I met Beverly in a family planning clinic in Manila. She had her first sexual experience when she was 15, but it wasn’t consensual. “The first time I had sex, I was forced to do it. I was sexually harassed and it happened without my consent. I felt like I was being raped.” It was the first time that Beverly talked about that episode of her life. She had never told anyone, not even her parents: “I was very scared to talk about it. I was traumatised. I did not wanted to see the man that did it or get near my male classmates because I was afraid they would do the same”.
Noelia Martínez Castellanos
A year after the rape, Beverly was going out with a man six years older than her. When her parents discovered she was seeing someone, they insisted she moved in with him. Lina Banacaldo, the coordinator of the Likhaan clinic, explains that this “is a very common practice in Filipino culture. It is a very conservative aspect of our culture and a problem, because it is in those situations when many unwanted pregnancies happen.” After six months living with her boyfriend, Beverly got pregnant and had to quit her studies at 16 years old.
Beverly began attending Likhaan thanks to a friend. She is an advocate of the Reproductive Health Bill: “I do not understand why some people are opposed to the bill. If you forbid family planning, you’re killing people.” When her daughter grows up, Beverly says she will make sure she learns about sexual education. Now she is a single mum, she has returned to live with her parents. She lives on 240 pesos a day ($5.10 or £3.60), because she doesn’t get any financial support from her partner. “It is not enough to support my daughter,” she explains. Still, Beverly is not within the percentage of the population living below the poverty line – set by the World Bank at $1.90 a day.
Access to public health
I wanted to hear the opinions of workers and users of the clinic, to find out what they thought about the Reproductive Health Bill. Philippines has seen some progress in family planning and reproductive health in recent years. A vast majority of the population sees this service as a basic human right that should be a priority. Even so, it is not easy to talk about sex in a country where the conservatism of Catholicism continues to permeate (1) all structures of the society and the State. It was even more challenging that I was a stranger and most users of the clinic were teenagers. To my surprise, Lina Banacaldo, the coordinator of the clinic told me that their “youngest patient is a pregnant girl who is only 13 years old”.
Likhaan is a non-profit organization that has provided family planning services to women in the most marginal areas of the city since 1994. Like its users, Likhaan has not enjoyed an easy ride (2) since its foundation. The organisation has never received any support from the Government. In the year 2000, the provision of their services become more challenging when the Mayor of Manila, Jose “Lito” Atienza, implemented an executive order “that severely limited women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services and effectively resulted in a ban of modern contraceptives in the City of Manila”. The ban was in force for 10 years.
The clinic was located in the district of Tondo, known to be the largest slum (3) in Asia and the world’s most densely populated territory. Tondo is also home to the famous Smokey Mountain, a landfill that has become a hill of debris that rises nearly 100 meters above street level and around which numerous shanties rise.
Situations such as Beverly’s are a growing problem in the island, where a woman or girl is raped every 72 minutes. In 2014, the Philippine National Police recorded 7409 cases. According to the same agency, 9% of cases of violence against women between 2004 and 2013 were rapes. A national health and demographic survey conducted in 2013 estimated that 6% of women aged 15 to 49 had experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives. In the Philippines, abortion in cases of rape is also illegal. But this does not prevent 83% of women who are raped resorting (4) to unsafe and deadly abortion methods. Many even attempt suicide. (source of these figures here)
- Definition: to spread through something and be present in every part of it.
- Example: “[…] where the conservatism of Catholicism continues to permeate all structures of the society and the State” “[…]donde el conservadurismo del catolicismo sigue impregnando todas las estructuras de la sociedad y del Estado.”
- Translation: impregnar, penetrar.
- Definition: to experience no problems in a situation that is normally difficult or unpleasant.
- Example: “[…] Like its users, Likhaan has not enjoyed an easy ride since its foundation” “[…] Al igual que sus usuarias, Linkhaan no lo ha tenido fácil.”
- Translation: un camino fácil.
- Comment: Phrase or expression used frequently in a more informal context.
- Definition: a very poor and crowded area, especially of a city.
- Example: “[…] known to be the largest slum in Asia and the world’s most densely populated territory” “[…] conocido por ser el suburbio más grande de toda Asia y el territorio más densamente poblado del mundo.”
- Translation: suburbio, barrio bajo.
- Comment: When used in an informal context, the term refers to a very untidy or dirty place.
- Definition: something that you do because everything else has failed.
- Example: “But this does not prevent 83% of women who are raped resorting to unsafe and deadly abortion methods.” “[…] esto no impide que hasta un 83% de las mujeres que son violadas hayan recurrido a métodos de aborto inseguros y con riesgo de muerte.”
- Translation: Recurrir
Have worked in this article:
Author: Noelia Martinez
Translator: Noelia Martinez
Editor: Alex Owen-Hill
Use of English for Spanish Speakers: Tanausu Vilches
Header Image with Creative Commons licence: https://therinjfoundationfreeposters.wordpress.com/the-rinj-foundation-philippines/