Youth of Zamboanga City Thumbs Up for Reproductive Health

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By Jonathan Monis, Contributor

“Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society’s margins, all of us will be impoverished. Let us ensure that all young people have every opportunity to participate fully in the lives oftheirsocieties.”– Kofi Annan

The students of Don Pablo Lorenzo National High School raised hands when asked if they agree that the government should provide RH services to young people.

The smiles andenlightened facesof young people when their myths and misconceptions are addressed are the major reasons why our group keeps on advocating for ARH and the passage of the RH Bill.

The Youth Consortium for the Reproductive Health Bill (YC4RH) held an Adolescent Reproductive Health (ARH) Campus Tour in Zamboanga City last September 20-23. They toured 8 high school and college institutions to inform the youth about the real situation of Filipino youth as far as reproductive and sexual health is concerned, and how crucial the Reproductive Health Bill is to young people, especially in terms of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE).

The group decided to have its first leg in Mindanao in Zamboanga City when news reached them that there has been an increasing number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS among young people there. According to the Population Commission (PopCom), there is a growing number of STIs and HIV in some target schools, and the school administrators are alarmed about its impact on the students. They said that it was very timely that the group went to their schools and provided knowledge to students to learn how to become responsible and protect themselves from these diseases.

Zamboanga City has no social hygiene clinic, and no teen centers that cater to the sexual and reproductive health needs of people, especially the youth.

The group partnered with PopCom 9, the City Social Welfare Office, the Forum for the Family Planning and Development, the Purple Ribbon Campaign Group, and different academic institutions to implement thisforum. The schools that the forum visited were: Don Pablo Lorenzo High School, Zamboanga City National High School – West, Maria Clara Lorenzo Lobregat National High School, Western Mindanao State University High School, Zamboanga City National High School – Main, Nuevo Zamboanga College Inc., Western Mindanao State University, and Ateneo de Zamboanga University – College of Nursing.

According to the data gathered by the implementing group, 30 percent of the total Philippine population comprises the youth sector. The youth, who have complex and special needs, face problems related to family, labor participation, education, sexual health and relationships.

Doreen Era Murata of the Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc. said, “Young people should be alarmed that the cases of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines are increasing, particularly among young people. The trend of HIV has changed drastically. Before, the face of HIV was the migrant worker. Now, young people have become the image of affected population.”

The speakers also taught young people how to improve their relationships with their family, peers, and community. Building their relationships with their parents and being open to them are very important. Parents should know the activities of their children, particularly when they are outside the house, because their activities and behaviors are different when they are with their peers.

The organizers also found out that despite certain topics on sexuality education being taught in school, students still have misconceptions about sexual and reproductive health, and the RH Bill. Common questions addressed wereabout how to relieve their dysmenorrhea, what to do with irregular menstruation, how to prevention pregnancy when sexually active, what the early signs of STIs are, what there is to know about abortion and abortifacient drugs, and how to manage gender issues.

The provisions of the Reproductive Health Bill for young people were also discussed in the forum. According to the Secretary General, “although certain contents of the bill are included in the elementary and high school curriculum, the group wants a more comprehensive approach in addressing these pressing issues of the youth. The CSE will tackle the most crucial concerns of young people, such as responsible relationships, abuse and violence, and gender and development. Hence, it should be a separate subject and not just a part of others such as TLE, Social Studies and MAPEH.”

Some claim that the RH Bill provisions, especiallycomprehensive sexuality education,will make the youth promiscuous. However, when the youth of Zamboanga were asked if the discussions would make them engage in sex afterwards, the students uttered loudly in chorus, “NO.”

In addition, when the students were asked who among them agreed that the government should be providing reproductive health services to young people, almost all raised their hands. According to one student, “it’s our right to have these RH services because this is a real need of youth and as part of the tax paid by our parents.”

The YC4RH is composed of youth-led and youth-arm organizations advocating reproductive health and the RH Bill. The group comes from different sectors such as young nurses, the health policy body, labor and employment, women’s health and rights activists, service providers, peer educators, and children’s rights advocates. They will continue their advocacy by educating young ones about their body and their rights, because empowering young people will reduce their vulnerability to certain diseases and problems. At the macro level, it will be of great help in reducingthe rates of unplanned pregnancies, violence and abuse, and abortion.

They will not stop informing fellow young people about the real contents of the RH Bill, particularly comprehensive sexuality education. Surveys consistently say that not only Filipinos in general but youth as well need and want the RH Bill. This fact was clearly demonstrated by the warm response of the students of Zamboanga City on these topics.

The group challenged the legislators of Zamboanga City to have dialogues with their young people to know their real needs. Through that, they will find out that sexual and reproductive health is one of the utmost priorities of young people, and that their support of a comprehensive national policy and program on reproductive health will be crucial for informing and empowering the youth regarding their rights.

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