UN call to probe Manila’s anti-family planning policy ignored

birth control pills
By Reynaldo Santos Jr., Newsbreak
The Philippine government has ignored inquiries from the United Nations regarding alleged discrimination and violations of women rights in Manila due to the local government’s ban on artificial family planning methods.

Lawyer Clara Rita Padilla of the group EnGendeRights said in a forum Tuesday that the government was given until February 2009 to respond to UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) to aid its inquiry into Executive Order 003, which Manila Mayor Lito Atienza started implementing in 2000.

EO 003, which calls for a responsible parenthood movement in the city, promotes only the use of natural family planning. It has “in practice, resulted in a ban on modern contraceptives from all Manila-run public health facilities and a denial of information or referral on family planning services,” Padilla said.

Some advocates of women’s rights in the country, collectively called Task Force CEDAW and is lead by Padilla’s group, have made 3 separate requests since last year to the CEDAW committee to visit to the country and investigate “the grave and systematic violations of reproductive rights of Manila residents.”

Effects of the EO

Their request to the CEDAW Committee cited the effects of the EO such as “unwanted pregnancies, complications arising from lack of access to safe and legal abortion, maternal mortality and morbidity, lack of education and employment opportunities, and hunger and poverty for women and their families.”

Padilla said that it is the poor women who are greatly affected because they “do not have the money to pay their own contraceptive supplies and counselling from private doctors,” compared to the wealthy women population of the city.

Some women residents of Tondo narrated in the forum how, because of the city order, they were refused ligation in government-run clinics and hospitals.

“As a consequence, some of them ended up having more children than they actually desired,” Padilla said.

Further information revealed that the city hall has not provided funds for information on and access to modern contraceptives, and has even threatened pharmaceutical stores and non-government organizations advocating the use of contraceptives.

Restrictive

Padilla said the fact that the CEDAW Committee has asked the Philippine government to respond means the UN body “considered the information we submitted as reliable and indicative of grave and systematic violations.”

Task Force CEDAW said that denying women access to modern family planning in Manila is against the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, an international treaty obligation ratified by the country in 1981.

Ben de Leon, president of The Forum for Family Planning and Development, said that restrictive local policies such as Manila’s EO 003 is a result of the lack of a national reproductive health policy.

“This is a clear example of why we need a comprehensive reproductive health care bill passed into law in this Congress,” he said.

Task force CEDAW will be pressuring the government, though the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), to come up with a response before the CEDAW Committee session in January 2010.

Padilla said that, in an October 2 dialogue with government representatives, the Department of Health and the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women “promised to write to the DFA, urging them to submit its observations and consent to the visit.” (Newsbreak)

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