Women at the center

Rodilyn Abella-Bolo (The Philippine Star) - March 10, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Nida Rizalado or Nanay Nida starts her day at 4 a.m. Her husband and sons would have left their house in the island sitio  in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, an hour before to go fishing. She wakes up early in order to cook rice for breakfast. Cooking the viand would have to wait, depending on the day’s catch which her husband and sons will be bringing in by 7 a.m.

While waiting, she keeps busy drying sea cucumber by the fire while she is cooking. She collects or buys the sea cucumber from children and other hawkers, then sells them to a buyer in Barobo to augment their income. There are different kinds of sea cucumber and their prices vary, from P200 up to P700 a kilo. On a good month, Nanay Nida can earn as much as P4,000 in profit.

“We don’t always have a good catch. There are even times when there is no catch at all. That usually happens from January to April. That is why I help by gleaning shells and selling sea cucumber,” says Nanay Nida, a mother of four sons.

The income Nanay Nida derives from the sea cucumber is a great help to the family, since fishing these days has become unreliable.

Nanay Nida says the first thing they buy is rice. She further shares, “We have fish or shell fish for viand. We rarely have pork. Usually, we are able to buy meat once a month. If the income is low, we go without meat for months.”

When the income from fishing is good, the children can go to school. “If one of us gets sick, and we don’t have enough money, we are forced to borrow,” she says.

By 8 a.m. on a typical day, Nanay Nida is busy with household chores, doing the laundry and cleaning the house. If the kids are at home, they help with the chores but when they are in school, she does them on her own. The most challenging task is fetching drinking water.

On an island, having ample water supply is a challenge. The only source of drinking water is located on the other side of the island, adjacent to where the settlement is. To get water, the women or children have to paddle quite a distance. They have to do this during high tide, as the area is very difficult to access during low tide.

But at low tide, Nanay Nida and the other women go out to glean shells. They go to a nearby sandbar and spend two to three hours collecting as much as four kilos of shell on a good day. This would earn her around P200, enough to buy basic necessities such as laundry soap, sugar, and salt.

In order to ensure that marine life remains abundant, the women initiated the establishment of a marine sanctuary, and manage the mangrove forests along the coast. To make sure that these management practices are respected and sustained, the women pushed for an ordinance assigning these areas as “women-managed areas,” which would give them some kind of tenurial security and property rights over the areas that they protect and manage for food and for the long-term sustainability of their livelihoods.

In the afternoon, Nanay Nida tends to her garden, planted to vegetables such as pechay, tomato, okra and onion using bamboo, broken pails and plastic containers she has on hand. She says, “Having a vegetable garden at home is really helpful. It is expensive to buy vegetables from the store. If we would cook some soup, all we have to do is go to our garden and pick the vegetables and spices we need.”

The household vegetable garden is part of Oxfam’s “Women at the Center Project,” which is an initiative on climate change adaptation with women as its focus. Recognizing that women are among the most affected by climate change, the project hopes to create models on gendered adaptation strategies in agriculture and fisheries.

Here is what Nanay Nida shares about the rapidly changing environment: “Before, we could still sweep under our houses and our front yards. Now, you find children swimming close to the houses when the water level is high. Before, it was a lot easier for us to glean. We could easily collect a lot of shells. Now, it is different. The same goes for fishing. There are less fish caught. That is why I help my husband by gleaning shells and trading sea cucumber because we would not survive if we would only depend on fishing.”

Just like many other women fishers, the women of Isla Mahaba continue to seek recognition for their role in managing resources, in the hope that they would continue to benefit from what the sea has to offer.

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