"The pandemic has made their hard lives even harder."
Metro Manila and various parts of the country have been in different levels of community quarantine for more than six months now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The country holds the world record for longest quarantine.
Filipinos from all walks of life are affected. With the restrictions put on our movement and activities depending on the type of quarantine we are under, with schools and other establishments still closed, our way of life has significantly changed.
With businesses closing left and right, millions have already lost their jobs. Poverty levels have surely spiked in an unprecedented manner. While everyone is trying to cope with how bad things are, those in poor urban and rural communities are the ones hit the most. Yet, their voices are rarely heard and listened to. This is particularly true with poor community women.
Many rich and middle class “titos” and “titas” have become “plantitos” and “plantitas,” having found a new or renewed interest in plants. A good number also grow vegetables and herbs for their consumption. “Farming” is cool again. One only has to go through one’s social media feed and all sorts of plants are featured by their proud owners. This is good for the environment for as long as our mountains and forests are not disturbed by plant poachers. This is also beneficial to plant sellers who barely survived before.
Online shopping is also booming because people are kept indoors and many shops remain closed. “Add to cart” and “buy now” have become popular phrases. This is good for sellers especially if people patronize Philippine-made products. This is also good for couriers as they continue to earn a living despite the pandemic.
The rich and the middle class are finding ways to keep themselves occupied and entertained—this is good to keep one’s mental health in check.
But, what about those who are not as lucky? How are they surviving this pandemic and economic crunch?
My women’s group is trying to find out how ordinary women and their families are coping, or trying to. With support from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), we are doing focus group discussions (FGDs) with women living in urban and rural poor communities so they are able to tell their stories about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them among other issues. For advocates like us, we hope to amplify their voices. We have so far done two FGDs involving around fifty (50) community women leaders, one for Quezon Province and another for Laguna.
To begin with, these women’s access to knowledge on use of, and gadgets for digital technology is severely limited. Let us also remember the on-and-off, and usually weak, internet connection in rural areas. Many of the women needed to find gadgets that they could borrow. We needed to mentor the women one by one so they learn to use the technology and participate in the online discussion. Many of the participants had to go up a mountain to get internet signal. Others had to converge in homes of other participants to share a smart phone or laptop that they may use.
All the women said that while they were already hard up before, this pandemic and the quarantine made their lives even harder. Employed family members lost their jobs. These women’s work in the informal economy had to stop because they could not get out. What little capital they had is gone now because of their families’ needs. Because they are in the rural areas and they plant food, they now mostly depend on what they grow to eat.
When asked if the government’s “ayuda” has reached them, a good number said that they received P6,000 -- but none has so far received the promised second tranche. The women said that no matter how they tried, the amount they got could not last for even one month. Many complained that they have resorted to borrowing money for their most basic needs. “Lubog na sa utang,” was how one put it.
In terms of COVID-19 information, the women claimed to know from television and sometimes, from their health centers, how to avoid getting the virus. They said that in the initial months of quarantine, Barangay Health Centers were closed but these have since opened. Limited family planning services (pills and injectables) are available now. However, the Barangay Health Workers (BHWs) who participated in the FGDs said that there is a marked increase in the number of pregnant women in their localities.
When we inquired about the education of children, the women responded that the grade school kids are enrolled and that the method that will be used is through modules. In some areas, the modules are picked up from the schools while in others, from their barangay halls. This needs to be done on a weekly basis. The women said that this will be difficult for them because of the high transportation cost. Since there is no public transport available, they will need to rent a tricycle and this costs P150 one way. Thus, they will need P1,200 per month and they do not have this money.
Another valid concern from these mothers is how they will be able to guide their children in their studies since they themselves barely went to school. “Paano kung hindi ko alam ang aralin nila? Paano ko sila tuturuan?” sadly said one mother who was loudly seconded by others.
The lives of the women we had conversations with have been difficult even before COVID-19. Now they lead harder lives, not only because of poverty but also because of their roles as women, wives, and mothers. Society still dictates that taking care of their families is their primary responsibility. Yet, their voices remain stifled and their needs and concerns are deemed less important.
COVID-19 is harsh to everybody BUT it is harsher on poor women.
@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook