Expert Says Ignorance Leads to Neglect of Women’s Health
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2005 / Media / Media Coverage
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, Thursday, September 09, 2005 Ati Nurbaiti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Millions of teenagers are sexually active in the country but official ignorance or a head-in-the-sand attitude is leading to a continuing neglect of their needs, an expert on public health says.
Ford Foundation country representative Meiwita Budiharsana said Central Statistics Agency 2002-2003 data estimated 51 percent of teenagers had already had sexual intercourse before they were 19.
Meiwita was among speakers at a discussion held by the Women’s Research Institute on Tuesday. This resulted in early pregnancies and the possibility of women having more than 10 children by the age of 35.
“But it’s impossible to talk about the needs even for counseling and safe contraceptives,” let alone safe abortions, she told a discussion on gender consciousness in budgeting. Abortions are illegal here and information on contraceptives can only be aimed at married couples. So we just let these young people become sexually active without counseling and without preventing pregnancies, while unsafe abortions continue, Meiwita said.
The lack of essential public health services was reflected in the maternal mortality rate, which remained high at 380 per 100,000 births as of 2002, she said. This was not surprising as there were only an average of 71 midwives for every 100,000 women of reproductive age.
Regents don’t want to pay for midwives, she said. Even if they (the midwives) worked night and day they wouldn’t be able to cater to 100,000 women. The tendency to allocate only a little toward education in the national budget also worsened the problem, she said. If a district had five elementary schools but no secondary school, would parents really let their eldest daughter continue education far from home and have no one to look after her younger siblings?
Ignoring the health and education needs for young people only helped perpetuate poverty in the country. There are women who really want access to contraceptives, but cannot afford it, Meiwita said.
Despite such difficulties, there was at least one poor area with a relatively high allocation for public services — Jembrana in Bali. Sociologist Alexander Irwan of the Tifa Foundation said schooling was free in Jembrana, despite an only Rp 8.5 billion allocation from the 2003 budget. Meanwhile, parents still paid for their children’s education in mineral-rich North Aceh, which had Rp 138.6 billion allocated for education, Alexander said.
As long as schooling remained a cost, parents tended to push their sons — not daughters — into education, he said.
Other officials who spoke at the meeting detailed how a lack of transparency led to the absence of meaningful public participation in the formulation of budgets.
A colleague (of mine) once had to steal a copy of the state budget (to find out what was allocated to health in his area), one participant said. Another said a legislator once quipped to her that the budget was a state secret. ***