Equality Matters

“The Philippines ranks eight among 135 countries with least gender gap.” 2011 Global Gender Gap rankings from the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

This statistic caught me by surprise—it is rare to find anything positive about the Philippines in the news these days without mention of corruption or natural disasters. Learning of the shrinking gender gap gave me hope for my country and deep appreciation for my organization, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) which has been a part of this achievement.

I recently visited a LWR project in a coastal area which emphasized gender education in the project design. During the visit, I attended the inauguration of the fisher folks’ federation. This is where I met Cristina Ferlino. Amidst everything, her smile caught my attention.

The inauguration was held in the LWR-funded display center which serves as a market place for fisher folk to buy and sell their products. I found Cristina inside the center and surrounded by lots of products ranging from condiments, handcrafts, dried seaweed and fish. She told me right away, “I am very happy about the display center because I am no longer purely dependent on my husband.” The center has inspired her to start making ginger tea and sell it for profit in the market place.

She slowly began to reveal her feelings about gender roles and her involvement with LWR projects. “I was motivated to actively participate in the projects because I realized that it is not only the obligation of my husband to provide for us, but also mine,” shared the 48 year old mother of six.

Before LWR came into Cristina’s life, she and her family had predetermined roles in the household. She was in charge of the chores, while her husband and children worked and studied outside of the home. “Before, I thought that women should be at home. Nothing else,” she explained. Cristina relied heavily on the income of her husband. She talked openly about their situation. “Our life was pitiful. His income was barely enough to meet our basic needs and there was nothing left for savings,” she lamented.

Cristina became involved LWR’s gender and coastal resource management projects through her husband, who very actively participated. She was not always so fond of his involvment, “I was against the project at first. I hated that he joined the trainings, because it hampered his time for making money.”

One day, she took her husband’s place, attending an orientation on gender. Here she learned that women do not need to be confined to the house. Ever since then, Cristina has actively participated in various LWR gender trainings and continues to learn new things. She is now the chairperson for gender and development and the bookkeeper of the fisher folk association in her village.

“I learned that I have a role in my family and my community. I consider this as one of my greatest achievements,” the proud Cristina shares. “Also, my family now participates in the household chores, something that was once solely my role. I am very happy about this,” Cristina added.

She is not the only women to learn these important lessons. “Women are more active in the community,” Cristina explains. “After the trainings, they have been more aware of their potential contribution and have become a strong force in implementing the Violence Against Women and Children campaign. These trainings are also helpful in settling cases of abuse and rape.” To date, women in Hinatuan comprise the majority of the eleven associations who are members of the federation.

Cristina has been touched by her trainings, “I am empowered. I can face people wherever I am. Had it not been for the gender trainings, I would have not been as confident as I am now. I would have just been purely dependent on my husband and would not have seen the value of education for my children. LWR eases my life,” Cristina proudly concluded.

LWR is active in promoting the inclusion of women not just in household matters but in economic activities and political agenda. Cristina, for me, is a living testimony of this victory.