Every Woman’s Right
The power to choose the number, timing, and spacing of
children can bolster economic and social development,
new UNFPA report shows
BY MAIELLE MONTAYRE
Imagine a world where “every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.” This is the mandate by which the United Nationals Population Fund, formerly the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), has been operating since 1969. Seeking to promote equal rights and protection on sexual and reproductive health, especially for young women and children, the UN agency provides technical expertise, guidance, and support to over 155 countries and territories around the world.
Last October 17, the UNFPA formally launched the 2018 State of the World Population (SWOP) Report at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel. The event was organized by the Municipality of Tanay, Rizal, together with the Philippine Commission on Population (POPCOM), a government agency under the Department of
Health (DOH). With the theme of “The Power of Choice: Reproductive Rights and Demographic Transition,” the event sought to promote the 2018 SWOP report and ensure equal access to information among all sectors of society.
Iori Kato, the Country Representative of the UNFPA, presented the 2018 SWOP Report, an annual report prepared by the UNFPA. It has found that the power to choose family size stemming from reproductive rights affects many other rights, including the right to employment, health, and education. These findings and recommendations, however, have yet to be wholly implemented in the local setting for the full realization of reproductive health rights for women and children in the Philippines.
IDENTIFYING THE FUNDAMENTALS “Reproductive rights is not a new concept,” says Kato. According to the 2018 SWOP Report, no country today has yet made reproductive rights available to all. There are still limitations when it comes to the pursuit of reproductive health rights for all, especially women. Couples are unable to have their preferred family size due to lack of economic and social support, or inadequate means
to control their fertility.
Kato highlights four main issues in the SWOP Report. The first is the power of choice, referring to the fundamental right of individuals to freely and responsibly choose the size of their family. This includes the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Second, when choices are made based on information and proper means concerning reproductive health and rights, there is a direct impact on the fertility rate. Today, there is a global transition from high to low fertility as more people are able to freely choose without
discrimination, coercion or violence. The SWOP Report recorded a downward trend in the global
fertility rate over the last 150 years. Third, these choices make good economic sense based on
global evidence. Fertility can either accelerate or impede the progress and development of societies.
As the power of choice allows fundamental rights to be fully realized, people tend to reach their
full potential. When couples have the power and means to prevent or delay a pregnancy, they can
choose to enter or stay in the labor force to sustain or increase their income. Fourth, the SWOP Report
and recommendations are limited particularly in relation to women empowerment, labor practices,
and teen pregnancies in the Philippines.
GATHERING THE INFORMATIONThe 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) reported that the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in the Philippines has declined from 4.1 children per Filipino woman in 1993 to 2.7 in 2017. Dr. Juan Antonio A. Perez III, the Executive Director of POPCOM, said this was
due to the increase in the use of modern family planning methods among married women. The implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 or the RH Law has also contributed to the faster decline of the TFR. Despite this steady decline, the Philippines’ TFR is still the highest among the 10 ASEAN members—the second largest population in Southeast Asia. Thus, the target is to make the TFR reach 2.1.
The NDHS also declares that 75% of women ages 15 to 49 years old have expressed to wanting
only two children, while 60% wanted to stop having more children and 15% said they wanted
to postpone their pregnancy. Executive Director Perez expressed concern for the high unmet need in family planning. The NDHS showed 17% percent of married women want to practice family planning but do not have the access and information to such methods, while the survey shows 49% of sexually active, unmarried women have unmet needs in family planning. This reflects a decline from the 30% unmet need in 1993. However, the goal of POPCOM is to have zero unmet need. “Millions of Filipinos would benefit from having the power to choose whether and when to have children, and how many children to have,” Kato says. “If you can plan your family, you can plan your life,” the UNFPA Country representative adds.