Poor women in Philippines yearn for birth control

January 6th, 2009 - 9:32 am ICT by IANS  

Manila, Jan 6 (Xinhua) Struggling with a daily food budget of less than $2 for a family of 12, Floriza Bacli said she was happy to spoil her children a bit on New Year’s Eve with something special - half a kilogram of fried chicken and a quarter kg of hot-dogs.Squeezed inside a tiny make-shift shack made of galvanised steel and wood with her 10 young children, 37-year-old Floriza said the family had fun on New Year’s Eve, or the Noche Buena, meaning the good night.

“I wished my family would be far from sickness, even though we might not get rid of poverty,” Floriza said.

She said she had hid another seemingly far-reaching wish in her heart. “Wouldn’t it be nice if someone can pay the college fees for my two eldest daughters who are finishing high school this April,” she added.

College remains a remote dream for Floriza’s family, which depends on her husband’s meagre income of 350 pesos (about $7) a day as a cab driver. The husband sometimes return home with just 150 pesos (about $2) in the lean seasons when there are not so many tourists.

But Floriza said she remained hopeful for the New Year. At least there will be no more unwanted pregnancy to worry about. Last July, she wanted to go for tubal ligation, an operation that would cost around 500 pesos ($10) at a local clinic that would effectively buffer the child-feeding burden of the family.

“We really can’t afford to provide more. The money we earn is barely enough for our daily meals.” Floriza said. Like most poor Filipino women, she had no idea of family planning until life became tough after the birth of her sixth child.

She thought about condoms, but they were not quite accessible; she thought about contraceptive pills, but was told that she had varicose veins.

In a country where a woman has at least three children on average and artificial birth control methods are frowned upon by the dominating Catholic Church, Floriza was not alone in wanting to plan pregnancies. However, she was lucky to get it done recently.

According to a UN Population Fund report, half of the Philippines’ 3.1 million pregnancies every year are unwanted or unintended, about one third of which end in abortion. About 10 women in the Philippines die every day during birth.

Surveys also showed that over 60 percent of mothers do not want additional children while two out of five women who want to use contraceptives do not have access to them.

In Barangay Maisan, where Floriza lives, visitors may be overwhelmed by the number of children, virtually everywhere in the crowded poverty-stricken community.

“Women in this Barangay know about ligation but few can actually afford one due to its medical cost and other inconveniences,” Floriza said.

Carlos Celdran, a local advocate for women’s reproductive rights who paid for Floriza’s ligation, said every time he went to the poor communities to distribute condoms and birth control pills, people eagerly waited for them and the stocks that he bought on his own expenses would soon run out.

Blocks away from Barangay Maisan stands the compound of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the seat of the church authority in the country.

A banner declaring “pro-God, pro-Life, pro-Family, No to Death bills, No to RH (Reproductive Health) bills” at the entrance clearly demonstrated that any progress in family planning in this Catholic-dominated country wouldn’t come around without overcoming strong resistance.

Due to the church’s strong opposition, a Congress bill promoting sex education, the use of contraceptives and accessible birth control medical services on the national level, has never gone out of the House of Representatives since the introduction of its first draft in 1988.

The church branded the bill as “anti-life” and said it would promote abortion.

Lawmakers vying for a stable political career were reluctant to ire the church by openly and aggressively promoting birth control and family planning. Thus many remained private supporters of the controversial bill.

To Floriza, the bickering in Congress seems remote and not of her concern. But she thinks it will be a good idea for schools to provide proper sex education.

Floriza said she was too shy and had limited knowledge on the subject to teach her daughters about sex. She simply forbade her daughters from dating boys before their graduation.

“I often warned them not to follow my footsteps. I had learnt the lessons,” she added.

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