Global Roundup: Iran Says No to Women Engineers; South Korea Considers Regulating Birth Control

Weekly global roundup: The RH Bill remains in the balance in the Philippines as Catholic Bishops put up new road blocks; Iran bars female students from 77 science- and technology-related fields of study at 36 universities; and South Korea re-considers emergency contraception access as their fertility rate dwindles. 

Philippines: Church Boldly Delays RH Bill Passage, Begins Inquisition of Supporters

As the RH Bill moves slowly but steadily forward in the Philippines, irate Catholic Bishops have a new tactic to affect its delay. They are pushing for a period of amendments to be allowed following the vote to end all debate on the bill August 6, which they have referred to as a blitzkrieg. “It’s not delaying. It’s about using existing parliamentary procedures because this has plenty of loopholes. We foresee that this period of amendment, hopefully, will take a while,” said Friar Melvin Castro, executive director of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. Perhaps the CBCP is hoping to simply tire out their opponents, but the RH Bill has overwhelming support throughout the country and the world, and that won’t soon change. The bill, which would grant historic access to contraception and sex education to the country’s vast and impoverished population, is backed by the majority of Filipinos, the United Nations, countless global child-welfare, human rights, and women’s health groups, and the President himself. The bill has been erroneously represented as promotional of abortion, a procedure entirely restricted in the country. In addition, however, the Church has launched what can only be considered an inquisition, investigating 159 faculty members of Ateneo de Manila University, a Catholic university, for signing a letter of support for the bill. If they are found guilty of espousing teachings contrary to those of the Church, they will lose their jobs. Via Philippines Daily Inquirer.  

Iran: Women Barred From Studying Science and Engineering

Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology has barred women in 36 universities from 77 fields of study, according to recent national news reports. While more than half of university graduates in 2009 were women, the unemployment rate for women graduating in science, engineering, and technology-related fields has remained extremely high. This is a justification for the ban, according to some (men) in higher education: “We do not need female students at all,” said Gholamrez Rashed, head of the University of Petroleum Technology. Difficult working conditions in Iran’s oil industry are a main reason for not admitting women, he said. Though gender segregation pervades Iranian society in many ways, literacy and access to education has been relatively equal since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Prominent Iranian feminists see this latest ban as an effort on the government’s part to counteract important gains for women in recent decades. Iranian feminist Shirin Ebadi, a human rights lawyer who endured imprisonment and persecution then earned a Nobel Peace Prize, wrote an open letter to the United Nations this month: “The Iranian government is using various initiatives, laws and policies to restrict women’s education and their active presence in society, to return them to the house so that they may stop fighting for their rightful demands and let the government go ahead with its erroneous policies.” Via Bloomberg.

South Korea: Planned Reclassification of Birth Control Pills Draws Controversy

The Korean Food and Drug Administration is proposing a reclassification of contraceptive and emergency contraceptive (EC) pills as part of the agency’s efforts to reconsider the classification of all medications sold in the country. Currently, oral contraceptive pills are available over the counter, while EC requires a prescription. Under the new proposal, the regulations would be switched, with EC available over the counter and birth control pills prescription-only. There has been considerable response from doctors, pharmacists, and women’s health advocates, and as a result the government has postponed the reclassification. There also has been the usual outcry against unfettered EC availability, that it would promote use of EC in lieu of more consistent contraception and promote promiscuity. There has also been suspicion over financial motivations for the regulation switch, and whether it would be pharmacies or hospitals that would get paid. Regardless of access, South Korea’s fertility has been quite low in recent years, at just 1.21 per woman. Last year, Bloomberg reported that a persistently low birthrate was South Korea’s main obstacle to economic growth. Abortion is restricted in the country, though readily available, and recent efforts on the part of advocates have sparked historic national discussions on the issue of access. Via The Korea Times.