Filipina workers abroad and family planning | Global News

Filipina workers abroad and family planning

/ 01:19 AM September 09, 2012

HONG KONG—“Dili siya gusto maggamit og supot”  (He doesn’t like to use condoms), my friend Lilia told me ruefully in Cebuano, giggling a bit.  That was her reply to my query about what form of birth control she and her husband Ben used.  Having known her for some time, I consulted her about what she thought of the reproductive health (RH) issue that’s been roiling Philippine politics these past months.  Lilia belongs to the army of intrepid women toiling in Hong Kong, working as a domestic for eight years in this Chinese territory.  Of the total of some 285,000 foreign maids, Pinays number 137,000, making up 48 percent (Indonesian women, who captured the traditional Pinoy lead a few years ago, are now close to 50 percent).

Only a small percentage of women like Lilia have succeeded in getting their husbands hired here as well.  She confided that she takes contraceptive pills, readily available in Hong Kong’s government clinics,  because Ben refuses to use condoms, claiming they’re “US size,” hence too big.  (There may be some truth in those who say that unschooled Pinoy men can’t be bothered with condoms, not wanting to spoil their fun, as it were.)  One Manila blogger wrote recently that men should use condoms “outside marriage, only with prostitutes.”  If that’s the pervasive male mindset, obviously the burden, so to speak, is invariably on the women.

Lilia’s opinion about the pronouncements made by the mainly male legislators and Catholic authorities revealed her discernment, despite the fact that she barely finished grade school.  Like a few others here, she has access to tabloids and TV shows from Manila, and she agreed that Sen. Tito Sotto’s tearful histrionics about contraceptives were absurd. She wasn’t surprised when I told her about reports of his plagiarism (although he denies it).


Hailing from Davao, Lilia’s contract was signed by a British employer whom she persuaded to sponsor her new husband some years later. The agreement in these cases means only the maid collects a wage. (The practice, though illegal, is common in Hong Kong where employers agree to sign a second contract so couples can stay together, invariably leaving their offspring at home.) It means the men need to find casual work.


Lilia has a son, born soon after Ben joined her in Hong Kong.  They can’t afford to raise another child, so she has no qualms about taking the pill, having seen friends who’ve had to farm out their children to relatives at home. Unless Lilia’s wage is increased or Ben finds better-paying jobs, they won’t be able to pay for the boy’s schooling, which is costly here.  So they’ll resort to asking relatives at home to care for their children who’ll grow up only knowing their parents by their monthly remittances, as countless others do.

A recent British Broadcasting Company (BBC) documentary on population recently featured a woman and her brood in a Manila slum.  The mother told the BBC correspondent that she wanted to curtail her pregnancies but seemed overwhelmed either by inertia or lack of access to a family planning clinic.  Another scene was by the Quiapo church showing vendors peddling religious icons alongside bottles marked “pamparegla” (for menstruation).  The real numbers of women resorting to native abortifacients or even back-alley abortionists may never be known.

Obviously the Church’s injunctions against contraception is ignored not just by the upper classes but also by many in the general populace.  But the erratic access to contraceptives and information means that the estimated two million babies born each year will keep the Philippines on top of the population charts in Southeast Asia, standing as it does at almost 104 million.

A finely reasoned manifesto written by 30 University of the Philippines economists titled “Population, Poverty, Politics & the RH Bill” declares that having no national population policy “is tantamount to burying one’s head in the sand.”  Whether rational thinking will put an end to the polemics is questionable in the face of the massive propaganda deployed by the bill’s opponents.  President Aquino may have endorsed “responsible parenthood,” but the filibustering legislators bent on stalling progress on that score seem impervious to the fact that they will succeed in keeping the Philippines poor.  It may be a vain hope to wish they’d drop their ideological bias and view the issue through the eyes of women like Lilia.

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TAGS: family planning, OFW, Overseas employment, population, reproductive health

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