About 10,000 people marched on the Philippines Congress on March 8 to mark International Women’s Day (IWD) and demand passage of the Reproductive Health Bill before Congress.
The bill would allow greater access to modern contraceptives and sex education.
The bill proposes more maternal health services, raising the number of midwives to one for every 150 deliveries. Contraceptives would also be funded for poor women and would be included in the standard supplies of medicine in hospitals.
Modern family planning methods would be provided in all accredited health facilities.
However, abortion would remain illegal under the bill.
The RH Bill has come under sustained attack from the Philippines’ powerful Catholic Church. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines threatened to excommunicate President Nonoy Aquino if he supports it.
The president’s position on the bill remains ambiguous.
The IWD march involved most of the key tendencies in Filipino left, as well as NGO activists. More than 1000 people marched from the Partido Lakas ng Masa (Party of the Labouring Masses — PLM), Sanlakas, the BMP trade union federation and the KPML urban poor organisation.
A February 16 PLM statement in support of the bill said: “In 2008, there were 1.9 million unintended pregnancies, 560,000 of these pregnancies ended in induced abortions [and] 90,000 women were hospitalized because of abortion complications.
“One thousand died from abortion complications, 1,600 more died from births and miscarriages related to unwanted pregnancies. Poor women and families have least access to family planning services — 54% of women who do not use any method or form of contraception are poor.”
The PLM noted in an IWD statement: “Around 11 Filipino women die every day due to preventable childbirth-related complications. These are primarily poor women.”
The PLM-Sanlakas-BMP-KPLM contingent also raised other issues affecting Filipino women. These included the fact women comprise 60% of the poor in the Philippines; the exploitation of female Overseas Foreign Workers; sexual abuse of women by police; and the trafficking of women and children for forced labour and sexual exploitation.
The PLM’s IWD statement said: “Between 60,000 to 100,000 children and over 100,000 women are trafficked (internally and externally) annually.”
Demands raised by the PLM on IWD were: “Pass the RH Bill now! Increase funding for health services, especially reproductive health services!
“Immediate moratorium on lay-offs! No to neoliberal economic policies, no to the public-private partnership policy! Stop contractualization and privatization!
“A national public sector investment program for job creation in the Philippines! Provide all returning OFWs from the Middle East with employment in the Philippines!
“Repeal the automatic debt appropriation law! Increase funding for social services, especially health and education! Recognize housework as productive work with appropriate monetary compensation!
“Launch a nationwide campaign and education program against violence against women! No to the Visiting Forces Agreement!”