At the recently concluded first celebration of World Contraception Day in the Philippines, volunteers on-ground for NGOs and LGUs alike emphasized the importance of men's responsibility in birth control use—specifically, how they either tend to gloss over contraceptive methods geared towards men like condoms and no scalpel vasectomy (NSV); or actively reject the use of contraception by both them and their partners. (We honestly can't decide which is more alarming, but we're leaning towards the latter.)
In her talk during the afternoon forum held last September 26, Founding Executive Director of Palawan-based reproductive health NGO Ugat ng Kalusugan/Roots of Health, Amina Evangelista Swanepoel, shared how commonplace it was for them to have women come back to their office after getting an implant or an IUD inserted, requesting the contraceptive to be removed due to vehement objections from their husbands.
Men's objections to birth control stems from the fact that they do not fully understand the reproductive health concerns of women.
"One of the first communities that Ugat ng Kalusugan tried to serve was a community with a lot of fishermen and the deep-sea fishermen, they have to go out to sea for like five or six days at a time," shares Evangelista Swanepoel. "And the men explicitly did not want their wives on contraception because they will say, 'Kung hindi sila matakot na mabubuntis, then they'll play around.'"
"Of course, we were really trying to [point out that there may be an issue that they need to resolve in their relationships, that maybe they have to work on trust]," she continues. "But this is a problem that we see across the board in relationships that men and women have."
Commission on Population (POPCOM) NCR Regional Director Lydio Español Jr. acknowledged as much. "Violence against women (VAW) is one of the reasons why our females are not using family planning methods to protect themselves. Simply because they are afraid of the reaction of their partners." He notes that while there is an increase of modern contraceptive use—now at 40 percent as of last year's data—there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to promoting safe sexual practices and the elimination of unintended pregnancies.
"One out of three Pinoy youths has engaged in premarital sex, but only few men are being responsible about it."
Español Jr. also pointed out that men's objections to birth control stems from the fact that they do not fully understand the reproductive health concerns of women. "Because most of the services are centered on women, every time their wives go to the facilities, they go by themselves. So when it comes to the discussion of what those services are about—the consequences of not availing [of no scalpel vasectomies or condoms, for example]—they are not able to fully comprehend those aspects."
The POPCOM, DOH, DSWD, and a number of other government offices already have existing programs geared toward engaging men in conversations, getting them more involved in family planning, and helping them become better informed when it comes to their own and their partners' sexual health, but there's still a big room for improvement.
"We still have a problem of the increasing trend of teenage pregnancies mostly as a result of imbalance in the decision-making when it comes to engaging in sexual activities," relates Español Jr. "One out of three Pinoy youths has engaged in premarital sex, but only few men are being responsible about it."
As part of Ugat ng Kalusugan's advocacy, they also conduct lectures to educate the youths properly. "We have various modules of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) that our staff teaches in schools because the RH Law calls for comprehensive sex ed but five years later, it still hasn't been implemented," says Evangelista Swanepoel. "The DepEd only recently released guidelines for CSE, but that is still a long way to go from actually creating a curriculum and training teachers. So at the moment we have memorandums of agreement with provincial DepEd and city DepEd and our teachers go into the schools and teach about puberty and reproductive health and HIV. We have youth advocates [too because] it is really important to engage boys at an early age."
"And we don't just focus on contraception because it's so much more than that," Swanepoel adds. "We actually focus on relationships. What's a healthy relationship? What is consent? Consent is something that always raises a lot of discussions in the classrooms because for a lot of kids they never really grasp that concept or that idea—even among married women."
Dr. Bernadette Bordador, Head of the Population Management Office of Valenzuela (which was recognized as the first advocate city for World Contraception Day Philippines 2018) noted that for the most part, they have only been offering their reproductive health services on weekdays and during working hours when the men are out earning a living. “Maybe we should get to the men where they work or during the weekends when they are free. Maybe we should [employ] more male staff since we have mostly female staff working on RH,” she admits.
In her presentation, Dr. Angela Aguilar of the Philippine Society for Reproductive Medicine (PSRM)—one of the stakeholders of World Contraception Day Philippines Coalition—highlighted how pregnancy affects a woman’s health and unintended pregnancies in particular, put them at a higher risk. This only further reinforces the need for better access and information about men and women’s contraceptive choices.
"I think age aside, we really need to make it a safe environment for our children, for our teenagers, even for the older men and women to talk about [sex and birth control]," says Bayer Philippines Medical Director Dr. May Pagunsan. "They shouldn't have to feel that they will be judged if they start talking about their sexuality. So we need to collectively create that environment where you don't have to feel threatened. [And that’s definitely part of our goal with the World Contraception Day Coalition.]"
For more information on what World Contraception Day is about, your birth control options, and how you can avail of these services, you can like the World Contraception Day Philippines Facebook page or visit www.your-life.com.