Women's Health Challenges in a Low-Income Philippine Urban Neighborhood

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study privileges women's views of health to determine the categories and beliefs through which they create meanings in their lives, particularly in assessing the influence of health problems on their well-being, and whether they have implicit ideas of how it might be possible for them to live a healthy life. To determine what constitutes the domain of women's health problems and how they view these given the limitations of socioeconomic, political and environmental conditions of the community in which they live, interviews were conducted with 40 mothers in Paradise Island, Barangay Looc, Mandaue City, Philippines, between 2002-2004 as part of a larger study on women's health. Various ethnographic field methods and interviewing techniques used in cultural domain analysis were employed to ensure that the domain was defined by women, in their language and within their social and cultural context. The study show that responses are interrelated enough to establish the existence of a single cultural domain. Health challenges are connected to and cross-cut every domain of concerns the women faced. They experience well-being only if they are not confronted with problems that affect their children, family and environment. They all have, at least implicitly and albeit simple life plans and these grow out of the current situations and problems that confront them. Because this work is problem-based and driven by policy implications, some form of intervention will be necessary to address women's most felt health needs, particularly in communities where resources and access to appropriate health care are limited.

Keywords: women's health, Philippines, challenges

Introduction

Health is defined in the constitution of the World Health Organization as 'a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.' What constitutes well-being in one society, however, may be different in another. Brown, Barrett and Padilla (1998:11) state that 'any conceptualization of health must therefore depend on an understanding of how so-called normal states of well-being are constructed within particular social, cultural and historical contexts.' Anthropologists believe that behaviors are understandable within their own social and cultural contexts, particularly since what is considered poor health in one group may be the norm in some other groups. The challenge therefore is to be able to understand the other's point of view, what people think, and how their behaviors are constrained by their particular conditions.

In the Philippines, much of the research in health among women is based on preidentified health-related issues (breastfeeding, childbirth, breast cancer, menopause) or prevalent health problems (tuberculosis, diarrhea, acute respiratory infection, cholera, asthma) in the selected area. The research described here fills a need for studies that avoid focus on a pre-selected issue and privilege women's views of health (the emic perspective). This standpoint is critical in medical anthropology as it may determine the categories and beliefs through which people create meanings in their lives. Emic or insiders' perspectives give us the particular knowledge of human experience that is necessary to use as a test of theories or etic perspectives. Because what people think affects what they do, it is essential to know about what they think of their situations (Crowder, 1998).

Mandaue City is within the core of Metro Cebu which includes three other rapidly urbanizing cities and six municipalities. About 64% of its total population is within the economically productive age bracket (15-64 years), 34% are young dependents (0-14 years) and more than 2% are 65 years old and above (National Statistics Office, 2000). Females outnumber males in the 20-24 age group. Women of childbearing age (15-49 years) account for three out of five women or 58% of the total female population in Mandaue City. …