Anthony Lopez is 28 years old and lives in the Capiz province of the Philippines. Even though COVID-19 infections in the province remained relatively low, community lockdown was still in place. COVID-19 however, unexpectedly hit Anthony’s family, when an immediate family member was diagnosed with the infection. Living in the province with no access to Manila, where the COVID-19 infected family member with a history of hypertension resides, Anthony felt genuinely defenceless and vulnerable.
“Family is the most needed in situations like this, where you need your closest to rely on and with no opportunity to provide that support, I felt completely helpless,” said Anthony.
As an alumnus of the Women Deliver Young Leaders Programme, a Board Member of Youth Voices Count – a regional network of young LGBTQ, President of the Supreme Student Council of the Capiz State University, and a peer educator of Y-Peer Pilipinas, Anthony has been advocating for human rights and the Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health of young people since 2007. His engagement with young people in the province including LGBT communities gave him the strength to not succumb to his personal despondency during this hour of need.
“I try to live the Ubuntu philosophy which translates very simply as “I am because we are”, or humanity towards others,” said Anthony, which gave him the resolution to overcome his low spirits of despair and take positive action to support the community he lives in.
Despite the personal challenges he faced, Anthony concentrated on contributing and responding towards the crisis situation through funds provided by the Student Council and the University, Anthony and his school mates started producing personal protective equipment (PPEs) for frontline workers. Since March, Anthony and his college mates have become “back liners” ensuring that front liners have the necessary equipment to tackle the fight against COVID-19 head on.
As of May 27th 2020, Anthony and his school mates have distributed 5,341 face shields; 105 face masks with shields; 14 aerosol boxes; 525 PPE sets; 230 ear guards; 25 relief aid for stranded students; and 1,683 face masks.
“I know that our actions have consequences on others, no matter how small they are and I wanted to use this to contribute to the course,” said Anthony.
The safety of young people, especially young girls and LGBT people in the Philippines is threatened by the measures that are taken to control the spread of COVID-19. With citizens mandated to stay home, the domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and teenage pregnancies from sexual violence are on the rise, even though many of the cases remain unreported. Anthony shares a story of a minor in his province that was raped by the brother-in-law while the sister was out at work, reports have mentioned that the victim’s sister was aware of the incident, but had asked her not to mention it to anyone as this could result in the brother-in-law losing his job – a blow to their finances during quarantine.
According to Anthony, hate crimes against those with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and sex characteristics are increasing; while many in the LGBT community have lost their source of income with very little or no resources to survive during this period.
Anthony shared that efforts related to COVID-19 have been rightly prioritised, but that this has also seen a 30% budget cut on “non-priority” activities of the government, and stresses that this would affect other related programmes and services. For example, SRHR workers in government have been redeployed to combat COVID-19 leaving a gap for essential services required by the young.
Access to condoms and lubricants by young people from the local public health office were also hampered by a paralysed public health office that had to close down for half a month due to a health worker being diagnosed with COVID-19 which saw over 700 employees put on home quarantine. This also severely impacted distribution and service efforts by Anthony’s organisation.
“The new normal will be unique to every country and locality,” said Anthony, “and we need to find unique interventions to ensure that all approaches and strategies to tackle COVID-19 are rights-based and through a gender-lens.”
Anthony reflects that the most marginalised should be prioritised in “new normal” interventions to ensure equal access to services, including social protection and that the sexual and reproduction health and rights of young people need to be immediately addressed across all context using innovative outreach methods to ensure that COVID-19 does not become another excuse for poor health outcomes among young people.
“COVID-19 is yet another opportunity for us to adapt, adopt and evolve. Let’s havest the maximum benefits from it,” concludes Anthony.
Board Member, Youth Voices Count
Anthony was born and raised in the Philippines and is currently pursuing an English major Bachelors degree in Secondary Education at Capiz State University. He has a background in International Women’s Health and Human Rights at Stanford University, and Global Health and Humanitarianism at Manchester University. As a founder of Y-Cap for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), he is responsible for the overall programming of the organisation, including networking and fundraising.
Since becoming a Young Leader of Women Deliver, Anthony has organised groups of young people in his community to work on relevant issues, such as teen pregnancy, HIV and youth-related concerns through a small grant awarded by Women Deliver. He also founded a university-based LGBTQIA+ organisation that advocates for the equal treatment of trans people in the academe. As an advocate, he has been nominated as a regional Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Champion for Visayas.