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In the Philippines, policy failures fuel HIV epidemic, says HRW

The Philippine government is fueling a rising human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic among men who have sex with men through policies that restrict interventions proven to prevent transmission of the virus, Human Rights Watch said in a report

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The Philippine government is fueling a rising human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic among men who have sex with men through policies that restrict interventions proven to prevent transmission of the virus, Human Rights Watch said in a report.

The 46-page report, “Fueling the Philippines’ HIV Epidemic: Government Barriers to Condom Use by Men Who Have Sex With Men,” documents the failure of national and local governments in the Philippines to address the growing HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men.

The Philippines is facing one of the fastest-growing epidemics of HIV in the Asia-Pacific region. According to official statistics, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men has increased tenfold in the last five years. National education on effective HIV prevention methods is nonexistent, and laws prohibit condom access and HIV testing to people under 18 without parental consent. These factors are contributing to the worsening epidemic among adolescent males who engage in same-sex practices.

“President Rodrigo Duterte has inherited a legacy of failed or counterproductive policies of previous administrations that are contributing to the alarming increase in HIV infections among men who have sex with men,” said Carlos H. Conde, Philippines researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Reducing HIV transmission isn’t rocket science. But it does require the Duterte government to implement an HIV prevention program and remove obstacles to condom and HIV testing access so that young Filipinos – particularly men who have sex with men – can protect themselves from an otherwise preventable illness.”

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While the Philippine government instituted effective policies in the 1990s targeting the HIV outbreak among commercial sex workers, it has failed to adapt its prevention strategies in line with the epidemic’s shifting epicenter. Although Department of Health reports indicate that 81 percent of recorded HIV cases since 1984 have been among men who have sex with men, the government has failed to target HIV-prevention measures at this group.

Instead, government policies have created obstacles to condom access and HIV testing, Human Rights Watch said. In January 2015, the Senate cut 1 billion pesos (about US$21 million) from the Department of Health’s budget for family planning commodities. Doctors have warned that without the Senate reinstating the needed funding, government clinics are likely to exhaust their condom supplies in early 2017. Local city governments in Balanga City and Sorsogon City have issued directives forbidding government clinics from procuring and distributing contraceptive products, including condoms.

These restrictions reflect the influence of conservative forces in government at both national and local levels, driven by the underlying authority of the Catholic Church. An estimated 80 percent of Filipinos are Roman Catholics, and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, which stated in 2015 that Filipinos who contract HIV are products of “broken, dysfunctional families,” has had a longstanding obstructive influence on government health and education policies.

Despite national laws mandating compulsory sexuality education, the Philippine government has failed to provide adequate education programs on safe-sex practices. The majority of public and private schools provide no sex education classes or instruction on methods of prevention of sexually transmitted infections through safe-sex condom use. Promotion and commercial marketing of condoms ignores the population of men who have sex with men by focusing on heterosexual couples rather than lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people.

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Policies restricting access to condoms are a threat to public health, Human Rights Watch said. International law obligates states to ensure access to condoms and related HIV prevention services as part of the human right to the highest attainable standard of health. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by the Philippines in 1974, directs governments to take steps necessary for the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemic … diseases,” including HIV/AIDS.

During the presidential election campaign, then-candidate Duterte spoke in favor of improving the rights of LGBT people, which LGBT rights activists hope will extend to needed policies for addressing the HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men. Duterte has also committed to improving the “professional competence and operational capabilities” of public health care.

Philippine Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial announced on December 2 that the Department of Health will begin distributing condoms in Philippine schools in 2017 to address the rise in HIV infections among Philippine youth, and is considering the distribution of HIV self-testing kits. Those are positive initiatives if the government can ensure that children can access condoms and HIV self-testing kits through mechanisms that are non-stigmatizing and encourage, rather than discourage, that access. The Department of Health has also announced an initiative to encourage parents to teach safer sexuality education at home, but did not provide details on the need for comprehensive safer sexuality education in Philippine schools.

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“The Duterte government has a golden opportunity to remedy the legal and policy errors of previous administrations by implementing proven low-tech and low-cost interventions that can help stop in its tracks the country’s HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men,” Conde said. “Failure to do so will only ensure that the already alarming number of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men will continue to rise.”

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SM Supermalls to install gender-neutral restrooms starting this November

SM Supermalls will begin installing all-gender restrooms in its malls starting this November. The move will be first done in malls in Metro Manila, including SM Mall of Asia, SM City North EDSA, SM Megamall, SM Aura Premier and The Podium; as well as at SM Seaside City Cebu.

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Real move for inclusion; or mall-versus-mall PR effort targeting the pink peso?

Months after Araneta Center’s Farmers Plaza in Cubao, Quezon City figured in a much-hyped controversy for refusing to allow a transgender woman to use a toilet befitting her gender identity, SM Supermalls announced that it will begin to install all-gender restrooms in its malls starting this November.

The move will be first done in malls in Metro Manila, including SM Mall of Asia, SM City North EDSA, SM Megamall, SM Aura Premier and The Podium; as well as at SM Seaside City Cebu.

The move, according to a statement released by the giant company, is a “leap towards a more gender-inclusive community”, as SM Supermalls aims to “continue to provide a safe community space that advocates inclusivity, equality, and respect for all regardless of gender expression, identity, or sexual orientation.”

“With inclusivity and innovation at the core of everything we do, we endeavor to create spaces where all shoppers are welcome,” SM Supermalls COO Steven Tan was quoted as saying.

The all-gender restroom will be a new facility in addition to the male, female, and PWD restrooms in these malls.

The effort may be commendable, but SM Supermalls is not always on the side of what’s right. In 2015, for instance, its establishment in Baguio City, SM Baguio, cut 60 trees surrounding the mall for its expansion, including to build additional parking.

SM Supermalls is also infamous for practicing contractualization – i.e. not regularizing its employees, thus failing to give many security of tenure and benefits.

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Positive family relationships linked with lower levels of depressive symptoms

Positive family relationships during adolescence appeared to be associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms from adolescence to midlife in this observational study of about 18,000 adolescents followed up until they were 32 to 42 years old.

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Photo by Ricardo Moura from Unsplash.com

How are adolescent family relationships associated with trajectories of depressive symptoms from adolescence into midlife for women and men?

This was the question asked by a study – “Association of Positive Family Relationships With Mental Health Trajectories From Adolescence To Midlife” by Ping Chen, PhD and Kathleen Mullan Harris, PhD – published by JAMA Pediatrics, with the findings suggesting an association of early intervention in family relationships during adolescence with better mental health into adulthood and midlife.

The study analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which used a multistage, stratified school-based design to select a prospective cohort of 20 745 adolescents in grades 7 to 12 from January 3, 1994, to December 26, 1995 (wave 1). These respondents were followed up during four additional waves from April 14 to September 9, 1996 (wave 2); April 2, 2001, to May 9, 2002 (wave 3); April 3, 2007, to February 1, 2009 (wave 4); and March 3, 2016, to May 8, 2017 (sample 1, wave 5), when the cohort was aged 32 to 42 years.

The study sample of 8,952 male adolescents and 9,233 female adolescents that were analyzed was a US national representation of all population subgroups by sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geography.

Levels of depressive symptoms (Center for Epidemiologic Studies–Depression Scale [CES-D]) from ages 12 to 42 years were then used to estimate propensity score–weighted growth curve models to assess sex differences in trajectories of depression by levels of positive adolescent family relationships.

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A total of 18,185 individuals (mean [SD] age at wave 1, 15.42 [0.12] years; 9233 [50.8%] female) participated in the study.

The study found that females and males who experienced positive adolescent family relationships had “significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms from early adolescence to midlife than did those who experienced less positive adolescent family relationships.”

For example, depressive symptoms were lower among those with high levels of family cohesion compared with those with low cohesion between 12 (1.26 lower CES-D score; 95% CI, 1.10-1.42) and 40 (0.78 lower CES-D score; 95% CI, 0.50-1.06) years of age among females and between 12 (0.72 lower CES-D score; 95% CI, 0.57-0.86) and 37 (0.21 lower CES-D score; 95% CI, 0.00-0.41) years of age among males.

The study also found that the reduction in depressive symptoms associated with positive adolescent family relationships was greater for females than males during the adolescent and early adulthood years (ie, early 20s) (eg, low-high cohesion difference in mean CES-D score, −1.26 [95% CI, −1.42 to −1.10] for females and −0.72 [95% CI, −0.86 to −0.57] for males at 12 years of age; low-high cohesion difference in mean CES-D score, −0.61 [95% CI, −0.69 to −0.53] for females and −0.40 [95% CI, −0.48 to −0.31] for males at 20 years of age), after which females and males benefited equally from positive adolescent relationships throughout young adulthood to midlife.

As per the authors, “The findings suggest that positive adolescent family relationships are associated with better mental health among females and males from early adolescence to midlife. Interventions in early family life to foster healthy mental development throughout the life course appear to be important.”

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This is noteworthy for the LGBTQIA community because other studies highlight the relevance of family support to LGBTQIA people. An earlier study released in July, for instance, showed “that derisive parenting fosters dysregulated anger in adolescent children. Dysregulated anger is indicative of difficulties regulating emotion, which typically result in negative emotions, verbal and physical aggression, and hostility. Increases in dysregulated anger, in turn, place adolescents at greater risk for bullying and victimization, and for becoming bully-victims (bullies who also are victimized by other bullies).”

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Divided US Supreme Court to decide whether Civil Rights Act should also protect LGBT workers

Outrage Magazine is at the US Supreme Court, where oral arguments were heard on a major civil rights question: Are gay and transgender people covered by the law barring employment discrimination on the basis of sex?

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WASHINGTON, DC – The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a major civil rights question: Are gay and transgender people covered by the law barring employment discrimination on the basis of sex?

As FYI: Legal developments in many countries – including the Philippines – are affected by those in the US. For instance, when the Philippines’ Supreme Court heard oral arguments on marriage equality in the country, the civil rights movement in the US was mentioned, along with other international laws/statutes pushing for LGBTQIA human rights.

At the SCOTUS, three cases are being heard.

Two of those cases, Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, ask whether a worker can be fired for their sexual orientation. The third, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, asks whether a worker can be fired because of their gender identity.

US currently has a federal civil rights law that somewhat touches on this – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex as well as gender, race, color, national origin and religion.

However, the text of the law bans only “sex” discrimination, not specifically stating discrimination based on a worker’s “sexual orientation” or “gender identity”.

It is worth noting, therefore, that in the US, 29 states still do not have a law protecting the rights of LGBTQIA workers from being fired solely because of their SOGIE.

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The cases now at SCOTUS, therefore, ask whether concepts like sexual orientation and gender identity – both tightly bound to the concept of sex (meaning gender, not sexual intercourse) – should also be included under its grasp.

Thus far, the members of SCOTUS are divided.

The top court’s liberal members are expected to vote with the plaintiffs and the argument that LGBTQIA workers should be covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor was among those who already noted that firing LGBTQIA people not because they under-performed but because of who they are may fall under the statutory ban on sex discrimination. “We can’t deny that homosexuals are being fired merely for being who they are and not because of religious reasons, not because they are performing their jobs poorly,” Sotomayor said, calling it “invidious behavior.”

For Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Title VII prohibits employment discrimination that occurs “because of (an employee’s) race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The language used here is broad and it suggests that a simple test should apply in sex discrimination cases. A plaintiff in such a case should prevail unless they would have experienced the exact same treatment if they “were a different sex.”

For Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, interpretations of Title Vii had changed in the past. Since this law was enacted, the SCOTUS has held that it applied to discrimination based on sex stereotypes, as well as same-sex harassment. And though these areas were presumably not on the minds of the legislators who voted for it, “no one ever thought sexual harassment was encompassed by discrimination on the basis of sex back in 1964. It wasn’t until a book was written in the middle 1970s bringing that out,” Ginsburg said. “And now we say, ’Of course, harassing someone, subjecting her to terms and conditions of employment she would not encounter if she were a male, that is sex discrimination. But it wasn’t recognized.”

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But conservative justices – including those appointed by US Pres. Donald Trump, who may continuously claim to be pro-LGBTQIA but has been attacking LGBTQIA human rights in the country by implementing policies not beneficial to the LGBTQIA community (such as banning transgender people from serving in the military) – are concerned of “massive social upheaval” if the court will rule in favor of LGBTQIA workers, instead of allowing Congress to legislate on the subject.

Decisions from the nine justices of America’s highest court are due by next June. – WITH SUZETTE MAGALLANES-PADOR

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Political divisiveness can cause an increase in homophobic bullying

Divisive partisan climates can cause an increase in homophobic bullying. But one school initiative was found to prevent and combat homophobic bullying – i.e. the formation of gay-straight alliance clubs.

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Photo by Markus Spiske from Unsplash.com

Divisive partisan climates can cause an increase in homophobic bullying. This is according research Dr. Yishan Shen, an assistant professor in the School of Family and Consumer Sciences at Texas State University at Austin.

According to Shen – whose research group was headed by Stephen Russell, chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas – being a teenager is hard enough, but Dr. Yishan Shen, an assistant professor in the School of Family and Consumer Sciences at Texas State University, has uncovered additional challenges for youths between 10 and 19 who are targets of bullying during contentious political campaigns.

While examining data from the California Healthy Kids Survey gathered before a 2008 referendum known as Proposition 8, Shen found what she described as an “odd peak of homophobic bullying in 2008.”

Shen reported the trend to Russell, whose laboratory she joined as a graduate student at UT in 2015 to expand her scholarship to other minority and marginalized groups. Russell dubbed Shen’s finding as “The Prop 8 Effect”, in a reference to attitudes about a California ballot initiative intended to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. They continued studying the topic, with their findings published as Proposition 8 and Homophobic Bullying in California in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers determined that secondary school students reported “significantly more” homophobic bullying as the Prop 8 vote was approaching, but less after the Prop 8 vote. 

The researchers tried running different statistical analyses to see if there are other possible explanations, like the economic or ethnic makeup of the schools, but after controlling for each of these variables, the same pattern was observed, thereby leading them to conclude that the increase in rates of bullying was associated with Prop 8.

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 One school initiative was found to prevent and combat homophobic bullying in their study – the formation of gay-straight alliance (GSA) clubs. 

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‘Humanizing SOGIE’ launched to help elevate SOGIE discussion

LGBTQIA community members, as well as allies launched “Humanizing SOGIE”, a national initiative to advocate for sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE) inclusion and equality in the Philippines.

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Allies in Congress, community leaders, and other advocates joined together to launch “Humanizing SOGIE”, a national initiative to advocate for sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE) inclusion and equality in the Philippines.

Gender equality organization SPARK! Philippines, with support from the Government of Canada and in partnership with Love is All We Need and Propel Manila, is launching this national campaign that shares stories of Filipinos through a public exhibit, engaging the public in a social media conversation and creating space for community coordination.

“Humanizing SOGIE is more than just a social media campaign. Its focal point is a public exhibit highlighting the challenges that 23 Filipinos have faced as a result of their diverse SOGIE,” SPARK! Philippines executive director Maica Teves explained. 

By shining a light on the stories of real Filipinos with diverse experiences, “the campaign aims to challenge preconceptions about what it means to be LGBTQ+ in the Philippines and to increase public awareness about how different forms of discrimination continue to impact members of the community,” Teves added.  

Humanizing SOGIE is expected to contribute to an ongoing public conversation about these issues by encouraging those who visit the public exhibit to share their reactions through social media and to join the call for greater inclusion and equality.

Recognizing that there are no legal protections in the Philippines specifically for SOGIE individuals, “Humanizing SOGIE” will engage directly with lawmakers by inviting them to visit the exhibit and participate on social media. The campaign will also organize a series of community dialogues to convene allied individuals and groups, particularly from the LGBTQ+ organizations, to coordinate their efforts in pushing for greater SOGIE equality.

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The project is funded with support from the Embassy of Canada’s Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, a competitive grants program that supports Filipino organizations implementing projects that empower marginalized groups across the country.

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Only 1 out of 10 Filipinos always use condoms

Only 30% said they used condoms very frequently to prevent pregnancy and at least 40% to avoid STIs.

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Most sexually active Filipinos don’t always use condoms, putting them at risk to acquire sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and, yes, unwanted pregnancy.

This is according to a study done by PhilCare, a health maintenance organization (HMO), which showed that only one out of 10 Filipinos always use protection.

Over 800 (i.e. 820) sexually-active Filipinos were polled nationwide for this study, which found that at least 30% said they used condoms very frequently to prevent pregnancy and at least 40% to avoid STIs. (It is worth nothing that the study did not segregate respondents based on their SOGIE – Ed)

Condom use for the prevention of STIs was higher among women (48%) than men (36%).

Meanwhile, 36% of women and 30% of men reported using condoms to prevent possible pregnancy.

The study similarly found out that those from Mindanao used protection more frequently, compared to the national average. Some 26% of Mindanawon respondents used condoms against unplanned pregnancy, which is more than twice the national average of 12%.

Meanwhile, at least 18% of respondents from Mindanao used condoms against STIs, still and also higher than the national average of 13%.

The survey also found that only two out of 10 young adults, aged 18 to 30, always used protection. Broken down, over half of young adults used protection very frequently against STIs, while almost 40% did to avoid pregnancy.

In contrast, only 12% of men and women between 31 to 40 used condoms against STIs while 14% said they did to prevent pregnancy.

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Older respondents in between 40 to 50 reported even lower condom use. Only 10% used protection against STIs, while only 7% as contraception.

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