The Philippines, located in Southeast Asia, is an archipelagic state that holds the third-largest Catholic population in the world. General statistics on period poverty in the Philippines are limited, but the religious influence has been blocking a broader question of whether the country should implement sex education or not. Reproductive health legislation poses a risk to bilateral relations between the government and Church, holding lawmakers at an impasse.
In the Philippines, many young women endure menstruation as a major economic and social determinant of success. Students, in particular, are ill-equipped to navigate their menarches, and the period stigma impacts the quality of their education and future. Policies to address this issue have been mostly ungenerous, with some advancements happening under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have been advocating to push period awareness campaigns to the forefront of the public health agenda.
According to a survey that G.M.A. News conducted, most voters support the idea of government-regulated sex education efforts. However, political progress has been slow at best; the Church holds enough public sway to delay any legislative initiatives. The Philippines did not enforce the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Act of 2012 until 2019, when Duterte signed an executive order to mandate free reproductive health services, albeit against the will of the Church.
Sex Education in the Philippines
Though the 2012 law includes mandating sex education in school curricula, people have mostly overlooked its application. Determining lessons on periods falls to the jurisdiction of the teachers, most of whom are male, and it is in this setting where many girls start to fall behind because of their menstrual cycles. Currently, the way most young people learn about menstruation is from their mothers who tell the girls to sit on a coconut shell to alleviate their cramps. They receive little help from their teachers and face standard forms of subtle embarrassment common to girls who get their menses for the first time.
The school setting also represents the larger-scale issues for people who menstruate in the Philippines. Toilets are limited in number and privacy, and windows are in poor positions allowing boys to peep at girls who are doing their business. Likewise, 14% of workplaces have inadequate toilets for women, and women must habitually carry their own toilet paper because restrooms have limited water for flushing and hand-washing.
Improving sex education could be a largely successful target to combatting period poverty in the Philippines. A U.N. WASH study identified four key recommendations to improving girls’ menstrual health in the Philippines including better education, improved facilities and greater access to menstrual products and support systems for girls who take an absence. Though period poverty remains largely unchecked, further observation would promote the general betterment necessary to combat women’s health inequities.
Initiatives to Help Fight the Period Stigma
At the social level, humanitarian organizations use community initiatives to provide support for people who menstruate. Save the Children Philippines assigns resident volunteers and teen advocates to dismantle menstrual health stigmas by reaching out to their peers with advice, support and educational tools. However, COVID-19 has intensified the crisis. Save the Children Philippines CEO Alberto Muyot told Business Mirror that now would be the key time to put menstrual health at the forefront of public health solutions. Currently, Save the Children Philippines is providing resources like hygienic kits and food offerings to combat the pandemic.
Addressing the period stigma is another initiative that comes in the form of an innovative strategy. Menstrual cups have had a profound impact on period poverty around the world; as a more economical and comfortable option than their disposable counterparts, they provide a solution that generally improves the standard of living. Sinaya Cup, a small business, retails menstrual cups catered to the specific needs and challenges girls face in the Philippines. For instance, besides promoting menstrual cups solely as an eco-friendly and comfortable solution, Sinaya Cup also promises a waterproof quality important to girls who wish to participate in recreational activities like biking, trekking and climbing.
The attitudes surrounding menstrual health is a global issue that chronically impacts the economic wellbeing of women. Addressing the stigma requires a multifaceted solution. The emergence of COVID-19 has amplified concerns regarding where women fit into the public health conversation, making now the opportune time to address the issue of period poverty. Dismantling period poverty in the Philippines might begin with government and community initiatives, but the state must consider adapting its sectarian views to accommodate the needs of women’s health.
– Danielle Han