This article is an accompaniment to The crusade against contraceptives and reproductive rights.
Gladys, 23, gave birth to her first child when she was 21. This is a child she wanted and a child she is able to take care of. She and her partner are both employed and, to make sure that their next child receives the same love and attention, Gladys is currently using an injectable contraceptive.
Ending a cycle of unintended pregnancies in their family, Gladys is the first among her sisters to finish college. Both her sisters were teen mothers and encouraged her to attend educational seminars conducted by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Likhaan, which provides reproductive health care services at its clinic in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, a province just outside Metro Manila.
“N’ong una, ayaw ko kasi parang, ano ba ‘yan, ang bastos naman ng pinag-uusapan,” Gladys said.
(At first I didn’t want to go because, I thought they were talking about lewd things.)
After much persuasion by her sisters, she eventually attended a Likhaan education session on reproductive health with her friends. This led to her attending more sessions.
Gladys' friend Sheira, who like her was initially reluctant to join the Likhaan seminars, now works with the NGO and is helping shape a world where all births are planned and all babies cared for by healthy parents.
The effect of attending just one educational seminar is potentially exponential. The impact on Gladys’ life is direct, but she now serves as a leader in her community and is actively influencing others in being responsible parents as well as educating youth in reproductive health. Her friend Sheira, meanwhile, is working to make reproductive health services more accessible to people.
Like Sheira, Shirlita from Quinapondan, Eastern Samar has also become a community health leader after undergoing training with Likhaan. Her husband was initially apprehensive about contraceptives, but through monthly educational visits by Likhaan staff he eventually realized the importance of spacing their children. After all, every new child adds strain to the family budget.
'Morality' and myths
At a National Family Planning Seminar held in Cebu in November 2017, the first query from the audience to the panelists was: “Do you think the Reproductive Health Law or family planning will help or solve the degradation of morality in general?”
Conservative participants at the seminar and some respondents from the provinces of Bulacan and Eastern Samar equated sex education with promoting promiscuity among teens—instead of, as the Reproductive Health Law states, equipping them with the knowledge to make better choices and protect themselves.
Such attitudes are a cause for alarm. According to a 2013 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report, one in 10 Filipinas between the ages of 15 and 19 is already a mother or is pregnant with her first child.
HIV infections among young adults are also on the rise and UNFPA estimates that the Philippines loses P33 billion per year in related health care costs and lost economic productivity.
Shirlita countered these views, saying educators' making home visits or being available at their clinic in Quinapondan helps teenagers understand the possible consequences of sexual activity.
“Nalaman din nila na ang early pregnancy ay hindi maganda para sa isang teenager. Nalaman nila na kapag hindi pa ready 'yong katawan na nagbubuntis, puwedeng magkaroon ng komplikasyon sa panganganak. Tapos 'yong pakikipagtalik nang maaga, kung ano ang magiging epekto [n'on], tapos kung papaano rin nila pangangalagaan 'yong katawan nila,” she said.
(They find out that early pregnancy is not healthy for a teenager. They find out that if your body is not ready for pregnancy, there could be complications during birth. And they also find out what could happen from early sex and they learn how to take care of themselves.)
Leaving teenagers ignorant is not the solution, said UNFPA Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yoriko Yasukawa. "We need to abandon once and for all the idea that leaving young people in ignorance is going to stop them from having sex or that talking about it is going to make them have sex," she said.
As Gladys’ case shows, access to information helps youth take better control of their and their children’s future. — BM, GMA News
This story is produced as part of the 2017 Southeast Asian Press Alliance Regional Reporting Fellowship.