[OPINION] What touring the Philippines taught me about sexual health in the country

It’s been a week since I had the pleasure of speaking at the opening plenary at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 – a global gathering to mobilize the political will and financial commitments we urgently need to fully implement the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, which was established 25 years ago to empower women and girls worldwide. I was part of a delegation of 24 other bold individuals born in 1994 called 25x25 brought together by SheDecides – a global political movement that works to create a world where every girl and woman can decide on what to do with her body, life, and future. (READ: Want to tackle economic inequality? Start by meeting women's RH needs - UN)

Throughout the year building up to the conference, I and the other 25x25 young leaders embarked on journeys in our native countries to share, learn, and inspire action towards creating a world where she decides. 

My own journey lasted 6 weeks and spanned Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao representing 10 regions, 17 provinces, and 75 cities and municipalities. I consulted with hundreds of 13 to 35 year olds from across the Philippines to establish a national picture on the state of sexual health services and needs in the country. (READ: Ang tunay na lalaki: Men should fight for reproductive health too)

The results were eye-opening and highlight the need for urgent collective action. Twenty percent of those surveyed identified the need for access to family planning and healthcare services and information as the top priority, while 14% of all participants considered the need for education regarding human sexuality, reproductive health, and responsible parenthood as an issue that needs to be addressed urgently – we have a long way to go. My findings were a sad indictment of the current state of sexual reproductive health in the Philippines, where not all rural health units have complete basic health care services and personnel, and comprehensive sexuality education is not yet fully implemented. (READ: WATCH: The risks Filipino women face)

Throughout this process I have been privileged enough to engage with some incredible and brave individuals, both in the Philippines and among my fellow 25x25 young leaders. I came across some truly eye-opening stories, including a young girl who became a mother at the age of 9 and bore her second child at the age of 10, and a young person living with HIV who needs to travel for 4 hours to get antiretroviral drugs. (READ: Youth advocates on reproductive health rights)

These stories are not far from those collected by my 24 fellow young leaders. Across the globe, rigid and regressive social norms put people at a disadvantage, harmful traditional practices persist, and there are still high rates of sexual and gender-based violence. Thus, collectively, we aspire for a world where the periphery becomes the core, data collection and management systems are strengthened, resources are abundantly available, and all are underpinned by progressive leadership, attitudes, practice, and norms.

We’re now focusing on how to sustain the momentum created by the 25x25 worldwide. Aside from the unifying efforts made by the network around the world, we’re well on our way to creating strong local impact in each of the 25 countries involved. From a personal perspective, I will continue to engage with the United Nations as the Chairperson of the UN Youth Advisory Board in the Philippines and will revisit the youth advocates, stakeholders, and communities I previously engaged with to discuss potential solutions to the issues uncovered in my consultation to ensure that no one is left behind. 

It was my honor to deliver my findings at the ICPD25 and I hope they spark a light and catalyze the action we, in the Philippines and globally, so desperately need to deliver: to create a world where everyone, including young people, women, men, LGBTQI+, persons with disability, indigenous people and so on, can decide for themselves. – Rappler.com

Neil Lomibao is a SheDecides 25x25 young leader and Chairperson of the UN Youth Advisory Board Philipppines.