#RandomRuminations from Copenhagen

I’ve been in Copenhagen for about 10 days now reporting on the women who come to Denmark and other parts of Europe to be an “au pair” for my Pulitzer Center reporting grant.

The au pair program (coming from the French term meaning “on equal terms”) is a cultural exchange where a young person can live with a host family and be immersed in a foreign culture and language. In exchange for the free accommodations, the au pair is expected to do light household chores and will receive a monthly allowance of about USD$600.

As majority of the au pairs come from developing countries, the main motivation for coming to Europe is cultural rather than economic. Au pairs from the Philippines (the major sending country) and Nepal report paying as much as $6,000 to a broker or recruiter who will facilitate travel arrangements including finding a host family. Many are already heavily indebted when they come to Europe and there is immense pressure to recover the cost and send money to families back home all before her two year au pair visa expires.

Some who don’t want to leave after two years resort to desperate measures to stay.

Of course, there are some stories of success. Some former au pairs have saved up enough to pursue higher education in Europe and have carved out a different path, one that is filled with possibility and opportunity.

Over the time that I have been here, I have been encouraged to focus on these success stories. In the spirit of balance and fair reporting, those stories are not to be ignored, but mostly, I am bothered by the varying definition of “success” like when someone tells me: “Oh, you should interview XXX. She’s doing well now, she’s married to a Danish man.”

123And my feminist heart winces, cringes and bleeds.

I continue to dream of the day when a woman’s measure of success will not be marriage to a man, European or otherwise.

‪#‎reportersnotebook‬ ‪#‎notesfromthefield‬ ‪#‎pulitzercenter‬ ‪#‎onassignment‬

Theater-based Forum on HIV

As part of its continuing advocacy to promote HIV and AIDS awareness, especially among young people, PLCPD will sponsor the staging of “Melanie.”

“Melanie” is a gay beautician who died from the complications of AIDS. From that tragic start, his friends begin to be aware of their own risky sexual behavior and the reality of HIV infection. They discuss the disease among themselves: its risk factors, its preventive measures, its laboratory testing, its medical management, its urban myths and its social stigma.


Melanie E-Poster

Sex Positivity on Valentine’s Day

Dear SASsy Ones,

How’s your Valentine’s Day coming along? 🙂

I know I always get busy on Valentine’s Day–and not just for the reasons you may think. 😉 In the past years, I’ve spent nights giving out condoms in bars and clubs reminding couples not to let a hot date turn into a due date or joining some friends in getting an HIV test and blogging about it.

This year was a little different. I was invited by CNN Philippines to talk about positive sexuality on two of their talk shows, #RealTalk and #MedTalk.

On #CNNPhRealTalk, hosts Rachel Alejandro (my personal girl crush) and Christine Jacobs asked me how parents can talk to their kids about sex and another guest talked about the saving sex for marriage. I thought it was great. Abstinence is certainly a choice–and you can’t refute the science, absolute abstinence will keep you STI free and not pregnant–but the discussion acknowledged that for some, abstinence should not be the only choice.

CNN Phils RealTalk Feb 2016

On #CNNPhMedTalk, hosts Angel Jacob (my other personal girl crush) and Dr. Freddie Gomez talked to an OB-GYNE and an urologist about protecting yourself against STIs and untimed pregnancy and I talked about the intimate and personal aspect of sexual health.

CNN Phils MedTalk Feb 2016

In both shows, I was asked how parents can engage their kids in a sex positive conversation about sex! YEY to more parents educating and empowering their kids! That’s what positive sexuality is all about: talking about sex in an honest and judgement free way–where everyone can feel safe to ask questions and express opinions.

We also framed the discussion around the current Philippine situation of rising teen pregnancies and HIV infection rates. The Philippines has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the Asia Pacific Region and one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world.

It is clear that we have been doing–muting conversations about sex and restricting young Filipinos from sexual health information and services–is not working. It is clear that we have to do things differently starting like, yesterday.

Let’s not be afraid to take the sex positive conversations forward.

Sexual health and positive sexuality are not just about what goes on in on our nether regions, it is also about protecting another fragile organ: our hearts. The decisions that we make about sex affect our emotional well-being, that realm of our bodies controlled by the heart. Positive sexuality takes into account all those things: our sexual parts, our heart and our intellect. Positive sexuality empowers us to make informed choices about our health.

My deepest thanks to #CNNPhilippines for guesting me on both shows to have a sex positive conversation. Let’s keep the sex positive chats going, even beyond Valentine’s Day.

Happy Valentine’s Day, SASsy Ones!

With all my SAS,
Ana Santos e-sig2

Neglect of comfort women ‘criminal’ – Eve Ensler

The author of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and co-founder of the One Billion Rising protest movement gives voice to Filipina comfort women

MANILA, Philippines – “If what happened to us happened to Mr Aquino’s sisters—we were raped, made to cook and clean and then beaten if we refused to spread our legs, could he continue to ignore us?” The 85-year-old woman’s voice shook, there was a faint tremble in her hand, and her eyes glistened as she spoke.

Narcisa Claveria is one of the estimated 1,000 lolas (grandmothers) who were used as comfort women or sex slave by Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

Photo by Ana Santos
Photo by Ana Santos

The comfort women, whose number has now dwindled to about 70, have been demanding an unconditional apology from the Japanese government, admission that comfort women and the system of sex slavery existed and compensation for the mental trauma and hardship they endured.

Their pleas have gone ignored.

Call for justice unheeded

Last December, Japan apologized to the government of South Korea and agreed to pay $8.3 million as compensation for their use of Korean comfort women.

That and the five-day state visit of Emperor Akihito last month made the comfort women hope that both the Philippine and Japanese government would listen to their grievance and acknowledge their existence.

But the aging women’s fight for justice continues to be neglected.

“I’m sorry. I am so sorry,” Eve Ensler said to Lola Narcisa.

The author of the widely popular play “The Vagina Monologues” and co-founder of One Billion Rising protest movement had been intently watching and listening to Lola Narcisa as she spoke.

Facing the crowd gathered for the One Billion Rising press conference on February 8, Ensler said: “I have known and worked with Lola Narcisa for the last 15 years. How is it possible that we are still sitting here today without having apologized to these women? It is a matter of national shame and that falls on the Philippine government.”

One Billion Rising Philippines

Ensler is in the Philippines for the next 12 days to visit multiple cities and spend time with the Gabriela Women’s Party List as well as comfort women, youth groups, Lumad women and women in Angeles City who are protesting the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which outlines arrangements for US military to set up bases in 8 locations around the country.

On its 4th year, the One Billion Rising Philippines is a protest movement that uses dance and song as a mobilizing force to end violence against women and girls. Statistics show that 1 in 3 females, equivalent to about one billion women, will experience some form of sexual violence in her lifetime.

“Women like Lola Narcisa are women who gave their lives and bodies for this country and yet they are not valued and cherished. It is criminal,” said Ensler.

Lola Narcisa vowed keep fighting. “Kahit ibala ako sa kanyon ni Mr Aquino, lalabanan ko yan. Hindi ako mananahimik.” (Even if I were used as cannonball by Mr Aquino, I will fight. I will not be silenced.)

The first One Billion Rising protest began on February 9, in Tondo, Manila.

Ensler along with One Billion Rising global director Monique Wilson will also set out on a multiple country Rising tour across Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Dhaka. The tour will end in London with the premier of Ensler’s latest theatrical work, “Fruit Trilogy” at theWomen of the World International Festival.

Girls have a vagina. Boys have a penis.

Dear SASsy Ones,

I’m in Bali this week covering the International Conference on Family Planning, a global conference to discuss–well, what else–family planning. Well, it goes a lot deeper than that, like how family planning and birth control can help improve quality of life, end cycles of poverty and how important it is for young teens to get access to contraception.  All of that deserves a longer post and I’ll get to that…but check out what I found at the Planned Parenthood booth at the conference.



Organizations like Planned Parenthood use anatomical dolls like this to teach young children about their bodies and how to take care of it. They start off by using the correct names for body parts. Girls have a vagina. Boys have a penis.  The concept of “good touch” and “bad touch” and consent are communicated with these dolls as visual aids. Tet Arcenal, our friend from IPPF told me that these dolls are used for sex ed lessons with elementary school kids.

Older dolls have pubic hair, breasts for girls and armpit hair for boys to illustrate the hormonal changes the body goes through during puberty.


Tet from IPPF tells us more about the dolls in this video.

In the Philippines, ANTHILL and partner community HOME Plush Toys make anatomically correct dolls like these. Our friend from ANTHILL, Anya Lim tells us: “The dolls are used in juridical courts around the country for children and women who are victims of abuse to help them tell their story. I love how these dolls are use as visual aids but also help in trauma therapy.”

I think the dolls are seriously adorable. Non-threatening and educational–perfect for teaching sex positive sex education. And like Tet says: “They’re less boring than a PowerPoint presentation!”


SASsy Parenting Advice from Mark Zuckerberg

Dear SASsy Ones,

Mark Zuckerberg gave a golden nugget of kid-rearing advice when he announced his 2016 goal on his Facebook page.

Mark has been widely documented as wearing the same shirt every day (Relax! He has a closet full of the same shirt so it’s not exactly the same shirt every day — well, you get it.) so he doesn’t waste precious time thinking about what to wear. This frees up his mind space to think of other matters like his 2016 goal of developing a simple artificial intelligence to run his home. Mark compared to what Jarvis is to Iron Man.

That, per se, is not the kick ass kid-rearing advice. [Wait for it…]

Naturally, his plans drew praises from his many followers. One of them said: “I keep telling my granddaughters to marry the nerd in school, he may turn out to be a Mark Zuckerberg. Thanks for FB, I’ve reconnected with family and many old friends and classmates.”

Mark replied, saying: “Even better would be to encourage them to *be* the nerd in their school so they can be the next successful inventor!”


Mark and his wife Priscilla Chan are both “nerds” in own right. Priscilla graduated from Harvard in 2007 (where she and Mark met) and went on to study pediatrics at the University of California in San Francisco.

Priscilla isn’t just Mrs. Zuckerberg, she is also Dr. Chan.

Anyway, all of this reminded of that saying going around the Internet: “Be the doctor your mother told you to marry.”

So yeah, you can marry the doctor, the engineer, or the nerd, but even better would be to grow up and be the ______ [fill in with mother-approved profession here].

Now, that’s great kid-raising advice. Whether or not you’re a parent, pass it on. Boys and girls need to know that they have enough greatness within themselves to be whatever it is they dream to be. Finding someone to support that dream is a welcome bonus, but not necessary. : )

Have a great SASsy week ahead, everyone!

With all my SAS,

Ana Santos e-sig2

Issue of Early Pregnancy on Women’s Rights Seminar

The Embassy of France to the Philippines cordially invites you to a seminar on the issue of early pregnancy on women’s rights on Wednesday, January 20, from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm at De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde, School of Design and Arts Theater.

This seminar is organized by French Embassy in the Philippines together with France Volontaires and LP4Y in partnership with De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde. NGOs, students, academe, and representative from government agencies will gather to discuss these topics.


The seminar will focus on the social and economic implications linked to the subject of early pregnancy in the world and in the Philippines with the participation of French and Filipino experts, testimonies of young mothers and presentations of NGOs.

Thank you to register online: https://goo.gl/B0reTz, or by email: [email protected]

More information on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/190150181337499/



#MissUniverse2015 SASsiest Social Media Moments

After 42 years, we brought home the crown! #MissUniverse2015 is Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. It is a coronation that has set news wires and social media on fire with memes, tweets and posts. We’ve put together our favorite SASsiest posts that had us laughing, awwwing and cringing all day.

1. Colombiazoned took over being FriendZoned







2. Die-hard confidence makes for a killer photo




3. When Pia Wurtzbach became an adjective–when your name takes on new meaning, you just know that you’re going down in herstory


4. Other men stepped (or Tweeted) in to defend Steve Harvey’s honest human mistake


5. The attempts to make the heartbroken, the misled and the disillusioned feel better about their situation


6. Short time was redefined

7. Childhood trauma was relived.

We totally agree with this post from Lexi Bubenchik. Pia’s moment of glory, the traditional Miss Universe walk & wave to her subjects was cut short—presumably to stop the bleeding of this production snafu. Let’s give our #MissUniverse2015 her moment in the spotlight.


Photo from Ms. Universe's website.
Photo from Ms. Universe’s website.

But the SASsiest lesson to be learned is one of graciousness amidst confusion and while wrestling through an emotional rollercoaster in front of about 10 million people – more or less.

Though visibly unsure of what was expected of her, Miss Philippines remained poised and calm. Hey, she could have claimed the victory with a fistbump and yelled, “Yezzzz! I knew it! I have the whole beks community behind me, how could I not win this?!” But she patiently waited. Later, she empathized with Miss Colombia (the shortest reigning Miss Universe on record), said she was sorry and genuinely wished her the best.

Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez, on the deep end of this cringe-inducing moment, was rather stoic—as one would expect. Later, she redeemed herself. In an interview after this most awkward moment, she simply said, “Everything happens for a reason” and that “She is very happy.”


Graciousness—that’s what makes you queen. Congratulations, Pia!

[Dash of SAS] What to know about HIV in PH

Charlie Sheen’s recent revelation that he is living with HIV is bringing back the topic into the public conversation

ANILA, Philippines – With Charlie Sheen going on TV to disclose his HIV status, HIV has become a topic of discussion again.

Let me contextualize that: in the last 30 years since HIV was first detected, there has been significant progress in preventing the spread of the virus.

Globally, the rate of new infections and deaths due to AIDS-related complications has dropped. Through advancements in anti-retroviral therapy, those who have HIV can live longer productive lives. HIV is no longer the death sentence it was when it was first detected.

At the 2014 AIDS Conference in Melbourne, fast track strategies were laid out to end HIV by 2030. In just 30 years – one lifetime – scientific advancements and discoveries have brought us to a point where we can talking about ending HIV.

That’s one side of the story.

The other side is that HIV is no longer the public health emergency it once was. In terms of media focus, HIV has given way to more urgent and pressing issues like climate change and urban terrorism.

HIV infects over 22 Filipinos everyday

But in the Philippines, our HIV outbreak is just starting. The Philippines is one of the 9 remaining countries in the world where HIV continues to rise. Here are some things we should know about the state of HIV in the Philippines:

In the Philippines, there are 22 new HIV infections reported every day. In 2010, there were only 4 new HIV infections reported daily.

In just the last 5 years, the rate of HIV infection in the Philippines has increased by over 200%. The World Health Organization has described the Philippines as having the fastest growing epidemic in the world.


The 2013 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey showed that over 43% of young people think that HIV can be transmitted by sharing food with someone who is HIV+. Only 17% of Filipino youth surveyed had correct information about HIV.

HIV cannot be transmitted by sharing utensils or by kissing – no matter how intense.

HIV is a virus that needs a carrier to transfer from one person to another. These carriers are body fluids like blood, breast milk, semen, and vaginal fluids. Without these carriers, HIV cannot live outside the body.

However, the case of blood is slightly different. Blood that is infected with HIV may be stored inside a needle or a syringe and transferred, making it one of the most efficient ways of transmitting the virus.

The rapid spread of HIV in Cebu is attributed to injecting drugs and sharing of needles. Before 2010, less than 1% of persons who inject drugs (PWID) in Cebu were HIV+. Now, that number is estimated to be more than 50%.

A combination of factors: criminalization of possession and distribution of syringes and prohibiting needle exchange programs have contributed to a dramatic increase of PWID who are HIV+.

HIV is not the same as AIDS

HIV is human immunodeficiency virus. It is a virus that weakens the immune system by attacking T-cells that fight off disease. HIV is not curable, but it is manageable. If you are infected you will have HIV for life, but it can be controlled by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and through anti-retroviral therapy.

AIDS is the final stage of the HIV infection. The immune system is weakened and becomes vulnerable to opportunistic infections like pneumonia or tuberculosis. Not everyone who has HIV advances to the AIDS stage.


HIV. The news that Charlie Sheen is living with HIV is renewing the conversation on HIV internationally and in the Philippines. Image courtesy of Ernest Fiestan
HIV. The news that Charlie Sheen is living with HIV is renewing the conversation on HIV internationally and in the Philippines. Image courtesy of Ernest Fiestan


Anyone can have HIV

It is a common misconception that you can tell if someone has HIV just by looking at them. A related misconception is that someone who is pretty or gwapo(handsome) cannot be infected with HIV.

That is not true.

Anyone can be infected with HIV. A middle-aged Hollywood actor who is also a father – someone like Charlie Sheen – can be infected with HIV. Young people can be infected with HIV and even women who are in long-term monogamous relationships can be positive for HIV.

The number of young people in the Philippines infected with HIV is increasing. According to the Department of Health (DOH), the proportion of people living with HIV (PLHIV) between the ages of 15-24 increased from 20% (2005-2009) to 28% (2010-2015).

A person can live with HIV

The correct term for someone with HIV is person living with HIV. They are not called “AIDS victim” or “AIDS patients.” If you think about it, the choice of words is very deliberate – person living with HIV.

“Person” because anyone can be infected and “living with HIV” because those who are positive for HIV can live long, productive and normal lives. Words empower people, but they can also alienate, exclude and stigmatize. Let’s choose our words well.

Because we know what causes HIV, we can know how to protect ourselves. There is a acronym that is often used in HIV 101 classes called ABCD.

A: Abstain from sex.

B: Be faithful. Limit sexual partners.

C: Condomize. Use condoms correctly and consistently.

D: Don’t use or inject drugs.

We can also add E: Educate yourself.

Know as much as you can about HIV, how to protect yourself, how to take care of and be considerate of those living with HIV. Knowledge is power. And understanding leads to acceptance. It is not hate that discriminates – it’s ignorance.

This article was reposted from Rappler

#SASsy6: The Skin Secrets You Really Need to Know About

We’re giving you some tough love on skin care, because, well, why not?

1. There’s one thing that makes you look older than you really are.

Wrinkles and crow’s feet have a nasty way of adding years even before the next birthday comes around, but you know what makes those lines that gather around your eyes and lips even more pronounced? Dehydrated dull skin! Yep, that’s the real culprit. Speaking as a woman teetering on 40, I try to avoid dry skin as much as I can. I don’t want to act my age and neither do I want to look like it– yet.

Before I turn in, I massage Bio-Oil which is infused with vitamin A which aids in skin renewal and elasticity and vitamin E, a natural anti-oxidant that makes skin soft, smooth and supple.

2. Moisturize.

Moisturize. Your future self will thank you for it.  You know how they say that you will look back at your old pictures and marvel at how thin you once were? That’s how you’ll feel about your reflection looking back at you. Ok, save for the flaming red acne days of your teens (I had many of those years and I secretly hated those went through their teens pimple free), you’ll look back at your youthful skin and wonder where it all went. Moisturizing is your best bet against the ravages of time.

And yes, this goes for those of you with oily skin, too. Moisturizing won’t cause pimples. The scientific explanation? Moisturizing will neutralize the need for oil-producing glands to produce more oil that will just get trapped in your skin and produce pimples.

3. Some scars are badges of honor, but some are just ugly.

I get it. Scars are evidence of surviving ferocious mosquito bites and other inconveniences of urban life. But they don’t have to be constant reminders. As has been said, many times over, walang forever. Even with scars. I like applying Bio-Oil to nagging skin marks that won’t go away. It’ll take time–but certainly not forever–for them to lighten.

4. The same is true for stretchmarks.

Surviving the toll childbirth takes on your body is a live-to-tell-the-tale kind of story in itself. But

you don’t have to live with dark red stretchmarks that look more like railroad tracks on your tummy. I still have my tiger stripes and over the years, more marks appear as my skin stretches for other reasons that have nothing to do with pregnancy. Rubbing Bio-Oil, which contains a lot of Vitamin E, on my tiger stripes helps make them easier to ignore.

5. Glow

The daily commute and exposure to the elements of dust and pollution make you more likely to sweat rather than glow. Sunscreen is your friend. Apply sunscreen when it rains and when it shines. Climate change has wrecked havoc on the weather and you’re likely to experience searing temperatures and drenching rain all in one day. With sunscreen, you’ll be prepared for whatever mood Mother Nature is in.

6.  Beauty is skin deep

A favorite make-up artist of mine has a t-shirt with a make-up brush on it and a saying that goes, “It’s not a magic wand.” Tough love, I know. But the truth hurts. Natural glowing beauty can only be achieved with smooth, clear skin. Whether you consider yourself a SASsy thick-skinned, kickass gal or a sensitive delicate lady (with a whip in her handbag, ready for anything), take care of your skin. It’s the only one you’ve got.

Sex and Sensibilities.com is partnering with fashion and design label, Sacola, for an exclusive collection of cosmetic pouches with funky sayings to match your mood or personality. Check out the collection here.

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