NWMC 2022 zeroes in on gender equality in climate change, disaster risk reduction, STEM, PWD inclusion, addressing poverty and VAW

The 2022 National Women’s Month Celebration stirred conversations, opened platforms for solutions, inspired actions, and reignited the passion of Gender and Development (GAD) advocates across the Philippines.

During the kick-off ceremony on March 8, coinciding with the International Women’s Day, Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) Chairperson Sandra Sanchez-Montano underscored the need to use NWMC as an opportunity to assess efforts towards gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE), especially in our recovery programs post-pandemic.

“Hinihikayat namin ang lahat ng government agencies na busisiin ang mga naging aksyon tungo sa gender equality at alamin kung ano pa ang mga dapat gawin para ma-empower ang mga kababaihan. Mahalaga ito lalo na’t bumabangon pa lang tayo sa COVID-19 pandemic na nakaapekto sa maraming mga Juana,” Chair Sandy said.

In line with determining actions moving forward, the PCW launched the Pulso para sa Kababaihan, Tungo sa Kaunlaran Online Poll and extended its run until April 18, 2022. The poll aims to identify the issues that the citizens think must be addressed and prioritized in the succeeding years.

Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo M. Año highlighted that indeed, development is only possible when we resolve these gender issues towards fully enabling and lifting up Juanas.

“For us to reach the peaceful and progressive future we are longing for, we have to unleash the potential of all the Juanas in the country. This is only possible when we protect and empower women and girls and ensure that they enjoy equal access to all opportunities and services,” Secretary Año said.

Women as key players in climate action and disaster risk reduction

The PCW spotlighted two particular issues at hand, in line with the IWD theme “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” – climate change action and disaster risk reduction and mitigation.

During his message at the IWD celebration, UN Resident Coordinator Mr. Gustavo Gonzalez explained that the IWD theme is timely and relevant especially to the Philippines, since it is a country most often affected by the impacts of climate change.

The country’s location and geographical makeup contributes to multiple hazards such as typhoons and storm surges. Being in the “Ring of Fire”, the Philippines is also plagued by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

RC Gonzalez shared that women have vulnerabilities that climate change and disasters exacerbate, including gender-based violence, lack of access to health services and agricultural resources, and additional care work.

“We have no hope of surviving the severe impacts of climate change unless women’s needs and circumstances are at the center of an inclusive and sustainable recovery.  We need more women in leadership, in the government, in parliaments, in civil society, in businesses, deciding on development priorities, green and inclusive policies, social protection, sustainable consumption and production and many other development areas,” RC Gonzalez enthused.

Expounding on gender equality vis-a-vis ecological protection and disaster preparedness, Director Elenida Basug of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources GAD Office, discussed the impacts of climate change on women, noting that “Gender differences in access to and control over resources lead to differences in vulnerability and capacity to respond and recover… Women tend to have fewer resources to cope with climate shocks and stresses”

Hence, there is a need to integrate gender in the priority programs of the DENR, especially in the enhanced national greening program and the Coastal and Marine Ecosystems management program.

There must be a “transformational change to restore the balance between natural systems and human systems” through adopting a “gender-responsive, long-lasting, sustainable, inclusive, resilient, low-carbon, low-polluting, nature-positive, and circular economy-based pathway for society,” Dir. Basug insisted.

Ms. Sarah Knibbs, Officer-in-Charge of the UN Women Philippines Office,  urged everyone to be part of the solution in claiming climate justice. “Everyone has a role and responsibility to address the crisis and protect our environment and ensure a sustainable future for all as we share space on this planet,” she said.

Explaining the intersectionality of gender inequality, poverty, and climate change, Eduardo Tonogbanua, Head Executive Assistant of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, stressed that the gender-differentiated impacts of these pose heavier burdens on rural and indigenous women. Moreover, natural disasters kill more women than men, directly and indirectly through post-disaster events, in societies where socioeconomic status of women is low, because of unequal access to opportunities. The workload of women in the house is also increased because husbands and sons are expected to help rebuild damaged infrastructure.

“Amid women’s vulnerability to disasters due to gender roles and relations, they can also become disaster risk reduction champions that could shape the community’s capacity to prepare, withstand, and recover from emergencies,” he said, sharing the efforts of women Kasambayanihan volunteers.

Also showcasing the role of women, Ms. Arlie Jo B. Endonila,Project Consultant/Site Coordinator Haribon Foundation, talked about their project, “Enhancing the Role of Women in Protected Area Governance for Social Change (Women Go), which focuses on enabling women as change agents and decision-makers in climate resiliency. Their grassroots women’s organizations endorsed gender-responsive plans to the localities and empowered women environmental champions, anchored on their battlecry “Kababaihan, katuwang sa pamamahala ng masaganang kalikasan”.

Ms.Kathlyn Kissy Sumaylo-Pearlman of InspireDev provided useful insights as to reinforcing the disaster risk reduction through pursuing gender equality. Among the actions that must be taken include increasing opportunities for national and grassroots women leaders in formal posts in the public and private sectors, improving visibility of women in post-disaster reconstruction and rehabilitation, supporting cash interventions on economic recovery, and systematizing collection and utilization of age-, sex-, and disability-disaggregated data.

Juanas must Step up in STEM!

Another target under the Updated GEWE Plan 2019-2025 is to increase the representation and participation of Juanas in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or STEM.  In line with this, the PCW supported Unilab Foundation (ULF) in launching the Pinays Can STEM toolkit in a webinar entitled “WE STEM Up! Juana Para Sa Agham at Teknolohiya” on March 22.

Women comprise 49% of the Science and Technology workforce. However, even with this growth,  there are many factors that contribute to the gender gap in STEM, particularly for young female learners. On average, only 36% of STEM graduates are women, and from that, only 46.2% are employed in STEM-related fields.

Atty. Kristine E. Yuzon-Chaves, PCW Executive Director,  explained that there are numerous challenges that prohibit women from fully participating in the field, namely: existing stereotypes that associate STEM with men, lack of female role models and underrepresentation of women in these fields.

“The PCW firmly believes that addressing the gender disparity in STEM can benefit not just Juanas but the whole country, especially in a post-pandemic backdrop. STEM careers are often referred to as the jobs of the future. If women have equal opportunities to thrive in STEM careers with higher pay and better benefits, this can help narrow the gender pay gap and enhance their economic security,” ED Yuzon-Chaves enthused.

Dr. Chona Vince Cruz-Abeledo, a Molecular Biologist and Professor at De La Salle University,  shared that when she asked young students to draw a scientist, most showed male characters and so, she continues to promote engagement of women in STEM. “Bilang isang Pinay in STEM, ang pangarap ko balang araw, when I ask young students to draw what a scientist looks like, sana babae ang i-drawing nila and sana Filipina, and sana ang i-drawing nila, ang sarili nila,” Dr. Chona said.

The Pinays Can STEM Toolkit aims to address this STEM gender gap by being the all-in digital resource for young Filipina students who are seeking guidance and information in their pursuit of STEM. Ms. Dianne Aguas, the Communications and Advocacy Officer of STEM + PH, ULF’s flagship program, enumerated the features of the toolkit and how it was curated in a way that will follow young girls’ journey in STEM. It contains information that will contribute to the journey of young girls in STEM—careers, role models, videos, stories, and more.

Ms. Lilibeth Aristorenas, ULF Executive Director, gave an empowering message to urge Filipinos to come together to promote gender equality in STEM. She shared insights from the Youth in STEM report conducted last 2020 which points out the presence of Filipina role models, either as STEM professionals or as industry leaders in STEM, directly influence young girls’ interest in pursuing that path.  To further discuss the gender gap in STEM education, Dr. Charlotte Chiong, Dean of the College of Medicine University of the Philippines – Manila, emphasizes how institutions such as schools and universities can promote gender equality by bringing more women leaders and creating and preserving safe spaces for women.

In her closing remarks, Usec. Marjorie Jalosjos from the Department of the Interior and Local Government calls on educators and leaders to support initiatives, such as the Pinays Can STEM toolkit, that promote the participation of women in STEM.

Women with Disabilities’ Inclusion in Employment, Education, and Electoral Process

In the pursuit of gender parity, women with disabilities (WWD) must always be included.

To this goal, the PCW also celebrated Juanas with disabilities and co-hosted an online forum with the National Council on Disability Affairs and the Department of Education on March 28, 2022 coinciding with the 18th Women with Disabilities Day.

Focused on the “3 E’s to Empowerment: Equal Participation to Education, Employment, and Election”, the agencies signified commitments through an official statement.

PCW Deputy Executive Director for Operations, Maria Kristine Josefina G. Balmes, encouraged agency movers to ensure women with disabilities’ adequate and equal access to these 3 E’s.

“I would like to take this opportunity to enjoin everyone to continuously support and advocate for the development and implementation of gender-responsive and disability-inclusive programs that will truly benefit and address the needs and concerns of every Juana with disabilities,” DD Balmes urged.

Former COMELEC Commissioner Atty. Rowena Guanzon expressed support for rallying behind women with disabilities’ rights to participate in the electoral process.

On their basic right to education, Ms. Annalyn Aquino, Senior Education Program Specialist from the Bureau of Learning Delivery Student Inclusion Division of the Department of Education, shared that there has been a decrease in enrollment of learners with disabilities in 2021-2022 with with only 38,914 female enrollees for 2021-2022 compared to 64,616 males. They continue to pursue capacity building and upskilling of teachers and school heads and program management and are currently targeting the development of an inclusive education manual. The initiatives can be bolstered by the passage of the Republic Act 11650 on March 11, 2022, instituting a policy of inclusion and services for learners with disabilities in support of inclusive education.

To boost the labor participation of PWDs, Director of the Bureau of Workers with Special Concerns (BWSC) of the Department of Labor and Employment, Atty. Ma. Karina Perida-Trayvilla, expounded on their Employment Generation Initiatives in the New Normal, including the Katulong at Gabay sa Manggagawang may Kapansanan, PhilJobnet, Jobstart, and Government Internship Program, among others. Per the PESO Employment Information System, 51% of registrants from 2017 to February 2022 are women and WWDs are commonly engaged as office clerks, laborers, service crew, data encoders, and production workers. The Department also issued an order regarding telecommuting which greatly benefits many PWDs since it dispenses the need to travel.

For social services, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is also extending assistance to WWDs. DSWD Cordillera Administrative Region’s Social Welfare Officer I, Ms. Irene Villanueva, said there are auxiliary social services for PWDs, residential care facilities, Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, and also  best practices including provision of grants, assistive devices and technology, and disability sensitivity training.

The Local Government Units have a huge role to play in elevating the lives of WWDs in the grassroots. In this light, Assistant  Division Chief of DILG’s Local Administrative Development Division  of  the Bureau  of Local Government (BLGD), Ms. Gemma Macatangay,  detailed efforts in strengthening the functionality of the Persons with Disability Affairs Offices or PDAO. Following the adoption of devolution pursuant to the Mandanas Ruling, LGUs must issue appropriate policies towards supporting the needs of vulnerable sectors in their communities, including WWDs. With increased resources, there must also be concrete improvement in the services to WWDs, anchored on DILG’s Gender Equality, Disability, and Social Inclusion or GEDSI.

The reactors in the forum, Ms. Criselda Bisda and Ms. Jennifer Garcia, urged the agencies to ensure that the policies and measures in place for PWDs are operationalized and implemented well.  Ms. Garcia called on agencies to do a comprehensive annual review of programs and activities to assess expenditures, accessibility, and effectiveness for young girls and women with disabilities.

Gender equality and addressing poverty, Violence Against Women

Another pressing issues brought to light include poverty and Violence Against Women.

The PCW National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), and the NAPC Women Council inked a deal with the goal of mainstreaming gender in poverty alleviation efforts and assessing anti-Violence Against Women law implementation in a virtual ceremony held on March 30, 2022.

“This partnership is a culmination of initial consultations between PCW, NAPC, and NAPC Women council since April 2021, towards the implementation of NAPC-DBM Joint Memorandum Circular 2004-01 that identifies the support of lead and partner agenciesthat may be provided to the basic sectors. As such, the PCW should allocate at least 1 Million Peso administrative or institutional requirements consistent with our mandate as a policy-making for women and girls concern and oversight agency in the implementation of the Republic Act 9710  or otherwise known as the Magna Carta of Women,” Chair Sanchez-Montano said.

The agreement provides the details on two main collaborations: PCW and NAPC Multi-Stakeholders Sectoral Conference on GAD and the Assessment of the Anti-VAWC Act (RA 9262).

The Multi-Stakeholders Sectoral Conference aims to engage different sectors and explore various dimensions by engaging the civil society, academe, international organizations, private sector, and stakeholders from the grassroots level towards a holistic governance approach where no Juana is left behind. Good practices on gender mainstreaming will be shared and collated to serve as a guide in developing and enforcing gender-responsive and inclusive programs/projects among the four priority sectors of PCW: Women’s Economic Empowerment, Education, Peace and Security, and Environment.

As to the full-blown assessment of RA 9262, this seeks to “review the efforts and interventions of the duty bearers at national, regional and local levels to document and take stocks of significant accomplishments, good practices, challenges, and lessons learned in the implementation of the law.” Seventeen years since the law was passed, the assessment can aid in recommending possible points of improvement in terms of implementation. Various methods will also be utilized in this project, including key informant interviews, focus group discussions, review of RA 9262 cases, survey on knowledge and awareness of VAW, and a survey on client satisfaction. This will greatly help in providing adequate and gender-sensitive response and services to VAW survivors.

Beyond National Women’s Month, women must be enabled to make their choices, take chances and opportunities, and benefit from and catalyze changes. We must continue to raise awareness on discrimination, biases, and stereotypes as we move forward to an equitable and inclusive world. Together, let us make possible a gender-equal world where women are appreciated, respected, valued, as they deserve to be.

Relevant Links: