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Unfinished business: Pursuit of rights and choices for all

DESPITE remarkable achievements in the past five decades, much more must be done to break the barriers that prevent women, men and couples from fully exercising their reproductive rights and choices, says new United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report released on Thursday.

The fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights is key to reducing poverty in the country. Much has been achieved in the Philippines since 1969. The average number of births per woman was 6.0 in 1973. Today it is 2.7 2 , even though the country has the highest total fertility rate in the Asean region. (photo courtesy of UNFPA)

The year 2019 is unique as it marks two important milestones in the field of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights: 50 years since the UNFPA began operations globally, and 25 years since the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo where 179 governments agreed on a call for all people to have access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning, and safe pregnancy and childbirth services. UNFPA’s State of World Population Report 2019 traces advances in reproductive health on the anniversaries of these two important milestones.

These two events—the launch of the first United Nations agency dedicated to addressing population dynamics and the reproductive health needs of the world’s people with Filipino national Rafael Salas as its first executive director, and the declaration of a global commitment to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights—have fundamentally shaped the lives of women and families, and the societies in which they live, in the decades that followed.  The revolutionary changes have been made in measurable and immeasurable, profound and trivial, permanent and fleeting ways.

Activists, advocates, government agencies like the Philippine Commission on Population and Development (Popcom) – which also celebrates its 50th anniversary this year – and UNFPA have jointly advanced the transformations that ordinary citizens see around themselves today and have helped tear down various and evolving social, economic and institutional barriers that women and young people have faced in exercising their reproductive rights over the past 50 years. As a result, more women today have access to the information and services they need to decide for themselves whether, when or how often to become pregnant.

Much has been achieved in the Philippines since 1969. The average number of births per woman was 6.0 in 1973.  Today it is 2.7, even though the country has the highest total fertility rate in the Asean region.  In order to reach the national target of 2.1 average number of births per woman under the Philippine Development Plan (PDP), the Philippines needs to step up its efforts.

“UNFPA takes pride in having partnered with the Philippines and witnessed together so many remarkable achievements together in the areas of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in the last five decades.  And yet, there should not be complacency.  Much more needs to be done to empower those who are not yet able to enjoy their rights and whose choices are still constrained,” says UNFPA Philippines Representative Iori Kato.

According to the 2017 Philippines National Demographic and Health Survey, about 17 percent of currently married women aged 15-49 have expressed intention to space or limit their children but are not using any method of family planning.  Such proportion of unmet need for family planning services is highest among adolescents at 28 percent. 

The fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights is key to reducing poverty in the country. The PDP 2017-2022 contains a specific chapter on Reaching for the Demographic Dividend; this chapter emphasizes the fact that reducing fertility through increasing access for young people to reproductive health information and services is a necessary pre-condition for the demographic dividend to be realized.

The government is a champion of the ICPD and President Duterte is committed to ending the unmet need for family planning, reflected in the recently revamped National Program on Population and Family Planning (NPPFP) to accelerate the full implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act.

“The Philippine Government remains strong in its commitment to fulfill the promise of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, to put people at the center of sustainable development and to pursue the realization of every Filipino’s sexual and reproductive rights,” said Dr. Juan Antonio Perez III, undersecretary for Population and Development and executive director of Popcom. 

To finish the unfinished business of the ICPD, governments, activists and stakeholders will rally at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 to be held on 12-14 November to sustain the gains made so far, and fulfill the promise of the ICPD agenda. Most countries, including the Philippines, need to build on the foundation of the past achievements to reach those who have been left behind and make sexual and reproductive health and rights a reality for all.

Here are some facts and figures on the Philippines:

• number of deaths of women from pregnancy-related causes per 100,000 live births: 121 in 1994; 114 in 2015 (SWOP, 2019)

• modern contraceptive prevalence rate among currently-married women: 11 in 1973; 25 in 1993; 40 in 2017 (NDS, 1993; NDHS, 2017)

• total fertility rate, or average number of births per women: 6.0 in 1973; 4.1 in 1993; 2.7 in 2017 (NDS, 1993; NDHS, 2017)

• percent women 15-19 years old who have begun childbearing: 6.5 in 1993; 8.6 in 2017 (NDS, 1993; NDHS, 2017) (UNFPA)

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