7 groups helping Filipinas become financially independent

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These groups work with underprivileged women to provide them with opportunities to learn new skills and find work. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) The Philippines is known to be one of the most gender-inclusive nations. In fact, it’s the most gender-equal nation in Asia, ranking 10th out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report of 2017. But our overall ranking fails to tell the whole story. Sexist norms and stereotypes remain institutionalized in our culture, threatening Filipinas’ quality of life. Despite our Global Gender Gap ranking, it’s clear that Filipinas are still disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination, and exploitation — especially those in marginalized sectors.

Fortunately, there’s a growing number of initiatives that aim to protect and empower women in a myriad of ways, from promoting safe spaces to advocating against sexual harassment. We have policy protections in place like the Magna Carta for Women (RA 9170) and Quezon City Anti-catcalling Ordinance (City Ordinance 2501-2016).

Political parties like GABRIELA and Akbayan also advocate for women’s issues through their representatives and campaigns. Speaking of government representation, there is a government agency called the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), with the sole function of promoting of gender equality, women's empowerment and women's rights.

As the report illustrates, equal economic opportunity is yet to be attained, with the “wage equality for similar work” category dropping 14 places from last year, and “labour force participation” barely even budging, going from 107th to 106th place. There are organizations and social enterprises that aim to address this problem, but they can’t do it alone. It’s only right to recognize some of the efforts that have sought to empower women through sustainable livelihood programs and conscientious commerce.

We shine the spotlight on these initiatives in the hopes that readers will be inspired to engage with them, else make a positive impact in your own way.

r2rmade.jpg Rags 2 Riches (R2R) was born out of a partnership between its founders and stay-at-home mothers in underprivileged communities who knew how to weave rugs. Forgoing their former ways of making round rugs and working with enterprising middlemen, these women began upcycling cloth scraps into bags, wallets, and other apparel. Photo from RAGS2RICHES INC/FACEBOOK

Rags 2 Riches

With a branch among upscale shops at UP Town Center and a strong presence since 2007, this social enterprise is arguably one of the most well-known in the country. Founded by Reese Fernandez-Ruiz and eight other members, Rags 2 Riches (R2R) was born when they teamed up with stay-at-home mothers in Payatas who knew how to weave rugs. Forgoing their former ways of making round rugs and working with enterprising middlemen, these women began upcycling cloth scraps into bags, wallets, and other apparel.

The concept of R2R is ingenious and sustainable, opening up eco-friendly job opportunities for women in impoverished communities and making fashionable items in the process. They have since expanded their reach nationwide, using cloth overruns and indigenous fabrics as materials alongside their women artisans. They now also hold weaving workshops and curate Things That Matter, an online repository of equally purposeful products from other social enterprises.

empwmn.jpg EmpoWomen PH helps women and families displaced by war and conflict. Their current goal is to partner with 100 families from both Zamboanga and Marawi. After that, they plan to conduct trainings and workshops for the women, so as to help them get back on their feet after a disaster. Photo from EMPOWOMEN PH/FACEBOOK

EmpoWomen PH

There is something meaningful about the story of the non-government organization EmpoWomen PH: it’s a voluntary initiative by Alexis Baldia, Tat Gualberto, Bobby Flores, Omaha Macabato, and Levinia Perez funded by the United States Department of State, through the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). Their initial goal was to conduct livelihood programs with displaced women in Zamboanga. In the very same month that they received their YSEALI grant, the Marawi Siege broke out, which spurred the EmpoWomen team into broadening their scope of operations.

The EmpoWomen team shares the common belief that, in the face of crises caused by war and conflict, it’s important that women are given the opportunity to realize their potential to support themselves and their families. They have already covered substantial ground, helping affected women and their families into shelters, with their current goal being to partner with 100 families from both Zamboanga and Marawi. After that, they plan to conduct trainings and workshops for the women to help them get back on their feet after a disaster.

oliviadiego.jpg Olivia & Diego (O&D) is a Davao-based social enterprise that works with stay-at-home mothers and victims of human trafficking. Like R2R, their material of choice is excess cloth; what would have been mere textile waste is transformed into colorful rope bangles. Photo from OLIVIA & DIEGO/FACEBOOK

Olivia & Diego

Olivia & Diego (O&D) is a Davao-based social enterprise that works with stay-at-home mothers and victims of human trafficking. Like R2R, their material of choice is excess cloth; what would have been mere textile waste is transformed into colorful rope bangles. Yana Santiago, O&D’s overall head of design and operations, emphasizes that they aren’t running a charity. Rather, their main aim is to equip disadvantaged women with the necessary skills to run their own business ventures.

Santiago shares the story of a young mother named Jay Anne from Matina Aplaya, Davao City, whom she met through Talikala, an NGO that offers support to girls and women who have been forced into the sex trade: “When were first introduced to each other, she was looking for a job/source of income. Through our upcycling workshop and self-practice, she was able to hone her bracelet-making skill. She is able to provide for her baby solely by working for O&D.”

karaw.jpg Karaw Craftventures aims to provide inmates with opportunities to reintegrate themselves into society through the development of artistic and entrepreneurial skills. Their Ragpet Project, in particular, equips women inmates with sustainable livelihood activities using upcycled materials: extra fabric, old buttons, and spare beads are turned into plushies, keychains and other unique gift items. Photo from KARAW CRAFTVENTURES/FACEBOOK

Karaw Craftventures

Jails in the Philippines are notorious for being overcrowded and inhospitable, lacking opportunities for their inmates to reintegrate themselves into society. This is what Karaw Craftventures aims to correct in Naga City Jail, through the development of artistic and entrepreneurial skills. Their Ragpet Project, in particular, equips women inmates with sustainable livelihood activities using upcycled materials: extra fabric, old buttons, and spare beads are turned into plushies, keychains and other unique gift items.

Founder Paul Orpiada mentions that their workshops have had a therapeutic effect on their artisan-inmates. Jail officers have observed that the inmates have become more considerate of one another, as opposed to having regular petty quarrels: “They are able to show their talents and creativity in creating the products and they are able to use their time, skills, and strength efficiently and effectively,” says Orpiada.

Orpiada provides context as to their social enterprise’s impact: “In Naga City District Jail, there are over 700 people who are incarcerated, 40 of which are women who are mostly mothers. From 11 inmate-artisans in 2012, we now work with 40 inmates which means 40 families are also indirectly impacted.”

knitting expedition.png Knitting Expedition is a social enterprise targeted towards the women of Uhaj, Banaue with the goal of equipping women with skills to augment their farming income. Photo from KNITTING EXPEDITION/WEBSITE

Knitting Expedition

In the Ifugao province, it’s culturally ingrained for the women to do the rice planting (typically without the help of tools because of their more agile hands) while men fix the terraces and its walls. The profit for this arduous labor is only just enough to feed their families — which is why knitting enthusiasts Candy Reyes-Alipio and Aurora Mangubat-Suarez decided to put up Knitting Expedition, a social enterprise targeted towards the women of Uhaj, Banaue.

Alipio mentions that they started where a previous project left off: a Kickstarter-funded campaign called Ricefield Collective had already taught the women how to knit. “When that project ended, I decided to continue working with the community and with the mission of Ricefield Collective, which really aims to give the women in Uhaj an opportunity to augment their income without having to leave their ancestral lands, allowing them to continue their tradition and culture of rice terrace farming.”

Knitting Expedition’s goal is to equip women with skills to augment their farming income. The majority of women-artisans that Alipio and Suarez work with are farmers, housewives, and stay-at-home mothers, save for a couple of teachers. The women they work with are much more economically empowered than ever before: apart from teaching at workshops and participating in fairs such as their upcoming Third Baguio Craft Fair, they have even independently organized a lending cooperative among themselves.

GREAT WOMEN 2.jpg GREAT stands for “Gender Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women,” which aims to provide an environment for the economic empowerment of women, with special focus on improving sustainability and competitiveness of women's micro-enterprises. PHOTO FROM GREAT WOMEN PROJECT 2/FACEBOOK

PCW’s GREAT Women Project

The GREAT Women Project is a project by the Philippine Commission of Women. GREAT stands for “Gender Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women,” which aims to provide an environment for the economic empowerment of women, with special focus on improving sustainability and competitiveness of women's micro-enterprises. Their work lies more on collaboration with other government agencies and private sector partners to aid women micro-entrepreneurs, as their data shows that the latter is a promising area for economic growth in the Philippines.

Luvy Villanueva, GREAT Women’s project manager during its first run from 2007 to 2013, shares that during her time, the women that she worked with usually kept businesses small because of their dual role as full-time mothers, had partners exert their control over their business, or simply did not have the network, information and opportunities to grow their business. “Very often, government livelihood programs target women as clients, but initial capital and quick-fix trainings would not be enough to ensure success.”

Villanueva recalls a story where women abaca weavers from Bagobo-Tagabawa in Bansalan, Davao Del Sur had partnered with GREAT Women: apart from business skills like standardizing measurements and cataloguing products, they also learned self-empowerment skills like "communication, negotiation, involving men in their community to increase production, and articulating their needs to sources of support."

womenbiz.png WomenBizPH is composed of the top women entrepreneurs in the country, with Pacita “Chit” Juan as Chair, Chiqui Escareal-Go as President and Boots Garcia as Board Adviser. Their contributions come mainly through coordinating with government agencies, and both local and global organizations. Photo from WBCP/FACEBOOK  

Women’s Business Council Philippines

It’s been said that business is a male-dominated field, but Women’s Business Council Philippines (WomenBizPH) has worked tirelessly since 1997 to shatter the glass ceiling. WomenBizPH is an advocacy organization now on its 21st year, endorsed by then-President Fidel Ramos and then-Trade Secretary Ernesto Ordonez with the vision to keep women’s issues in mind when it comes to policy-making in business.

WomenBizPH is composed of the top women entrepreneurs in the country, with Pacita “Chit” Juan as Chair, Chiqui Escareal-Go as President and Boots Garcia as Board Adviser. Their contributions come mainly through coordinating with government agencies, and both local and global organizations. WomenBizPH has contributed to research and policy development, having come up with benchmark data on Asian women in business. They also provide platforms for discourse, such as the Women’s Business Summit and last year’s flagship ASEAN Women's Business Conference.