by Dr. Joan Regina Castro
Executive Vice President, PATH Foundation Philippines Inc.
This is my second time attending COP – the 23rd in Bonn, Germany and now the 24th in Katowice, Poland. The first time, I observed the gender negotiation. It was a jubilant occasion for advocates who found success after fourteen years of journey to get to this stage. The meetings are very formal and high level. It is where the powerful and not so powerful countries have endless discussions and negotiations to agree that there is climate change and what each should commit to adapt and mitigate climate change impacts. It is where a word, a number, a statement could make or break a negotiation.
Today, I start my long journey to Katowice. As I was approaching the Manila International Airport and stuck in traffic and bright lights before me – I ask myself what value do I bring to the discussion? Will anyone even listen to my voice ? Will anyone care even about the women’s health and their sexual and reproductive health in the remote communities in the Philippines? Will this trip make a difference in the work that my organization, PATH Foundation Philippines Inc. does and for the undeserved communities it serves?
As I take the first leg of my thousand-mile journey to Katowice, I am reminded of the stories of the women and the fishermen along the Verde Island Passage in the Philippines. They too know about Climate Change. They have been experiencing intense cyclones, constant flooding of their village, stronger waves, rising sea levels, warming waters. Every woman has a story on how these are affecting their homes, their health and destroying the resources they rely on for food and livelihood. The women shared how climate change is making them even poorer than they already are. Located in remote communities, health services are not easily accessible including their sexual and reproductive health needs. One of them is Jovita. She married early and now has eight children. Her husband is a fisherman but had to stop fishing because he had an accident. She is very concerned how they will feed their children even if her eldest daughter drops out of school to work as a household helper in the bigger town. Marlyn too has more than five children. She never used a contraceptive method. Her husband is a fisherman but has fewer fish to bring home especially when the waves are strong. She helps out by weaving nipa while she takes care of her young children to contribute to the husband’s income. Elisa takes care of her old mother but they had to move her mother’s home thrice in the past ten years because the water level is rising. All the women are worried about their everyday meals and the future of their children. They are also concerned about other families in their community. They say that poor women, families with many children and those with no income will suffer most with the effects of climate change.
While the debate about climate change continues, people and nature will continue to feel the brunt of climate change including the women in various countries in Asia. The women and fishermen are not blaming anyone for climate change. They are aware that climate change will continue and they are committed to doing something to contribute to the efforts. The women’s health including meeting their sexual and reproductive health needs are key to a health family and community. If women are healthy and they can plan their families, they have time to participate in protecting the resources that provide for them and engage in economically productive activities. They call for governments to support intersectional initiatives such as the Population, Health and Environment (PHE) approach as it reflects their needs and the way they live their lives. The women are also committed to doing whatever possible to do their part to change and influence behaviour within their homes. They call on everyone to do the same and make decisions that are mindful of the vulnerable.
Continuing the journey
My journey to COP24 is in solidarity with other individuals and organisations like PATH Foundation Philippines Inc. (PFPI) , The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) and the Population and Sustainable Development Alliance (PSDA) who share the voices of the women who want their stories and their calls heard in the walls of COP 24. These are groups and individuals who shout that COP meetings are for the invisible voices as well. While I sit waiting for the next flight, I am hopeful that like journeys end, the COP will reach its goals and won’t forget the women and those sectors who are in this journey as well.