Women’s health: A right or a privilege?

Published by rudy Date posted on July 5, 2009

This entire week, I have been preoccupied with women’s health issues as media have focused on the health of national women leaders.

Friends, allies and admirers of former President Corazon C. Aquino are praying for her as she struggles for life at the Makati Medical Center. Healing masses have been organized at the chapel in Greenbelt for Tita Cory, who is battling cancer. Not just admired but beloved by millions of Filipinos, she has always been a beacon for democracy around the world, the inspiration for the people power revolution that drove strong man former President Ferdinand E. Marcos (FM) to exile.

FM’s widow, Imelda Marcos, celebrated her 80th birthday in grand, “Imeldific” style at Sofitel on June 2. The grand ballroom was full to overflowing. Her guests were surprised when the former first lady and Metro Manila governor requested them for a moment of silent prayer for Tita Cory.

In the meantime, media reports that President Gloria Arroyo either had breast biopsy or breast implant. Whatever was the reason, her doctor has given her a clean bill of health.

My thoughts flew to the women in Muslim Mindanao, the least served region in the Philippines.

The 2003 Human Development Index Report of the United Nations Development Program noted that four Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) provinces got the lowest HDI: Sulu (1st), Maguindanao (2nd), Tawi-Tawi (3rd), Basilan (4th). The 5th ARMM province, Lanao del Sur, was the 10th. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a simple tool that seeks to measure human development through a composite index. It reflects “achievements in the most basic human capabilities—leading a long life, being knowledgeable, and enjoying a decent standard of living. It is premised on the principle that human development cannot be measured by the yardstick of income alone since income is a means, not an end, and there is no automatic link between income growth and human progress.” (2000 Philippine Human Development Report).

According to the Save the Children Philippines (STCP), ARMM is the worst place to be a mother, where 162 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births have been recorded. The provision of quality health services in ARMM remains to be a big challenge. In terms of maternal mortality rate (MMR), not much significant decline in the number of deaths among women associated with pregnancy, labor and puerperal or lying-in period immediately before or after delivery per 1,000 populations was recorded since 1998. Moreover, in 2005, the prevalence of underweight among zero to 5-year-old children in ARMM has increased.

Relying on native remedies to fight communicable and non-communicable diseases, Moros stoically accept the death of women in childbirth as part of the hazards of motherhood. This is not the case in other regions where government has succeeded in improving access to maternal and childcare.

My mother, Nina Rasul, gave birth to 6 children. Only one, my youngest sister Salma, was born in a hospital. Five of us were born at home in Jolo, where my mother was attended to by her Aunt, Hadja Amina. I find it hard to accept that there has been little progress in the last 50 years in Muslim Mindanao. So do Muslim women in ARMM, who have been lobbying for more support for maternal and childcare and other health concerns.

During the second summit of the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines last January, the Aleemat (Muslim women religious scholars) had their workshop on “Women’s Rights and Issues.” The Aleemat came up with a strong statement towards peace and development in Mindanao dubbed as “Declaration of Muslim Women Waging Peace.” Part of the declaration focuses on health in which they call on government and development partners to:

1. Enable greater access especially of women to comprehensive primary health services that take into account their reproductive health from a gender perspective;

2. Provide resources for the Aleemat to research, study and develop strategies to deal with the problems of youth such as drug addiction and other substance abuse, smoking, early pregnancy and others;

3. Establish drug rehabilitation centers and support anti-drug campaigns;

4. Provide access to potable drinking water; and

5. Support the Aleemat in cleanliness, environmental protection and sanitation campaigns.

We in the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy and the Magbassa Kita Foundation Inc. are now working with the Aleemat to help them address these issues.

On Thursday, I attended a dinner for Friends of the Reproductive Health Bill where Congressman Edsel Lagman gave a briefing on the status of the bill. He and co-author Darlene Antonio-Custodio are confident that the bill will be passed.

The RH bill covers a whole range of services including information and access to natural and modern family planning; maternal, infant and child health and nutrition; promotion of breast feeding; prevention of abortion and management of post-abortion complications; elimination of violence against women; counseling on sexuality and sexual and reproductive health; treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers.

I pray that when the RH bill is passed into law, government will not forget ARMM. After all, access to health is a right, not a privilege of the majority or the rich. Then perhaps Muslim Mindanao will no longer be the most dangerous place for motherhood. –Amina Rasul, Manila Times


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