Women in farming towns bear brunt of El Niño
(Philstar.com) - April 15, 2016 - 12:57am

SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines — Farmers are always the worst hit during calamities like drought, flooding and conflict, and women in farming communities are affected most.

This was emphasized during focus group discussions in Mamasapano, Maguindanao and in Esperanza and Lambayong in Sultan Kudarat facilitated by international development organization Oxfam, where women interviewed said they have responsibilities that the men in their households do not have.

They said that farming and livestock raising—normal livelihood activities before the drought started affecting communities here in late 2015—was a shared task, with men and women contributing equally.

"Iyang pagsasaka, kaya na ng babae iyan," 52-year-old Meriam Odio of Lambayong town said.

But with the drought virtually putting a stop to farming and with fewer people able to afford to buy pigs, chickens, cows and goats, drought-hit communities have had to look elsewhere.

Some of the men have gone to other provinces to look for work, but the majority of residents who leave home to look for work are women.

Because farming has affected many parts of Mindanao, it is more difficult for the men to look for work. Some find work as laborers in construction sites but it is easier for women to find jobs in carinderias in town or as washerwomen and domestic helpers.

Some have had to look for work in the provincial capital of Tacurong City, in Marbel in South Cotabato or in Manila.

"Babae talaga, kasi domestic helper. Demand na demand [sila]," one woman said.

Those with work near their communities still have to take care of their households because of traditional gender roles.

Women in Lambayong town said that because water has become scarce, they have had to wake much earlier—around 4 a.m.—to fetch water and to prepare for the day.

In Barangay Numo in Esperanza, fetching water means a walk of up to one kilometer each way and can take several trips.

One farmer in an FGD in Lambayong said he works the fields from around 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. but that farming for the day is over once it gets too hot.

While husbands do help their wives—some help sell fruits and vegetables, or brooms and charcoal—women do most of the hard work outside of farming.

"Relax na relax si mister kasi walang trabaho sa farm," one said.

Women face more risks

FGDs in three communities revealed an increase in women "going abroad"—a blanket term which could mean leaving the town, the province or the country for work.

In some cases, children as young as 12 are passed off as adults so they can work and 65-year-olds are given fake papers so they can pretend to be around 40.

In some cases, this has put women at risk of being abused. The Lambayong women said that some in the community who left town for for work were raped by employers or came home pregnant "because they could not defend themselves."

They said that the government can help by providing livelihood programs for town women and scholarships for school-age children.

The community can also help by emphasizing that minors should not be sent out to work "abroad," especially overseas.

Because women are traditionally in charge of the household budget, it also sometimes falls on them to borrow money for the family's needs.

Ironically, according to men interviewed in Esperanza town, women are allowed to borrow much less than if a farmer does.

Odio, who is also village treasurer of Barangay Tinumigues, said they have been forced to borrow from neighbors and from traders because it is difficult to borrow from regulated lenders like government-owned banks.

"Kapag umuutang kami sa Land Bank, hindi kami maka-process ng papers," she said.

Interest on loans from traders is around 3 percent in the first six months but jumps to 6 percent if they fail to pay by the sixth month.

The women noted that this—and the intense heat—has led to household tensions since the woman usually has to think about how the family will eat in the coming days.

Barangay Tinumigues has issued at least one protection order because of domestic violence in the community since the drought started.

The heat also brings another complication for women. Because the men are more idle, they tend to want to have sex more often.

"Mainit kasi ang ulo ng lalaki kapag hindi...," one said.

"Iyong ibang babae, tinatamad na kumuha ng family planning [pills] sa health center dahil mainit," a barangay health worker shared.

Because food and money are scarce, pregnancies in communities that have poor access to health services—Lambayong does not have an ambulance, for example—are more difficult, putting women at even more risk.

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