As far as I know, my high school English teacher only wanted us to remember one thing before tossing our hats at graduation. She explicitly preached it in class on our last day to make sure we would remember something before hanging up our uniforms for good. It was like a Patch Adams type of moment when I swear I heard an orchestra playing a dramatic score in the background. Her last lecture went a little something like this:
When you leave this classroom, I want you all to remember that you have a voice, and you have something to share with the world. Use that voice. Share things worthy to be shared, and most importantly, make yourself worthy to be heard.
As cheesy as it sounds now to 26-year old me, she had a valuable point and she made that point loud and clear. It’s been about 9 years since that day in class and yet just a few weeks ago, the lesson popped up like a Facebook notification in my head as I came across a news article on my feed. The headline read,
“Poverty rate will slide down once RH Law goes full swing”
My teacher’s final word gave an instant hello; this was an advocacy close to my heart so I knew it was time to use that voice.
In case you missed it, the Philippines, and most of the world actually, has long been grappling with the topic of reproductive health (RH) and whether or not women should be given access to RH services that facilitate family planning. In particular, cannonballs start to hurl when the topic of access to pills or artificial methods of family planning, and population control take center stage. Steel walls shoot straight up and divide our country when one side asserts that the solution to poverty is to provide free access to reproductive health services or in a way, to have fewer people, while another calls them out by saying that it’s not that simple. While most see it as a religious issue, other people think it’s a political issue, and this is where I like to come in and say that maybe, we’re all missing the point; what is the real issue?
“Development policy that assumes that less population equals more development is flawed since it excludes an economy of its most valuable resources, human capital.”
As a woman, I stand alongside millions of Filipino women who feel alienated by their own country’s laws when it comes to women’s health, i.e. reproductive health. We need access to clean water, sanitation, easily-accessible medical centers, affordable medicines and skilled medical practitioners. Also as a person, I stand alongside everyone else who trudge a long commute or sit through 5 hours of traffic and punch the clock for 9 hours of work just to fill their shallow pockets with lack-luster coins that will never reflect their worth as a person. Moreover, let’s not hide the fact that graduating with a degree does not even assure landing a job anymore, especially not one that matches your skills. I echo every millennial’s outburst—why must we endure?–when we were thrown into a moshpit of corrupt dreamers. My voice is Jose Rizal’s voice and every fed up Filipino’s cry for “change.”
In an open letter to the editor of the New York Times, former World Youth Alliance President, Obadias Ndaba, briefly states, “Development policy that assumes that less population equals more development is flawed since it excludes an economy of its most valuable resources, human capital.” He continues the letter by emphasizing how economic prosperity is not steered by how large or small a country’s population is, but rather “by how a country invests in its human capital and manages its resources.”
What is the real issue? Perhaps being alienated from the truth that we deserve better, the bare minimum even, is the issue. We are not problems. We are problem-solvers. Invest in women, men, and children and we will see lasting progress. That’s the truth.
Reproductive health is overall health (a quick Google search will put a spotlight on that definition by the way). We need better health systems but these won’t solve problems on their own, which is why I applaud individuals, groups, organizations, and start-ups that help women (and men) understand that achieving overall health is not just dependent on counting days, popping pills, or freely choosing one’s family size. It includes being educated, being happy, being in a healthy relationship, and so on. On a macro level, many depressing and desperate cases happening today in East Asian and European countries and all through world history show us the tsunami of problems that come with an aging population brought about by a tactless approach to poverty or a greedy thirst for economic power. My voice is calling for a more holistic, person-centered approach to poverty where taxes and funds are ushered to the right pockets places and where people’s mindsets value virtue over wealth.
Organizations like FEMM, for instance, aims to empower women by helping them gain a better understanding of their bodies in order to achieve their health and reproductive goals. FEMM believes in setting a foundation of awareness and understanding of our bodies and of our capacity to grow and develop in order to set the ground for holistic and sustainable progress.
Tightening the educational system and ensuring that children are being taught virtues before anything else will set the foundation for better decision-making habits, and if we’re lucky, better lifestyles. New and innovative school programs such as the Human Dignity Curriculum is remodeling K-12 values education by starting them young—“focusing on personal development and informed decisions related to students’ sexuality based on an understanding of themselves and in respect of their own human dignity and the dignity of others.” This program is molding the next generation of superheroes, basically.
And finally, a strong effort toward solidarity and peace-building. This country has seen enough drama and has been divided a million times over. Maybe the goal isn’t for you to win over an opponent, but for us to overcome a shared national dilemma together. Invest in yourself and invest in one another. Maybe we could direct our frustration toward the real enemy which is really nothing but the lack of truth. There is bound to be a common ground somewhere.
Poverty has never been a simple and easy issue to solve. It might not even ever go away, but that does not mean we shouldn’t even try. As preachy as it sounds, you are this country’s and this earth’s greatest capital and the only possible cause for progress. Perhaps we should stop believing otherwise and start voicing out the truth about the richness of who we are.