LWR in The Philippines: Empowering… Men?

Sometimes LWR’s programs have unexpected benefits. In a recent program focused on women’s empowerment, one of the participants learned what gender equality means, and used it to improve her marriage.

Rosalea David, commonly known as Neneng, is different from other women in her village; she has always been the head of the family. “I am in command of the house and all of them should follow anything I say”, the 50-year-old Neneng said.

Neneng has been married to Claro for more than 22 years and have two children. From the beginning of their relationship, Neneng has been in control. “I just keep silent about her attitude because I don’t want it to become a cause of our fight”, Claro said shyly.

Neneng met Claro as she tried to find her luck in the city. When they got married they decided to settle in Claro’s home, where fishing is the major source of income. The dominating Neneng is engaged in buying and selling fishery products in the neighboring municipalities to help augment their family income.

For quite sometime, Claro has been wishing that Neneng would treat him better.

The turning point of Neneng’s life happened in one of the meetings she attended in her village. As a member of the women’s organization, Neneng had the chance to join trainings on gender sensitivity awareness. “At the start, I was moved, especially when they emphasized that men and women should be treated equally. My pride was particularly touched and I became apprehensive that Claro would soon realize that [how I was treating him] was not right”, admits Neneng.

Pangasinan Island — where gender violence is a great issue — is one of the areas where Lutheran World Relief (LWR) implemented its project on gender and coastal resource management. LWR, in partnership with Center for Resource and Development, Inc. (CERD), organized the people in this community to not just become more accountable in managing their coastal resources, but also become responsible in their individual household. Series of trainings on gender awareness were conducted with the members.

“When I learned from the trainings that couples should treat each other as equal, I wanted to talk right away to my wife, but I didn’t have the guts”, confessed Claro.

One day, Claro was sitting on their terrace. Neneng, who just arrived from selling fish and was still holding the empty fish containers, walked straight to Claro and said “I love you” and kissed him. Claro could not believe what had just happened since it was unusual for Neneng to utter those words. “I asked her if she was drunk, or joking “ Claro said half jokingly. “But frankly, I was really deeply touched” he added.

From then on, Neneng always says “I love you” upon arrival from her trips and “goodbye” before leaving Claro. “It became our habit to say “goodbye” and “I love you” to each other, and we don’t leave problems unresolved anymore,” Neneng shared happily.

“I never expected that those trainings that I had undergone, could improve my relationship to my husband and to my children. It changes my life for good. “Now that I found the real meaning of love and respect for each other, life became more meaningful for my family despite the hardships that we have been facing,” Neneng realized.