The Covid-19 pandemic has critically compromised the protection of sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) of women and girls all over the world—including the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific region.
This was the consensus of health leaders and stakeholders from this part of the world, as the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)-Philippines recently commemorated World Population Day 2021, with “Dynamic Demographics: Prioritizing sexual and reproductive health and rights of people” as the theme.
In an online event, the UNFPA revealed a recent study stating that millions of women continue to experience restrictions in accessing family planning services due to the imposition of local community lockdowns. The condition could lead to an increase in the number of unplanned pregnancies, specifically within the marginalized sector of the Philippine society. In addition, the situation may cause an upsurge in the number of gender-based violence cases.
Nationwide, POPCOM said reproductive health and family planning services were feared to be severely impaired in certain urban areas, which raised the red flag on their accompanying consequences. These include the possible rise in the incidences of unplanned pregnancies particularly among adolescents, increasing maternal mortalities and gender-based violence.
Despite these uncertainties, Undersecretary for Population and Development Juan Antonio A. Perez III, MD, MPH disclosed that 8,085,000 women and men were able to obtain modern family planning services in 2020: an increase of almost 4 percent in family planning users in the country.
“The drawbacks caused by the pandemic notwithstanding, POPCOM—together with UNFPA Philippines and our partners consisting of stakeholders and like-minded groups—continue to persist in our commitment to empower Filipino women, both young and old, in exercising their full rights and choices in the SRHR by prioritizing their access to essential information and services,” POPCOM’s executive director remarked.
With the health crisis continuing to bear down on the fertility choices of women and altering key demographic indicators of countries within Asia-Pacific, the commission and the UN agency will be implementing key strategies that will strengthen policies and programs related to the SRHR of women and girls all over the country.
The local commemoration of World Population Day 2021 on July 13 called for action and support from the Philippine government and all duty bearers. It also served as a venue to commend the innovative strategies of Philippine government protecting the SRHR of women and girls in the midst of the pandemic, especially on the call of POPCOM for uninterrupted services for family planning despite the community quarantines.
The online virtual event featured real stories from women in the communities of the Philippines, Nepal and Thailand who shared their experiences in family planning rights and choices, and how these influence population dynamics; insightful messages from influential personalities such as UNFPA’s Bandana Rana of Nepal, committee chair of CEDAW or Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and Senator Monthian Buntan of Thailand, who is an advocate for persons living with disabilities, adolescent mothers; as well as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual and queer or questioning community, or LGBTQ.