Women's Empowerment in a Challenging Environment:
A caselet on Women Managed Area in Barangay Amontay
Marihatag, Surigao del Sur
Candelario D. Olid
Women Managed Area (WMA) is a resource management tool use to properly protect and manage the products and resources utilized by women fishers. These areas are within the coastal zone designated for the management of women fishers’ organization. Women Managed Area (WMA) serves the following objectives:
- To recognize women as actual users of specific coastal areas and resources within the municipality of their subsistence or livelihood;
- To provide proper protection and ensure the judicious utilization of these resources;
- To enable women to fully participate in coastal resource management and decision-making;
- To ensure the mutual enjoyment by women and men of these coastal resources;
- To enhance the productivity and improve the skills of women in the fisheries sector;
- To institutionalize women’s roles in the development process.
“We do not care for the environment! We tolerated our husbands and children doing illegal fishing activities and cutting mangroves. We remained silent when we saw our neighbors, both men and women, rampantly doing environmental destruction every now and then. What’s disgusting is, sometimes we are also one of the violators because we do not care if we are destroying the mangroves when we do gleaning”. These are what the women in barangay Amontay uttered during one of the organizational assessment sessions last 2011.
Then changes on the attitudinal and behavioral facets of some of the community residents transpired gradually after CERD’s entry in our barangay last 2009 though the intervention then was more on research and rapid appraisal, analysis of the local situation of the people including the gender issues, capacity and vulnerability assessment of the area and the status of the coastal and marine resources. The result of the research and appraisal conducted showed that mangrove cutting is rampant in three (3) barangays: Amontay, Antipolo and Sta. Cruz and it is recommended that there is a need to manage the mangrove areas. Hence the concept of Women Managed Area (WMA) was introduced by CERD. It was decided to set up this project in Barangay Amontay because most of the members of the organization are women, majority are gleaners. The proposal to establish WMA was discussed and explained well to the newly organized fishers’ group, BANAK. As a result, BANAK decided to engage in WMA and formed the Women Managed Area (WMA) committee composed of five (5) women members. The committee immediately talked with Mario Cacho Avila, the president of the BAFIMA (Barangay Amontay Fisher Folks and Mangrove Association), another organization in barangay Amontay organized during the implementation of CBRMP (Community Based and Resource Management Project) under LGU management. BAFIMA was given the CBFMA (Community Based Forest Management Agreement), a 25 year stewardship contract for the mangrove area thus their approval of having a WMA inside the CBFMA area is crucial. Support was eventually extended by the BAFIMA President and even suggested sites appropriate for the said project.
This research really helped our barangay a lot because we knew and learned many things which we have not realized before. The most remarkable changes that we can proudly say is, our perspective and values towards coastal resources really changed. Most fishers gradually shifted from using destructive fishing into non-destructive fishing gears and learn to protect the coastal resources by reprimanding violators. Children also involved in CRM activities like mangrove reforestation and coastal clean-up. Women’s right in all aspects is being recognized like the rights to benefit from the resources being used.
The Women Managed Area (WMA) which we tried to lobbied at the Barangay Council and BAFIMA was approved right away because they understood the significance of protecting the gleaning areas which is mostly the source of income of the women. Our husbands recognized also that we have contributions in our family economic activities and most of all understand the essence of “gender equality ” such as emphasizing women’s empowerment in resource management, women’s equal participation in leadership, women’s equal participation in decision making within the households, division of labor for both productive and reproductive work; men and women have equal parental authority and shared responsibility over their children, says Arlinda Quevedo Cacho, the President of the BANAK (Barangay Amontay Nagkahiusang Mananagat Alang sa Kalambuan) organized by CERD last January 2010 with 45 (28 women, 17 men) members as of 2013. The objectives of the BANAK are on protection, conservation and management of the coastal and marine resources; and promotion and practice of gender equality at the household, organization and community level.
Two (2) PO leaders then from Hinatuan, another area assisted by CERD were invited to conduct mangrove base lining on the first site that was identified by the BANAK. They discussed that Women Managed Area (WMA) is a gender-responsive project, a tool designed to recognize women’s capacity in managing the resources particularly the mangrove areas to sustain their gleaning activity which is one of their income sources. “We were taught how to gather base line information through transect plot method. We found it very difficult at first but later we felt satisfied as the process was also informative”, says Jocelyn Sabatin WMA chairperson.
Several meetings were conducted to discuss this resource management tool until the final decision to establish it on the southern part of the entire CBFMA area was agreed because the site is accessible compared to the first identified site (northern part of the barangay). Aside from this, the second site needs more intensive care and management as it is the gleaning area of most of the women in the barangay. They need to protect the area which they depend on for income and food. Even though these two sites had been reforested by BAFIMA, illegal cutting is still evident and caused damage. Seedlings were trampled upon by illegal cutters. Result of the baseline showed that only rhizohpora “bakhaw” species reported fair to good condition. Seedlings and sapling still need proper care and management so they can grow with no disturbances. WMA committee, together with the BANAK leaders formulated the policies and regulations to guide the shell gatherers and to prevent further destruction by the illegal cutters.
WMA management plan was also formulated, lobbied at the Barangay Council and CENRO for several times to generate support. CERD and BANAK also did information education campaign through community assembly, installation of billboards and construction of guardhouse for their monitoring and surveillance activities. Women members of the BANAK were very delighted because the men members supported them all throughout the activity.
They really savor the time when the CENRO committed not only for WMA establishment but also for mangrove enhancement and reforestation project in Marihatag and other initiatives that will be implemented by CERD and the POs related to coastal and marine resource management. The Barangay Council also approved a resolution stating the full support to the project. Finally, launching of the 3.5 hectare Women Managed Area (WMA) was conducted last February 10, 2011 with the full support from the barangay and municipal local government officials.
Training on mangrove focused on the techniques for planting, tools for monitoring and assessment using the transect line plot method, and identifying all species encountered in the area, counting of the seedlings and saplings, and measuring the diameter at breast height of the mangrove trees. Also discussed was the importance of mangroves economically and ecologically. This training was attended by 42 (24 women, 18 men) fishers. Other trainings related to resource management were also provided to the members of BANAK to enhance their capacities in managing the WMA project. Women Managed Area (WMA) Committee and Committee on Mangrove Management did bi-annually monitoring and regular surveillance activities. Eight (8) - ten women stayed at the guardhouse during daytime and six to ten (6-10) men during night time. They have reprimanded and apprehended a total of 18 (men) mangrove cutters since 2010 and up to the present. These incidences were reported to the Barangay Council and CENRO. These men were asked to sign an affidavit stating that they will not repeat the violations.
According to most of the women, being a member of the fishers’ organization and the establishment of the Women Managed Area (WMA) taught them many things. They became fearless, assertive, pro-active and most of all empowered. Violators threatened them but they did not stop. They were humiliated and insulted many times. The Barangay Council would sometimes favor the violators but they asked support from the Local Chief Executive thus the issue was addressed. Their boldness prevailed in the end as no mangrove cutter dared to enter the protected site.
They also became well-versed on fishery policies. They developed their self-esteem and realized that they have the potential to address the challenges they faced with respect to their environment. They also understood the spirit of volunteerism, sense of responsibility and sense of ownership in the process of WMA establishment and management.
From the latest mangrove monitoring conducted, the result showed that there is 95% survival rate or 15,379 seedlings survived out of 16,188 seedlings. Most species planted and survived is “rhizophora species” (rhizophora apiculata and rhizophora mucronata). On-going protection and management done because they want to prove to the people in Barangay Amontay that WMA project is the best legacy they could pass on to the next generation. “We are proud to say that being empowered made a great difference in our life because we have convinced our husbands to become members of the organization too. Together we did coastal resource management with our children”, says Zenaida Salinas, a deputized fish warden in the barangay. “Women’s right is now recognized also particularly at home and in the community”, thus we are very thankful to CERD Community Organizers who made our life different, says Magdalena Gonzaga, one of the women fisher and active leader of the BANAK organization. To really bring about change, it is not just a matter of entering the spaces of the organization, but also growing in that space and evolving oneself, says Ma.Salvacion Campos, the newly elected Vice President of the organization.