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Gendered Livelihoods – recovery for women three years after Typhoon Yolanda

Written by May Tan-Mullins.

On 8 November 2013 super-typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) hit the Visayas region of the Philippines. More than 6,300 lives were lost and homes, livelihoods and communities were devastated. It has been three years since the typhoon hit and recovery, housing and livelihood options remain a major challenge in the region. In particular, livelihood options continue to be a major concern, especially for the women. This is because many of the livelihood programmes put in place by the governments, international organisations and Non-governmental organisations are very much gender-biased towards men. Very few options or programmes are targeted at women or women’s groups. Indeed, as Oxfam notes, gender inequalities persist and may be even magnified during disasters, especially in the rebuilding phase.

Before Typhoon Yolanda, most of the women in Leyte were stay-home mothers, caring for their children and running the household chores. The men were the bread-winners, either in the formal or informal sectors, such as manufacturing, retail, labour and agriculture sectors. Typhoon Yolanda resulted in substantial loss of tangible livelihood assets, such as land, equipment (e.g. tools, boats), livestock, crops and manpower from the household. This had a significant effect on human security and the ability to ‘bounce back’ from the disaster. During and after the immediate rescue and recovery, the area saw an influx of numerous state and non-state actors, ranging from local municipal governments and beyond (such as Davao City in Mindanao) to local and international NGOs and INGOs. The non-exhaustive list below details the various actors involved in the post rescue and recovery activities that relates to livelihood issues such as cash for work programs, and equipment and livelihood programs.

Name of organisations Activities
Dept. of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) (regional, provincial and municipal) Cash for work;

national KALAHI-CIDDS livelihood program for barangays

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Boats
WedPro Livelihood programme
Dept. of labor and Employment (DOLE) Cash for work
CONCERN/ CECI Livelihood programme
ACF Livelihood for fisherfolk
Oxfam Livelihood programme and cash for work
Dept. of Interior and Local Governments (DENR) Boats
US government Livelihood programmes
Ministry without Borders Boats
Magsaysay transport Boats
Tzu Chi Cash for work
USAID Startup funds for sari-sari stores and food stalls

Table: Authors compilation from fieldwork interviews

Although some International Organisations and donors, such as the International Labour Organisation and the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and CARE and USAID recognized the impact of the disaster on woman and allocated 50% of targeted worker beneficiaries for women with considerable success,  these examples are few and far between. In many instances, livelihood programmes tend to focus on rehabilitating the livelihood options of fisherfolks, which are usually men. Fishermen tend to be favoured recipients of equipment and aid as boat donations make good headlines and positive public relations for the donor agencies, which could encourage more donations to that particular agency. However, this favoured livelihood option has resulted in duplicated aid as we found in some cases across the three localities, one fisherman could be given up to three boats (with others not receiving even one), by different donors. Many respondents in Leyte indicated that there was too much focus on helping the fishermen, but very little on the farmers, factory workers and people working in the informal sector and especially women.

Some women’s livelihood initiatives have been started by local government agencies such as the Basey Weavers programmes, providing skills training and market linkages to the women weavers in Samar. However, these programmes are selective and targeted, with very few beneficiaries. The lack of support for livelihood opportunities for women is further exemplified by over 500 housewives from another village in the same area in Samar calling for the attention of government agencies to their need for more livelihood assistance. In a statement, they asked for capital resources, skills training and machinery that they could use for their livelihood. They also ask for help in linking their products to the market.  An interview with a female Barangay Captain in Palo on 11 November 2016, also yielded similar remarks. ‘The women in the villages are sitting around doing nothing. We want to do a lot more, to bring in income and also make life easier for our community. We would be grateful if there are some kind of livelihood options available to us, such as an investment to buy an oven so we can start a bakery cooperative, or a weaving cooperative, so we can weave and watch over our kids, and make money at the same time. But we have nothing. I have asked the government again and again but there are no available funds.’ We repeatedly heard this call for women’s livelihood options during our interviews in November 2015, and again in November 2016.  It would be vital to scale up these women’s cooperative or livelihood options and extend it to other regions, especially those which are more rural and less accessible.

In the Oxfam report in 2014, the importance of gender issues in Yolanda recovery and rehabilitation were highlighted. In the context of rebuilding women’s livelihood, they recommend to go beyond gender mainstreaming in livelihoods and instead focus on actions towards increasing women’s economic leadership and enable them to have access to technology and market. Only by engaging women actively in the process of rehabilitation and recovery, will Leyte and Philippines at a whole be able to build back better and safer.

May Tan-Mullins is a Professor of International Relations in the School of International Studies, University of Nottingham, Ningbo China. She is Co-investigator of the ESRC/DFID funded project ‘Poverty Alleviation in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda’. You can follow this project on Facebook as Project_Yolanda and Twitter @Project_Yolanda. Image credit: CC by DFID/Flickr.

Published inAsiaAsia and PacificProject Yolanda

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