Breakthrough Women’s Congress

By Malou Guanzon Apalisok |March 12,2018 - 11:04 PM


Cebu is celebrating a double milestone as it observes 2018 National Women’s Month.

For the first time, the Provincial Women’s Commission co-chaired by Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III and Vice Governor Agnes Magpale has seen fit to peg the 18th Provincial Women’s Congress on co-operatives in order to elevate the status of rural women.

Themed as, “Through Cooperatives, we make change work for women” the event features two women leaders who will share insights on community development through their lifelong involvement in the movement. One start up coop leader will share the story on why a group of medical practitioners banded together to form a self-help enterprise.

This is a breakthrough Congress in the sense that the national celebration takes up the gender equality issues in the perspective of cooperatives.

Equally interesting is the work of the Provincial Women’s Commission in which Cebu Vice Governor Agnes Magpale is a hands-on co-chair.

When she joined the Capitol in 1992 as a member of the Sanggunian Panlalawigan, the province didn’t have a mechanism to implement the state policy enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.

The Declaration of Principles asserts that, “The State recognizes the role of women in nation building and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men (Article II, section 14).

This provision is further strengthened by Article XIII Section 14 which states, “The State shall protect working women by providing safe and healthful working conditions taking into account their maternal functions, and such facilities and opportunities that will enhance their welfare and enable them to realize their full potential in the service of the nation.”

What then PB member Magpale did was advocate for women’s rights and protection in the barangay level using as bases national and provincial issuances.

The advocacy campaign must have created a dent in women’s awareness because in the course of the next eight years, women from all over the province went to her to air their grievances related to low income, lack of health care, domestic violence, sexual abuse, human trafficking, cyber pornography, etc.

The slew of domestic and social problems affecting women moved the lady legislator to push for the creation of the Provincial Women’s Commission, the mechanism that not only translated the state policy into concrete action but also streamlined the local government’s assistance for the promotion and protection of women’s and children’s rights.

This year the PWC has been allotted P11 million to run the office, skills training, scholarship programs, mobilization for rescue operations of women and children-victims of sexual abuse, human trafficking and cyber pornography, etc.

The complex job entails close partnership with law enforcers, public and private legal bureaus, medical care and psycho social practitioners as well as accredited civil society groups.

Eighteen years into the commission’s operation, Vice Governor Magpale told me the stark reality on the ground: unless women are economically independent, it will be extremely difficult for them to elevate their status let alone escape from their abusive spouses.

Women in general are trapped in a cycle of domestic violence and sexual abuse because they have nowhere to go.

Deliverance can be had once they are given access to asset-based skills training program and equipment. A little start-up capital for a micro-enterprise would go a long way but there’s a hitch because the Grameen-inspired micro credit program initiated a few years back did not succeed.

Still, there are plenty of success stories among the women organizations in the province and Vice Governor Magpale is proud to cite the gains of the “bugasan” or consumer store selling rice in Carmen town.

In the meantime, the women may have a prospect in the Department of Labor’s cash for work program that ties up nicely with the Gov. Davide’s commitment to plant 3 million trees during his term.

The PWC has planted 60,000 seedlings in Daanbantayan through the efforts of some 750 women who took part in the mangrove tree planting in the town’s riverbanks.

This month they will be receiving pay based on the daily minimum wage rate for services rendered for 15 – 30 days. DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello’s commitment to fund the program for P4 million will make it possible to replicate the activity in other Cebu towns badly affected by the 2013 killer typhoon Haiyan, according to Vice Governor Magpale.

The question is, what’s the next step for women after giving them skills training, or when the cash for work program in Daanbantayan expires this month?

That’s the rationale of the 18th Provincial Women’s Congress which takes place tomorrow at the Capitol Social Hall.

Keynote speaker is Ms. Doris Canares, CEO of TMX Credit Cooperative and former chairman of the Board of VICTO National. She currently sits in the board of the apex body PH Cooperative Center representing the federation.

Women trailblazers, namely Madam Ellen Limocon of the highly diversified Lamac Multipurpose Cooperative and Dr. Corazon Canete of Advance Health Service Cooperative compose the resource panel.

A member of the Cooperative Development Authority Board of Administrators, Madam Mercedes Castillo will further enlighten rural women on the legal framework and other co-op related issues.

It took more than 20 years for Vice Governor Magpale to lay the groundwork for women to reclaim their place in society – as agents of change and economic development.

The next big challenge is how to transition Cebu’s rural women organizations into co-operatives. Hopefully the window of opportunity will be wide open as the breakthrough Congress opens tomorrow.

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