This document was prepared and documented by the Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau, Inc. (WLB) and four partner communities of WLB: (1) Ayta women in Cabangan, Zambales; (2) Post-Haiyan victim-survivors in Marabut, Samar; (3) Women farmers in Real, Nakar, Infanta, Quezon; and (4) Former overseas Filipino workers from Talisay, Negros Occidental.
(The following are information gathered in the period of March 15 to March 27, 2020.)
- Threats of COVID19 and possible military harassment to women leaders.
Most of the WLB’s community partners are homemakers whose source of income are irregular. Most of them have no fixed income since they belong to the informal economy.Due to the declaration of ECQ, most women are at home as mobility has been restricted, and they cannot go out of their barangays (village) or municipalities. Military & police checkpoints and presence are the new normal in the Philippines.Despite these challenges and threats posed by COVID19, women leaders are forced to get out of their house and look for food, money, and/or help.When asked about cases of VAW, one woman leader from Marabut, Samar remarked that all is well because there is provision of relief goods.
- “Mental load++” is too much for women, affecting their mental health and wellness
Most women pre-COVID19 articulated that one of the challenges of being a woman is the responsibility of managing one’s home. Now, we can imagine that the ‘mental load++’ may be burdensome for most women especially the female household heads. Everyday household chores and caring for children are made more difficult by the implications of the COVID19 situation – restriction of mobility, taking care of bored children, lack of income, and survival of the family. In addition, every minute of the day women in the communities are faced by survival-related concerns of the family (e.g., where to get relief goods, where to get money, where they can borrow money, if they have money, what to eat, when they will eat, how to pay the money that they will borrow). Most often, these concerns are lodged to the women and considered as part of their role as homemakers.
- Food versus personal hygiene expenses
Since most women and their families do not have fixed income and rely on what they earn everyday, women are confronted with basic problems such as which to prioritize between food and personal hygiene when they have money to buy goods. Personal hygiene expenses are important and vital in fighting COVID19 but many women (Ayta Women and Women farmers in Quezon) would decide not to buy sanitary napkins or to only rely on hygiene packages provided by their local government if they are lucky to receive one.
Women from the communities also shared that they opt to just drink hot water when they feel hungry.
- Economic insecurity is rampant, and the prevalence of multiple burden in times of COVID19 After doing their household chores in the morning, women look for other ways to earn income. However, due to mobility restrictions, women farmers and informal workers are forced to stay at home and sell their products, if possible, in nearby areas. Some women farmers are forced to develop their products into something else and sell it at a lower cost (e.g. women coconut farmers cannot sell their products because of the lockdown, they are forced to sell their products at a very low cost which is not even enough to pay for their loans). While some are forced to sell their goods (root crops, vegetables, or fish) at the lowest cost to their neighbors. This way, the women can help their neighbors have food on the table and at the same time, allow them to easily convert their goods into cash so they can then buy the necessary goods they need like rice.
- Lack of information from the government on the local COVID situation and response efforts of the local government unit (LGUs)
In the first two weeks, anxiety and fear were felt by community partners because there are areas that did not receive any relief goods in the first week of community quarantine. Nor did they receive any information or assurance from the national government that they can rely on the LGUs. Information is issued by national government agencies (NGAs), but LGUs are not fully informed on how the resolutions developed at the national level will be operationalized at the local level. Some LGUs already articulated at the start of the lockdown that they could only respond to the needs of their constituencies, including the poor, at a very limited capacity. The response, according to news articles, depended on the income level of the municipality – and this is true especially for poor municipalities such as the areas WLB is working with (fourth to fifth class municipalities). Therefore, the burden relegated by NGAs to LGUs to support the needs of the poor seems impossible. In some contexts, women leaders are unable to get any support, information, or relief goods. Women leaders appealed to WLB for financial support and even offered that they will pay for it in the future.
- Women leaders acting as frontliners at the Barangay Level to help LGUs respond to COVID19 Most of the women leaders are volunteers either at the barangay or municipal levels acting as Barangay Health Workers, Violence Against Women’s Desk Officers, or OFW desk officers. With the sudden increase of positive COVID19 patients in the Philippines, women leaders in the four communities are also tasked to act as frontliners at the barangay level. Some are tasked to monitor the arrival of OFWs in their area, while some are appointed as Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT) for COVID19 at the local level. Moreover, there are peasant women leaders who are in charge of checkpoints and implementing quarantine protocols because they are BHW or Barangay Tanods. None of them were provided with personal protective equipments (PPEs). The question is why the women accepted this volunteer work despite the risks. Women automatically took on the job without taking into consideration the risk that they might experience as some of these jobs provide additional allowance. Given that most of them do not have regular income, they accepted the job so their family can survive. In the course of doing their volunteer work, they received inquiries and text messages, or were directly approached by some women in the communities, to ask information on where to get relief support or even to borrow money. Some even asked for money from the women volunteers and requested them to ask support from WLB (even if it means that they have to swallow their pride because our women partners are not comfortable in directly asking for money).Women are left with no choice but to take on these roles even if at the expense of their own lives. In one instance (this happened on 2 April 2020), one of the women acting as BHERT almost got hacked and beaten when she reprimanded a resident violating quarantine protocols. Fortunately, members of her women’s organization came to her aid. They are currently in dialogue with their village leader to assert better security.
- Due to the increasing number of COVID19 patients, there is still limited access to government facilities and services.
Physical accessibility is a common problem in rural areas because their only source of information is the Barangay government unit. Municipal government is usually located at the center and will require additional costs for transportation for those citizens who wish to avail of their services. Unfortunately, since most of the municipalities belong to 4th – 5th class municipalities, their internal revenue allotment is small and would not be enough to provide for the basic services (food, health, etc.) of the community. Most women would opt to go to barangay and ask for support (if there is any). But in both Zambales and Quezon provinces, this recourse may not be readily accessible as their mobility is restricted because of lack of public transportation. .This is also a problem for women migrant workers in destination countries who cannot access the services of the Philippine Embassy or Consulate due to physical inaccessibility. Many migrant workers are unaware of the steps that they need to do in case they need to go back to the Philippines. Most of all, they are problematizing how they will support the needs of their family amidst their loss of income. Many were forced to go back to the Philippines because of low demand for food production or services while others were forced to undergo mandatory leaves without pay.
One WLB staff got sick and had symptoms of COVID19. She went to a public hospital which is also assigned as a referral hospital for COVID19 patients. Having all the symptoms except for difficulty in breathing, she was treated in the hospital but was still sent home right after, with the instruction to do self-quarantine. She was not tested for COVID19 and was never monitored by the hospital. According to the hospital she was not qualified for testing because her history showed that she did not travel to any COVID19 infected countries nor exposed to confirmed COVID patients. She is a solo parent with two kids and has a senior citizen mother.
However, while the WLB staff was in self-quarantine, several senators got tested even if they were asymptomatic. According to our exchanges, she never thought that she would experience such kind of treatment just because she did not know any government official or had no connections. Until now, she is still recovering from her illness (whatever it is) and we advised her to continue to seek professional medical help.
- Low or no reported cases of VAW. In WLB’s research in 2016 on post-Haiyan, most women would not report cases of VAW during a disaster or crisis because survival of the family is more important for them. Moreover, accessing VAW services will require costs (transportation, food, photocopying) on the part of the victim, and if given a choice between food and access to remedy, women prefer the former especially if she has children. Some government officials look at VAW as a trivial issue during crises.Based on the stories shared by our partners, some women and even men refused to accept contraceptives from barangay health workers due to fear of their (possible) negative effects. In addition, some women experienced verbal abuse because of lack of food at home, or even marital rape (women used the term forced sex). The latter happens because even if women are tired due to household chores and mental load and as such, would prefer not to engage in sex, they are left with no other options because saying no could lead to possible physical abuse. Women have no time amongst them to discuss this issue because for them survival and food are more important than their personal issues. Another challenge is that women who have been assigned as VAW desks are now doing COVID19-related work also and thus, may have overlooked signs of abuse due to the crisis.
- COVID19 is not a gender-neutral phenomenon. Women are in difficult situation prior to COVID19 because of their position in society (not to mention their other contexts and identities). As narrated in the situation above, women now are faced with bigger dilemma, challenges, and problems posed by COVID19.
Therefore, the response (programs, services, etc.) of the government including humanitarian aid must be gender responsive by identifying the distinct contexts, experiences, and needs of women, including the disproportionate impact to women.
- Women are not homogenous. WLB is working with different marginalized groups of women: women with disability; lesbian, bisexual, transwomen; indigenous women; rural women; victim-survivors of violence against women (VAW); young women and girl children; women migrant workers and their families; fisherfolks and peasant women; women living with HIV/AIDS; and survivors of disaster particularly, Haiyan. Women and girl children are different and therefore the government must identify their practical and strategic needs in response to the crisis. In addition, response to COVID19 for women living in urban areas is different from women living in rural areas. Guidelines and policies developed by the national government must also be sensitive to the realities of rural contexts.
- Economic rights are interrelated with social, political rights and experiences of women. There is no hierarchy. As government and humanitarian agencies response to COVID19, other issues of women should also be interrogated like political decision-making power of women, and VAW, particularly sexual violence and especially those committed or condoned by authorities or development aid workers. If left unaddressed by the government, these concerns would have corresponding socio-economic costs because women played a big role in fighting COVID19.
- Women and their families are hungry, and they need food reliefs now.
Immediate needs during the lockdown
- Food (canned goods, rice, coffee, sugar)
- Special food for pregnant, nursing and lactating mothers and their children
- Medicine (vitamin c, paracetamol, medicine for colds and cough)
- Personal hygiene (soap, sanitary pads, toothpaste, shampoo)
- Laundry (detergent, Clorox)
- Dishwashing liquid
- Cash to buy daily needs
- “Business as usual” is unacceptable whether during and post-COVID19.As a feminist NGO, WLB believes that development aid and funding donors must support its partner NGOs to support its partner communities during and after the COVID19 crisis. There should be an opening for amendment or changes to adjust some of its activities to address the immediate concerns of women in the communities, especially post-COVID19.Targets and deliverables are important; but donors should provide flexibility to respond to the demands and needs of the communities post-COVID19 based on consultations between the partner NGO and its community partners. After all, these aid/grants aim to empower them whether with or without a crisis. On the other hand, WLB is committed to continue documenting issues faced by women on the ground until the crisis ends. At the same, WLB is also planning remotely with its community partners on ways forward post COVID19. #