previous United Nations documents have rejected abortion as a fundamental right or as a method of family planning by the International Commission on Population and Development?

One speaker mentions, ““In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning. Attention should be directed what women of the world truly need – clean water, nutrition, a job, basic shelter, -health care not just for themselves but for their families – not the “right” to violently destroy their children before they are born.”

I agree that assumptions behind strategies improving women’s health – specifically those NOT relating to basic needs and services, will not give tangible and sustainable results. Assumptions should be taken on a case by case basis and not pushed as universal, especially to those countries and societies that do not share the same context, background, and experience. This ‘one size fits all’ mentality will continually reinforce the shortcomings of our work.

Access to contraception, post-abortion care, safe and legal abortion, does not solve the core issue we are facing.

Only women? What about real development?

The theme in this year’s 43rd session is health, mortality, morbidity and development – but I have heard more resounding mention of words like ‘safe’ abortion, reproductive health, family planning and ‘other’ health services.

While ‘maternal’ morbidity and mortality has an important role in this – how about children’s health, morbidity and mortality? how about those of men? how about the general population’s mortality in unnecessary armed violence? how about those people who die everyday due to proliferation of small arms? how about those children and youth who die everyday, not just of HIV, but of malnutrition, malaria, and other kinds of uncommunicable diseases? How about migrant communities who do not receive equal access to basic services? How about human rights violations? How about greenhouse gas emissions vis-a-vis population growth and dynamics? How about the unemployed who continue to seek for food to feed their children and families – who sometimes resort to violence and crime just to be able to live by the day….

Aren’t these also related to health? to mortality? to morbidity? and most especially, to development?

I noticed that mention about ‘basic needs and services’ are mostly always part of the ‘introduction’ of speeches and policies – but not part of the content and body of the debate (at least those ones I’ve heard)

Population policies in most countries in this UN meeting continue to shortfall into the limits of sexual and reproductive health and family planning policies. This broad-brush approach continue to ignore the impact of population related policies on the well being of individuals – of children, women, and men whose health and reproductive choices eventually become population statistics. We need to look into population policies that reflect important aspects of human well-being, not only on improving maternal health, but improving the status of women, widening educational opportunities, and augmenting health status, besides extending sanitation and safe drinking water and improved housing, and providing rural roads, transportation and communication. Development policies that omit the demographic variables is incomplete, similarly, population policies issued independently of development considerations is not sound – and will not be sustainable.

While I know that governments and civil society cannot change these long standing and deeply rooted issues (definitely not overnight!), a good look at the holistic implementation of the Programme of Action and that of the MDGs should determine how distribution of financial resources are mobilized.

The world will continue to fail to reach these goals, specifically of MDG#5, if it continually fails to properly direct resources to save women’s lives. Resources are directed toward decreasing the number of children women deliver, rather than making the delivery of their children safe.

Last but not the least – putting words into paper is not enough. Putting policies into ‘talking business’ is not enough. Political will alone is not enough. Resources alone are not enough.

This work calls for a multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder understanding that the work on achieving the MDG’s always need a holistic framework – and that each MDG is linked to health and socio economic outcomes in the areas of children, mothers, families, gender, poverty, employment, etc.

In my more than 5 years of engagement in peacebuilding work, from my home (and developing) country like the Philippines and now in Spain, it is always said that there is no peace without development. And from this perspective, development is just more than ‘developing societies’ but developing ‘people’ in all its aspects – eliminating all forms of violence, from physical, environmental, cultural and structural – and giving each human being the necessary environment and suppor to develop their full human capacities.

Going back to the talk about ‘women’ which was become the main highlight of the Commission of Population and Development meetings, one UN mission delegate from South America mentioned that (and I quote!…. and it really got the hell crazy on me!)

“real empowerment of women lies in the availability of health services (such as safe abortion clinics) to them”

I am sorry, sir, but I beg to disagree.

I am a woman. You are not…

“Empowerment” of women is much more than that….and “REAL” empowerment – even more.

Meg Villanueva

WYA Asia Pacific

27 April 2010


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