When the Margins Make Noise: Urban Poor Women’s Participation in the Reproductive Health Policy Debate and Advocacy Process in the Philippines

Monday, 16 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Enrique Nino LEVISTE, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines
Local and international media depict the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 in the Philippines as a significant legislative milestone. Apart from its purportedly positive ramifications on the economy, they view this 14-year quest as a victory for women’s rights. They also argue that the active involvement of women’s groups in the reproductive health (RH) debate and advocacy process bodes well for women empowerment because it signals the opening up of avenues for women to engage and interrogate institutions of power which they historically have limited access to. Unsurprisingly, renowned members of the local press, political pundits to some extent, hail its passage as both a triumph for the women’s health and rights lobby, and an important step towards deepening democracy in the country.

Despite this development, the nature [and extent] of women’s participation begs further scrutiny. For instance, little attention is afforded urban poor women and their ideas as if to suggest that the RH lobby is monolithic. Their perspectives on RH issues remain muted and marginalized, hence the urgency of providing conducive environments for these perspectives to take root. Furthermore, whether the involvement of urban poor women equates to a genuine recognition of their important contribution to the RH discourse, and represents a counter-hegemonic shift in power relations necessitates a more nuanced analysis.

Drawing insight from sociologist Asef Bayat and political scientist James C. Scott, this paper focuses on how unorganized urban poor women interrogate and resist enduring structures of injustice and inequality via their informal, albeit important, involvement in RH advocacy work. It also aims to shed light on their understandings of RH and experiences grappling with prevailing cultural and institutional obstacles to the crafting and implementation of RH initiatives.