By Nickky Faustine P. De Guzman

Jessica, not her real name, already has child of her own although she is a child herself at 14 years old. Jessica has seven siblings from different fathers; her mother is a vendor who receives meager income from selling fish.

The Philippines, unlike the rest of its Asian neighbors, has an increasing number of teenage mothers like Jessica. “The Philippines is an outlier,” said United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) country representative Klaus Beck, along the sidelines of the Oct. 17 launch of the State of World Population 2017 report titled “Worlds Apart: Reproductive Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality.”

This increase in the adolescent birth rate and a high fertility rate has resulted in a young population, which can be good for a country — so long as it is able to provide things like quality education and decent employment. Unfortunately, the Philippines doesn’t seem to be in a position to benefit from its demographics.

“Demographic dividend in the Philippines is a myth,” said Mr. Beck. Demographic dividend is the potential for economic growth of a country because the share of the working age population expands relative to that of the non-working age population. “It is a sad story,” he said of the Philippines.

Today, the combined wealth of the world’s 2,743 billionaires is more than $7.7 trillion, which is equivalent to the combined gross domestic product of four-fifths of the world’s countries in 2015.

“While some privileged households budget for millions, many hundreds of millions of families barely scrape by on less than $1.25,” said Mr. Beck said, citing the report.

shanty skyline

Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA executive director, stated in a press release: “Inequality in countries today is not only about the haves and have nots. Inequality is increasingly about the cans and cannots. Poor women who lack the means to make their own decisions about family size or who are in poor health because of inadequate reproductive health care dominate the ranks of the cannots.”

Inequality is often misunderstood by economic disparity alone, when in reality, inequality transcends socially, racially, and gender-wise. For example, the richest 20% in a population, regardless of the country’s economic grouping, has most access to modern contraception, while the poorest 20% of the population has the least.

The growing inequality gap causes generational poverty and the UNFPA report suggests putting the “furthest behind first” — the furthest behind usually being vulnerable girls and women.

When asked how patriarchal societies like the Philippines should address injustices against women, Mr. Beck said that instilling a sense of equality begins with education.

“I don’t think it is necessarily a cultural thing,” he explained, “but the report points out that it is a thing you see in many countries. I think, you have to look at education and how you bring up the children. What role models do they have, how their parents look at having an equal share in the household. … That’s how you can fix it, but there is no quick fix.”

While men “need to look harder in the mirror,” women, too, need to change their perspectives of themselves, said Mr. Beck. The report showed that if jobs are scarce, women say that men should be prioritized when it comes to available employment.

maternity ward

He expressed hope in “a new generation growing up with a new set of values… being better informed and empowered.”

In general, the Philippines is always in the middle of the pack in the statistics included in the report. In the gender wage gap table, expressed as the ratio of female-to-male average incomes in 2016, the Philippines was the median.

The report said that there is a general agreement that women and men should have access to education, but then, when it comes to equal access to employment when jobs are scarce, people believe more men should get the job.

But while people think that women should give way to men when it comes to employment, women work more hours than men in unpaid labor. The report said that in most countries, women work fewer hours in paid jobs compared to men, but when it comes to unpaid jobs and household chores, women work 2.5 times more.

One bright spot for the Philippines is that it is comfortable with women holding positions of power in the workplace. Among the 126 countries and territories studied, the Philippines comes in fourth at percentage of managers of whom are women, registering close to 50%. It is only in Colombia, Jamaica, and St. Lucia that women hold at least half of management positions. Meanwhile, in Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan, only 10%-30% of all managers are women.

And in the Philippines, women are more literate than men, according to data from the Philippine Commission on Women. This is opposite the global trend wherein of the world’s estimated population of 758 million illiterate adults, women account for 479 million and men, 279 million.

The UNFPA emphasizes the value of education, which, according to the report, can contribute to “an economic ‘miracle,’ and open opportunities for all.” When girls stay in school, they have more self-autonomy, higher self-esteem, and a better chance of battling a system stacked against them.