Responding to the call of “leaving no one behind” in the pursuit of gender equality, representatives from government agencies, non-government organizations, and the academe commit to forge networks, strengthen existing alliances, and institutionalize mechanisms to better address the pressing needs of rural women.
The need for a convergence approach to address rural women’s concerns was a resounding call during the “Shaping Rural Women and Girls’ International Agenda: A Feedback Forum on the 62nd Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women” (UN CSW62) held on May 9, 2018 at the Convention Hall of the Bureau of Soils and Water Management, Quezon City.
Organized by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) and the Department of Agriculture (DA), the feedback forum discussed the highlights and accomplishments of the Philippine Delegation’s interventions during the recently concluded UN CSW62 which took place at the UN Headquarters in New York, USA from March 12 to 23, 2018. The PCW headed the said delegation which was composed of government representatives from the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), and the local government unit of Dumalinao, Zamboanga del Sur; as well as CSO representatives from the Federation of Agricultural Workers (FAW), Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK), Pekpungunan Lebun Subanen Women’s Organization, and adviser to the Women Empowerment Movement-Rural Improvement Club (WEM-RIC).
Serving as a venue to share best practices and identify pressing issues and challenges faced by organizations across the world in the advancement of women’s rights, the UN CSW62 focused on the priority theme “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.” The feedback forum opened a dialogue among the PhilDel and major stakeholders to solicit inputs and commitment on the next steps and plan of action to implement the Agreed Conclusions from the UN CSW62.
In her Opening Remarks, PCW Chairperson Rhodora M. Bucoy challenged the participants to heed the call of leaving no one behind by ensuring that collective efforts toward gender equality and women’s empowerment would reach all especially rural women. “For us Filipinos, the theme is extremely important given the rural character of our country. Rural women comprise the most poor and marginalized. In the UN CSW62, indigenous women and rural women were given due recognition for their significant roles in their communities and in ensuring sustainable agriculture which provides food on our table. Echoing the words of the UN CSW62 Chair, Geraldine Byrne Nason, rural women, although a marginalized group, are often the backbone of their families and communities managing their land and resources,” Chair Bucoy said as she asked the participants to stand in solidarity with rural women.
In his Message of Support, delivered by Asec. Jann Roby Otero, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco likewise recognized the role of rural women and girls as active agents of positive social change, environmental protection, and economic growth in the country and emphasized the responsibility of those present during the forum to use their power and authority to ensure that all Juanas, especially those in the fringes, will benefit from the government’s vision of a “matatag, maginhawa, at panatag na buhay.”
“Invisible” Contributions, Glaring Inequalities
While the Philippines is a consistent top performer in closing the gender gap in several indicators, women and girls in rural communities remain to be underrepresented and undervalued. Panelists WEM-RIC’s Sef Alba Carandang, PKKK Secretary General Amparo Miciano-Sykioco, DICT Director of the Field Operations Office (Mindanao Cluster 1) Maria Teresa M. Camba, DSWD Undersecretary Luzviminda C. Ilagan, DOLE-Bureau of Workers with Special Concerns Ma. Karina Perida-Trayvilla, and FAW-Women Section’s Angelina B. Bisuna all pointed to this challenge in the “rerun” of their UN CSW62 presentations.
According to Bisuna, women farmers have only one thing to say: “We are the producers of food but we are hungry. We are the tillers of the land but we are landless.” This sentiment rings true not only for women farmers, but also for fisherfolk, rural workers, and indigenous women who, despite their critical roles in rural development, are made one by their common experience of marginalization, gender-based violence, poverty and lack of access to basic services and lack of control over productive resources. Miciano-Sykioco noted that even official statistics and surveys render rural women invisible.
The burden of rural women is made even heavier with unpaid care work which is a hindrance to women’s participation in the agriculture and fisheries sectors; and their struggles are further exacerbated by the impact of climate change and disasters, and war and conflict.
An Inter-Agency Approach to Intersectional Complexities
In the forum discussions, the body reached a strong agreement that an inter-agency and multi-sectoral convergence approach is necessary to address the many faces of rural women’s struggles. One of the concrete steps agreed upon was the institutionalization of an inter-agency committee, to be headed by the DA, which will be tasked to focus on the promotion of the rights and welfare of women and girls in rural communities. Government agencies such as the CHR, DOLE, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Transportation and the PCW warmly received the recommendations to build stronger alliances while representatives from NGOs and CSOs clamored for the inclusion and amplification of their voices to broaden the perspectives in the fight for women’s rights.
Improving data collection and data sharing among agencies was also encouraged to craft policies and programs that are relevant and applicable on-the-ground. However, to make sure that these programs are gender-responsive, PCW emphasized the need to maximize the Gender and Development Budget of agencies and make use of the tools such as the Harmonized Gender and Development Guidelines, and the Gender Mainstreaming Evaluation Framework.
PCW Chair Bucoy ended the forum with a reiteration of the relevance of the theme in a country like the Philippines where poverty incidence in rural communities remains highest. Quoting UN CSW62 Chair Nason, Chair Bucoy announced “The time is now, we’ve had enough. It’s time to rock the system!” For transformative programs to have impact among the poorest of the poor, organizing on all fronts in the local, national, and international levels and a holistic approach can help in addressing the intersectionality of gender issues and ensure the realization of all women’s rights.