Advocates and supporters who advanced the cause of women’s reproductive health rights in the Philippines recently celebrated the signing into law of the long overdue “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012.” After 14 long years of getting bypassed by past Congresses largely because of strong opposition from the Catholic Church, President Benigno Aquino III finally certified the bill as urgent, fast tracking its way to both houses of Congress, and quietly affixing his signature to turn it into law on December 21, 2012. The Reproductive Health Act would promote the use of artificial and natural contraceptives; sex education; and give women—especially the poor— better access to family planning programs.
Studies have shown that a country’s reproductive health laws are crucial to empowering women. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has stated that a “rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health and family planning” translates to better overall health, better participation in the labor force, and increased incomes for women and their families. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations say that the consequences of poor health care services, failed health policies, and lack of information on reproductive health for women and girls are “catastrophic”— unsafe abortions, sexual violence, and deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth. Philippine Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, co-sponsor of the Reproductive Health Act, wrote in a Special for CNN that the “bill merely wants to empower a Filipino woman from the poorest economic class to march to the nearest facility operated by the Department of Health or the local government unit, to demand information on a family planning product or supply of her choice.”
Unfortunately, not all countries in the world have taken the necessary steps to improve a woman’s access to better reproductive health care. In Ghana, for example, Ghana Business News reports that most Ghanaian women are still affected by harmful reproductive health practices. The Human Rights Advocacy Centre reports that these practices include “female circumcision, women branded as witches, child marriages, widowhood rites, cultural stigma on disability, polygamous marriages” which further expose women to HIV/AIDS, unsafe abortions, and unwanted pregnancies. The accompanying “social stigma” further “undermined their ability to contribute meaningfully to social and economic progress of the country.”
The UNFPA in its 2012 report on Population Matters for Sustainable Development state that sustainable development is affected by population dynamics. The report argues that the dynamics of population can be changed by providing “access to sexual and reproductive health care, education beyond the primary level, and the empowerment of women.”
Indeed, there is no question that giving women access to better reproductive health and information about their rights is the key to their empowerment. But whether the governments of all nations in the world will work towards this end still remains to be seen.