Women’s Month: A time to celebrate, champion, uplift

By Jaime Aristotle B. Alip, Ph.D.

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements.

March is also a time to celebrate women in the Philippines. Not surprisingly, it was the country’s first woman leader, former President Corazon C. Aquino who issued Proclamation No. 224, declaring the first week of March as Women’s Week and March 8 as Women’s Rights and International Peace Day.

She also issued Proclamation No, 227, calling for the observance of the Month of March as Women’s Role in History Month. In 1990, she signed R.A. No. 6949, declaring March 8 as a working special holiday known as National Women’s Day.

So, I start this month by paying homage to all the women leaders of CARD MRI, who for the last 35 years have been working to improve the plight of poor and marginalized women nationwide.  I am grateful for the chance to work with all of you, to observe first-hand how you transform people’s lives with kindness and hope. You are inspiring change-agents, nurturing and empowering in a way that only women can be. Happy Women’s Month to all of you!

I also honor CARD’s women members and clients. I have been in rural development work for more than three decades. Throughout, you have been my inspiration and source of strength. There have been many challenges, but every time I go on field and meet the women who comprise the majority of CARD’s 7.8 million membership, I am energized.

I cite, for instance, Ellenita Mariano, an entrepreneur from Barangay Tominamos, Sta. Rita, Samar. She started a store in August 2013 to help support her family. She joined CARD in October that year, thinking to put aside some savings when her business began taking off. Unfortunately, Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) ravaged the region in November 2013. Ellenita lost her home, her business, almost everything they owned.

In the face of such devastation, Ellenita did not lose hope, assuring her family that for as long as they are together, they will be able to start again. When she received the proceeds from her CARD microinsurance, she was flabbergasted. She was a new member at that time, so she was not expecting to receive insurance benefits amounting to P9,500. She used the amount to rebuild their house and re-open her store. Because supplies were scarce at that time, the store quickly became a major supplier of food and other essentials in her barangay. She took out microfinance loans from CARD to expand her business because she also wanted to serve neighboring communities. Ellenita’s store grew, so she bought a truck to bring and buy supplies from other barangays so that they could get what they needed and also sell their produce. Soon, she was employing her neighbors. She even gave part-time jobs to students during weekends to help in their schooling. Her store became a hub of economic activity and hope to the community in the wake of Haiyan’s devastation.

Ellenita once said that unfortunate events could also be windows of hope and opportunities.  She was proven right once more, when the COVID-19 pandemic happened in 2020 and people were locked down.  Her store – now a grocery – became a major source of food and needed supplies in their community.  She makes sure that necessary items are always available in her store. She provides livelihood and other forms of assistance to her neighbors. She also finds ways to give back to the community, always volunteering and giving donations to support civic activities.  In desperate times, she has been a source of hope to many.

And so I dedicate this post to Elenita and others like her – testament to women’s extraordinary strength, their love for family and their fellow human beings giving them power to inspire and transform lives.

This March, let us remember all the women in our lives.  Here are some ideas to honor and thank them:

  1. Support women entrepreneurs. The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately and negatively affected women entrepreneurs in the Philippines. This is based on a study done by the International Finance Corp. (IFC) in partnership with online selling platform Lazada. The study showed that sales of women-owned businesses in the country shrank by 27 percent in 2020 following the pandemic-induced economic recession.
  2. Hire women, or invest in women-owned enterprises.  BSP reports that when it comes to financial investment, the gender gap favored men: only 18.9% of women had investment, which is lower than the 30.3% for the men. There is also a gender gap in labor force participation rate which was higher among men at 76.1% compared to women at 52.3%, as of November 2021.
  3. Support female artists; read books by women authors. Arts and literature help shape how we think about our society and culture now, and how we will reflect on it in the future. Let us support diversity.
  4. Brush up on current issues and take action.  Get to know women in politics. Support women’s advocacies and aid non-profit organizations that help women.

Let us celebrate and uplift women. After all, as Mark Twain once said, “What would men be without women? Scarce, Sir… mighty scarce.