Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Let's talk about sex.
"Do we talk about sex? How many of us are openly talking about it," Dame Carole Kidu, a member of the High Level Task Force for International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), asked members of parliament and civil society organisations from 13 Asian countries in a forum on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on Wednesday.
Kidu pointed out the need for "comfortable" discussions on sex to address sexual and reproductive health problems such as the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other sexually transmitted infections (STI).
"We need to challenge the silence about sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) and create safe spaces for dialogue," the former minister of Papua New Guinea said.
Hilary Armstrong, member of the House of Lords, United Kingdom, said the government might find it difficult to talk about sexual and reproductive health issues as being a central development issue "but of course, it is."
Referring to the delays in the passage of the RH bill, Armstrong said, "If you have looked at the morning papers in this country, you will see examples of parliamentarians who have taken up difficulties in pushing for them. The challenge now is how are we are going to do that within our own cultural context effectively so it really does bring more emancipation to women."
Kidu said politicians should be willing to take criticisms if they believed in something.
"Some politicians know their colleagues are supporting them then suddenly when they go public, the silence is deafening. If you believe in something, you must be willing to be labelled. When you bring the discussion on sexual and reproductive health rights, you must be willing to take backlash," she said.
"The issue of sexual and reproductive health rights is not a battle between cultures, religion and rights but about finding the common ground and dialogue to move forward," she added.
Ugochi Daniels, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative of the Philippines, agreed that reproductive health is not just a religious and political discourse, communities should be involved.
"Policy makers need to really ensure good community involvement and ownership of this process so ultimately, people's voices will be heard and they will be able to adequately address their needs," Daniels said, adding, "development should be for the people."
Kidu praised the Philippines for its very active civil society. Communities should be well-informed to be able to hold their government accountable, she said.