One would think that in the year 2017, we’ve already made significant progress and shed generations-old biases. Oh, no, not at all. In fact, we seem to be moving all the way backward. Let’s start with contraceptives and public access to them. The RH Law may have been passed, but the approved version was whittled down significantly to appease its opponents. Worse, RA 10354 has yet to be implemented by the government.
Add to that the current TRO on contraceptive implants, the method preferred by women outside urban areas due to its convenience and lower cost. By the way, we may run out of contraceptives as early as next year. Well, there’s always condoms, you say. But that’s not good enough—Human Rights Watch’s 2016 report stated that access to condoms (free or for purchase), current laws, and actual usage and social stigma are significant hurdles. So while condoms will be the only contraceptive available by 2020, no one can even be sure if they will be received and used by those who need it the most.
President Rodrigo Duterte has already signed EO 12 on zero unmet needs for family planning, but we’re still dealing with two cold facts. First, sexual education in this country is still severely lacking. I remember sex-ed “classes” at my old Catholic school being a mix of scare tactics and religious guilt; how did yours go? Yep, I thought so. Second, without the adequate education and resources, women will have more children than they can ably raise and support from infancy to adulthood, and put their own lives at risk. The national population has already breached the 100-million mark; and as of March 2017, there are 968 new HIV cases, bringing the total number to 42,283. And how many more are having unprotected sex with multiple partners, and without getting tested?
I didn’t know others’ religious beliefs had a higher value than my well-being, sexual health, and choices. Never mind if women also use birth-control pills to treat conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or that contraceptives give women more control over their bodies and lives, or that access to condoms will cut the number of reported sexually transmitted diseases. The point is you don’t like contraceptives, so no one will ever get them for themselves. Did I get that right?
And don’t give me that crap about the Philippines being a Catholic country. Human beings have sex, as is our nature, and require contraceptives whatever our religious affiliation (or lack of it). Are you sure everyone will practice abstinence just because you say your maker says so?
I also didn’t know others’ opinions about my body and sexuality mattered more than my own. The same goes for everyone born with XX chromosomes, or identify as a woman and express themselves as women. It doesn’t even matter whether you’re sexually active or not—there will always be assholes who think of us as made solely for their amusement and enjoyment, who equate permission with what you wear, who think no means yes, who still believe we should know our place, who do it just because they can, and who expect nothing less than a wide smile and complete gratitude in return. We all have our own stories, and social media accounts like the Facebook page Catcalled in the Philippines tell others’ stories every day. I don’t know about you, but I feel sick to my stomach each time.
Hell, even children aren’t spared. The age of consent in this country is 12 years old. 12. Let that sink in. And according to a CNN Philippines report back in March, one woman or child is raped every hour. There were also 4,605 reported cases of rape, attempted rape, incestuous rape, and acts of lasciviousness as of 2016. I’m willing to bet there are countless more that go unreported, whether out of shame, or conflicting personal definitions of consent when there’s only one official definition. When they do survive that ordeal, come out and file cases against their rapists, the whole thing becomes a public circus. No privacy, no fairness, no peace.
The willful ignorance of female consent and choice is closely tied to (mostly male) chauvinism, and you don’t have to look far for prime examples. For starters, our very own president made an abhorrent rape joke during last year’s campaign season and “ogled” VP Leni Robredo’s knees while at a Cabinet meeting. Senator Tito Sotto’s “na-ano” dig at DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo—and his half-assed apology for his so-called joke—proved that some people are beyond saving. We view male infidelities as normal, and female infidelities as abominations (e.g., the whole Leila de Lima–Ronnie Dayan brouhaha, and every soap opera’s “the other woman” storyline). We use words like rape and bitch/slut/whore in casual conversation, and can’t fathom that women can and will have multiple sexual partners in our lifetime.
Worse, women put down other women for our choices. We’re supposed to want to be girlfriends, wives, and mothers; to know how to cook and clean; to have a high-flying career and a perfect home life at the same time. We should strive for nothing less than authentic; we need to keep it together for everyone else, because we’re selfish if we complain. We comment on people’s weight, beauty, whiteness, and clothes right after saying hello, as if those are the only markers of human value. We are still trained to “deserve” things and people, as opposed to desiring them just because. We call women malandi, loose, or promiscuous for enjoying sex. We blame rape and assault victims by saying it’s because of how they acted and what they wore. We keep justifying horrible male behavior by saying men will always be men.
Yes, I am angry. Yes, it’s personal; and it’s hard not to take it personally when I’m treated less because I’m a woman who doesn’t fit the virginal-and-quiet-Filipina stereotype, or when I am judged even before I leave my house. No, I will not sugarcoat it, or compromise just so the message is more acceptable to you.
And if you’re not angry about all of this too, you’re part of the problem. There’s no sugarcoating that, either.