In a secluded marshland in the southern Philippines, women are emerging from the solitude and loneliness of their homes, reclaiming their place in the community and learning new skills – and it’s all thanks to your support.
“I felt like I was in jail”
“I used to spend so much time at home doing household chores and looking after my son,” says 29-year-old Aliya*. Living in a patriarchal society that has experienced decades of conflict in rural southern Philippines, growing up she was surrounded by ingrained traditional attitudes.
“For me, I was 25 when I got married – but it wasn’t always like this. In the past, as soon as a girl started her period, she would be considered a woman and eligible for marriage.”
Aliya’s community were once members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a group seeking an autonomous region of the Philippines that would be separate from the central government. After decades of conflict and years of peace talks, the former rebel group reached a peace agreement with the Philippine government in 2014, and an autonomous region was setup, known as BARMM – the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“There was armed conflict in the past and not much knowledge or education, so I saw many girls my age entering into early child marriages due to poverty,” says Aliya.
However, the longstanding gender roles have proved hard to budge, even as the wider community re-integrates with the rest of Filipino society - and women have been stuck inside as a result.
“Growing up, I always watched my mother cooking, cleaning and doing household chores, as well as taking care of the children.”
“Being stuck at home, I felt like I was in jail. It’s a lonely and meaningless life,” says Aliya.
From housebound to community leaders
Now, thanks to support from VSO and with funding from UK Aid, women are coming out of their homes in droves to learn new skills.
First, the women came together to form a women’s association. Then VSO volunteers ran a training session in how to make chemical-free bio-fertiliser. The bio-fertiliser uses local raw materials like water hyacinth, which grows in abundance locally.
“The water hyacinths are otherwise useless to the community and, if we don’t clear the hyacinth from the waterways, it can lead to flooding.”
“We can use the water hyacinth to make the bio-fertiliser, generate an income and support our families,” says Aliya.
In addition, Aliya has received training in leadership, group management, fish processing, and how to grow food without the need for soil. Aliya says the project has changed perspectives on what is possible:
“Thanks to VSO, we now know that there are livelihoods right here, in the community, like growing water spinach or catching fish.”
Your support, their empowerment
Your support is changing the lives of women in the southern Philippines. One community member, Taps, has recently noticed a shift in women’s roles: “Traditionally, women would just take care of the household, but now they are fishing too, which has always been the job of the men.
“At home, women are now taking part in decision-making and have more of an opportunity to express themselves,” says Taps.
For Aliya, she feels that something has shifted for her since learning new skills in producing bio-fertiliser:
“Being part of the project has changed how I see myself,” she says.
“Nowadays, I’m happy because women here can speak out, do what they want to do and be a part of any community events they want to take part in. We can do anything.”
While things have changed for Aliya, there are many more women trapped at home. Please donate today and help shift ingrained traditional attitudes that are keeping women’s potential stifled.
With your support, men and women in communities scarred by conflict can unite and build a peaceful and hopeful future together. Please, will you donate today?
*Aliya's name has been changed to protect her identity.
We’ve been working in the Philippines since 1964. For over 55 years, we’ve partnered with local organisations and government agencies to design and deliver projects to support the needs of communities across the country.
Although the Philippines has made significant strides in reducing poverty, inequality and deprivation persists. The country is also extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change and natural disasters.
Our work in the Philippines focuses on climate change adaptation and resilient livelihoods, transforming fragilities, education and youth engagement work.
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