GREAT Women Project will teach Filipino women how to fish, figuratively

Give a Filipina a fish, and you’ve just fed her for today. Teach her to fish, and she’ll open a fish store.

Making entrepreneurial poor Filipinas economically self-sufficient is one of the ways to combat poverty, lower unemployment rate, and address gender inequalities in the country.

It is also one of the current agenda of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW) with its recently launched Gender-Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women (GREAT Women) Project, a fiveyear initiative supported by Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

The project aims to encourage and improve women’s microenterprises especially in the countryside which, over the long term, are expected to translate into better incomes and a better quality of life for them.

“In the Philippines, not only is the bulk of the poor composed of women, but 95 percent of small businesses involve women,” NCFRW Chairperson Myrna T. Yao said. “By teaching and encouraging them to become their own bosses even just in their own little businesses, we contribute to the solution against poverty and unemployment, among others.”

Part of this solution, Yao believes, is facilitating access of these entrepreneurial poor women to skills training, microfinance services and facilities, market linkaging, business development and management, social protection coverage, and other forms of support.

She clarified, however, that the project does not directly lend money to women who are into microenterprises. “The GREAT Women Project is into the creation or enhancement of friendlier conditions for our women microentrepreneurs by bringing them closer to these kinds of services and facilities.”

The NCRFW chair was quick to add that microfinance programs which specifically target the entrepreneurial poor are now everywhere in the country, and, together with a favorable interplay of women-friendlier policies from partner national government agencies (NGAs), local government units (LGUs), and private organizations, these could help expand their businesses, stimulate local economic growth, and perhaps even hire their less-entrepreneurial relatives and neighbors.

“It’s worth pointing out that availability of these support services needed by our women microentrepreneurs has increased in the past few years, thanks to our improving economy, and this is something we all should be glad about, especially by women in the regions,” Yao added.

Data from the People’s Credit and Finance Corporation (PCFC), one of NCRFW’s resource partners in the GREAT Women Project, show that about 80 provinces and 117 cities nationwide have been covered by microfinance programs, which, as of December 2006, resulted in more than two million active clients and generated 872,642 jobs where 93 percent are women.

Poverty and unemployment, however, are just a fraction of the issues that the GREAT Women Project tries to address through the economic empowerment of women.

“Truth is, it’s not just that there are more women among the poor, but it’s also that women bear the burden of poverty in a more intense way because they’ve still got to perform their many other roles especially in the home alongside their attempts to make money.” said Emmeline L. Verzosa, NCRFW Executive Director.

According to Versoza, the project also aims to address gender inequalities in the country, particularly gender-based constraints experienced by women in microenterprises both as workers and operators.

She cited examples of these gender-based constraints, which include: (1) problems between women and their intimate partners, like the latter being against or getting in the way of their full-time economic activities; (2) self-esteem issues among some women that hinder them from achieving more; (3) deprivation from certain resources and benefits as a result of membership in some marginalized groups, such as non-Christian and indigenous communities; (4) problems in health, food security, housing, water and sanitation, electricity, transportation, and communication that restrict their movement and time outside the home; and (5) the still relatively few number of women leaders and decision-makers in the country who could articulate the sector’s socioeconomic needs.

“But all these issues–poverty, unemployment, gender inequality–can be worked out by making every Filipina financially independent,” the NCRFW executive director added. “An economically empowered Filipina no longer has to fight for equal opportunities because she has lots of it. An economically empowered Filipina no longer has to put up with gender bias because… wait, would it still be there?”

The GREAT Women Project is expected to contribute to the creation of six to ten million jobs, of which three million will be entrepreneurs by 2010. NCRFW found out that a typical microenterprise in the Philippines employs three people, while a small enterprise employs 22 workers, and women entrepreneurs usually prefer these kinds and sizes of operations so they would not interfere with their home and family obligations.

Launched in March, the CIDA-funded GREAT Women Project is being implemented by NCRFW in partnership with NGAs, LGUs, and private organizations.

Partners include the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Interior and Local Government, National Economic Development Authority, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, National Anti-Poverty Commission, Technical Education and Skills Development Agency, Technology and Livelihood Resource Center, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Science and Technology, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, UP Institute for Small Scale Industries, and PCFC.

On the other hand, the first batch of LGU partners, according to Yao, are Metro Naga in Camarines Sur and PALMA Alliance in North Cotabato which consists of municipalities of Pigcawayan, Alamada, Libungan, Midsayap, and Aleosan. Next batch of LGUs will be determined in third quarter of the year.

“By getting different entities’ acts together, we bring about better access and delivery of services to enterprising women especially in the regions and, though, yes, gradually, we move closer to the day when every Filipina becomes self-sufficient and empowered,” the NCRFW chair said.

The teach-how-to-fish saying may have long lost its freshness, but what is good about cliches is that they’re almost always right. by CJ Panila.