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WOMEN: the endless search for alternatives

Women hold up half of the sky. That is a famous saying: “if everyone helps to hold up the sky, then one person does not become tired.” So, alongside men, women are a powerful force to reckon with for a societal change. Nobody can refute that.

Empowered women, tempered with their life struggles and sacrifices, do not fear poverty and hard work. In the history of the world, they are the real change-makers and great influencers. It is not about women behind every man’s success. It is about women who take the lead, who dare to “break their chains and throw off their shackles” to make change happen. Who else but the women can bring forth another life, another human being from their wombs, and cut off from their umbilical cord?

Most countries with a significant population have more men than women. For every 100 women, there are 103-110 men. The male population is just a minute more than the women. That is also true for Bicol. In Bicol Mail, though, I am the only woman columnist now out of the many.

However, according to the Statistical Handbook on Women and Men in Bicol, women outnumber men in the late ages (55 years old and over). The higher number of women among the elderly is because of women’s longer life span than men. So, women outlast men!

While technology and development have pushed shared domestic responsibility between men and women, women still bear many responsibilities, especially in the agricultural sector. Whether at home or work, women traditionally expect to go the extra mile in their jobs in both the fields and factories. As a result, there is a greater expectation and more demand to deliver. The working mother does the groceries, marketing, cooking, budget planning, caring for the children, and other kinship roles. It is a time-honored role that, generally, no man can bear more responsibly and lovingly.

Yes, women’s roles include kinship roles primarily. They never stray from the focus of the home and children. From the Spanish colonial period to the American period, the feudal social structure helped shape this feudal mindset. The women are the constant family caretakers. I value the country’s cultural history. But, cast away the negative features of submissiveness, patriarchal and domesticated life, the liberated women are indispensable.

Today, women continue searching for alternatives to a drab, oppressive, and overwhelming work and domestic environment where they need extra effort to do the traditionally male job in the farm, factories, and offices to gain recognition.

It is a compelling call in Bicol, coupled with a sense of urgency. Bicol is home to 10 typhoons yearly, quakes, flooding, and other disasters. The socio-economic data from the Regional Development Council speak of the backwardness and impoverishment of 75% of family households in Bicol’s countryside and urban settlements. Women and children are the most vulnerable and affected in every home.

Lessons of persistence and change

The Ilaw ng Kababaihan at Canaman, Camarines Sur, is a lesson of persistence and change. The members who are farming women and families are survivors of continuing disasters since Typhoon Nina in 2016. Tabang Bikol Movement helped organize them. Through persistence guided by a people-centered development framework, the people’s organization has grown alongside other POs – the Bugkos ng Kabataaan and PODiS. They persist in fighting poverty and oppressive social conditions.

The once-idle, one-hectare land at the back of the Covered Court of Barangay San Agustin in Canaman, Camarines Sur, has developed into a busy People’s Farm, planted to citronella, lemongrass, pili, kalamansi, vegetables and with livestock. So much had changed since 2018, when the Archdiocese of Caceres under Archbishop Rolando Tirona and Manay Virginia Blasa, former president of Ilaw and now president of the People’s Organization of Disaster Survivors (PODiS), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to tend to the land.

Women in quarrying and mining communities at high risk in Albay are inspired to follow the path of self-organization. They search for an alternative livelihood that is safer and more sustainable. They are aware of the environmental and social impacts of the mining and quarrying industry. Other women, particularly in the service sectors, who are at risk of exploitation, sexual harassment, and violence also cry out for change in their lives. The COVID-19 Pandemic, poverty, and illiteracy contribute further to their marginalization and discrimination.

A research-and-organizing community project on Social Enterprise Development for Economic Resilience of Disaster Survivors with the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Central Office, the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation (MPCF-Canaman campus), Central Bicol State University (CBSUA), MPCF- Legazpi Albay campus and Tabang Bikol Movement (TBM) is a timely intervention for people empowerment, especially for women in Bicol.

National and International agreements and commitments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which the Philippines was a signatory in 1980, the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) in 1995 and the United Nations’17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have long been in place. However, in concrete ways, government policy and actions must show how to lift the country from poverty and inequality. Such is a tall order but, remember, women are always in the forefront of change.


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