All for gender equality
The Philippines, if not the world, has come a long way in empowering women.
Back in the 50s and 60s, there was no such thing as “women empowerment.” Men were considered the dominant force in society. Gender equality was still a vague concept.
I grew up in that period but I was lucky enough to have supportive men in my life – my father and my husband, especially – who helped and encouraged me to do whatever it takes to achieve my goals.
Fast forward to the 1970s. Things had immensely changed. We see women having the courage to pursue their dreams. We see women leading in the workplace, taking charge of their lives, and excelling in male-dominated fields.
In 1986, Corazon Aquino was elected as Philippine president – the first woman to ever hold that position in the country and in Asia. It was a milestone. It started a democratic revolution: Filipinos, men and women alike, had an equal voice at work and at home. It promised a better society.
Today, however, there are still a lot of Filipino women who are struggling to make ends meet, amid modernization and employment opportunities. There are still a number of women who remain oppressed and abused, despite the continuous call for women’s rights and empowerment.
When the US government granted the Philippines a $434-million compact the through Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which has a strong policy on gender integration, Millennium Challenge Account-Philippines (MCA-P) saw this as a perfect chance to push for women involvement in its development projects.
MCA-P, a government corporation, was created to manage the grant and supervise the implementation of MCC-funded poverty reduction projects.
In line with this and in compliance with MCC's gender policy, MCA-P developed a Social and Gender Integration Plan (SGIP) to ensure that the projects recognize the positive contributions of women and the vulnerable members of society (such as the elderly and the disabled) in the attainment of growth objectives.
The mantra for both MCC and MCA-P is, "it is only through gender equality that a nation can truly promote economic growth and alleviate poverty."
One of the MCC projects that uphold women empowerment is the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI-CIDSS) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). It is a community-driven development project that enables community members to have the power to plan, choose, implement, and monitor their own projects.
In the coastal municipality of Madalag, Aklan, we found out that women are mostly stay-at-home mothers – not mainly by choice but because the community lacked opportunities for women.
Most of the women were not used to the idea of working, as most of the available jobs were for men, such as fishing, carpentry, and construction. Women would spend their days doing household chores and tending to their children while waiting for their husbands.
This all changed when MCC and MCA-P allocated offered the Gender Incentive Grant (GIG) for gender-related projects in KALAHI-CIDSS communities.
Each municipality in the Philippines has an annual budget for gender and development but is rarely used, since local government units find it hard to create sustainable projects for women. If used, the activity would sometimes be ballroom dancing or bingo socials. Through the GIG, LGUs are encouraged to provide counterpart funds from their own GAD.
Madalag obtained a P610,000-grant for training on non-traditional skills such as plumbing and welding. Although hesitant at first and discouraged by their husbands, about 100 women took the training under the auspices of the Technical and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
To hone their newly-acquired skills, the women went through an on-the-job training in the construction of a school building, also funded by MCC.
In Torrijos, Marinduque, another GIG pilot area, a project to improve maternal and child care services was implemented due to a high mortality rate in child birth.
Age doesn't matter
Elderly women doing construction work is rare. But it is a different story in Torrijos, Marinduque where women and the elderly are spearheading construction jobs.
At 80, Eufrosina Fidelino eagerly took the challenge to participate in this man’s world. Alone in the house, the old lady said she needed the money to pay for her basic necessities. Friends and neighbors would occasionally give her food, but sometimes, she borrows money to buy fish, rice, or sugar.
When the community project was being constructed, Lola Eufrosina offered to join the paid labor force. Fellow villagers dissuaded her from working, but she refused to heed them. Lola Eufrosina broke barriers as she proved that even with her age, working in a field dominated by men– and younger people – is not impossible.
Monica Nama, from Madalag, Aklan, has her own story to share. Monica, now 24, volunteered to be part of the labor pool for the construction of the barangay health center.
Her husband was against it. He wanted her to just take care of their child who was then only 3 years old, but she prevailed and did construction work for 4 days. In these 4 days, she happily narrates, her husband would prepare food for her at home.
“He would even give me coffee, one thing he never did before,” she says.
What husband and wife did not realize at the time was that Monica was two months pregnant. Thus, when the health station was completed, Monica was one of the first women who came for pre-natal check-ups.
Fight against human trafficking
Apart from offering new opportunities for its project beneficiaries, MCA-P is also active in the fight against human trafficking, especially involving women and children.
With the Secondary National Roads Development Project (SNRDP) covering the Wright-Taft-Borongan-Guiuan Road in Samar and Eastern Samar, MCA-P partnered with a non-governmental organization and local communities to intensify the campaign against human trafficking. The Samar Island is considered to be one of the human trafficking hotspots in the country.
MCA-P and the Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT) – in partnership with the DSWD, LGUs, and the Philippine National Police – conducted a series of activities to raise public awareness on human trafficking and to aid LGUs, community leaders, and the public in detecting and preventing human trafficking activities in the 15 SNRDP-covered municipalities.
Through this effort, MCA-P hopes to reach as many people as possible to keep them informed on the issue of trafficking in persons and help eradicate human trafficking not only in the Samar provinces but also in the Philippines.
Off to a good start
These are just some of the many stories that I have encountered while working in MCA-P. I’ve seen women turn from simple housewives to passionate workers, and from silent workers to becoming the voice of their communities.
I believe that as an organization, we have been quite successful in helping women from our beneficiary-communities assert their rights and tap their full potential as members of the community. But we realize, too, that there’s still a lot of work to be done. And as a nation, we can do so much more to show the world that we are a country that values gender equality.
In the small communities that we serve, I believe we are off to a good start. – Rappler.com
Marivic Añonuevo is the Managing Director and CEO of Millennium Challenge Account-Philippines, where she leads the implementation of the $434 million MCC Compact.
Woman in construction image via Shutterstock