I guess one of the most surprising results I have had here are learning about people’s perceptions of women. I have asked many people over the past two months, formally (in interviews) but also informally, “how are women involved in coastal resource management?” Most of these people are aware what coastal resource management (CRM) means in the Philippines, but I’ll just brief that for my readers:
CRM includes a variety of activities, like making fisheries policies, replanting mangrove forests, or establishing sanctuaries. These activities are led by the local government and NGOs staff, and often funded by foreign aid (especially major players like USAID, GIZ). Whereas in Seattle, I would expect the government agencies to do all of these activities on their own, here in the Philippines, everybody is involved, and the reality is that they have to be. The government is limited in its capacity, and that is why they pull in every citizen to help with CRM. So when we say “CRM” here, that can include the high school students who plant mangroves, the fish wardens out patrolling the waters, and especially sanctuaries. With sanctuaries, many members of the community have to come together and voluntarily work to maintain the sanctuary and protect it from intruders who might want to plunder its bounty.
There are 16 sanctuaries on Siquijor right now and over 1,000 in the Philippines. So I guessed in asking so many people their opinions on “how are women involved?” that I could try and get a clear picture. But it started out really foggy; all I could uncover was anecdotes; that women show up to sanctuary meetings if their husbands are out fishing, that women join their husband in the guardhouse, that they cook for everybody during CRM activities. A lovely friend and colleague here even said “Barbie, I don’t know! What is women in CRM? I haven’t even thought about it!”
So then on Siquijor I asked people the same question. Two young female government employees who work closely with CRM projects gave me these insights; they have witnessed women:
-do the most of the work in any seaweed farming project
-participate in mangrove replanting
-act as secretaries and maintain good documentation of projects
-handle money and sell products of projects (fish, seaweed, etc.)
-take initiative in projects
-are detail oriented
-participate in decision making
-voice their opinions at meetings
-increase understanding among group members
-keep projects organized better
Unfortunately, while these young women have their eyes open, the truth is that we are all up against the barrier of discrimination and what people expect of us.
“it’s very impossible for women to guard (the sanctuary) day and night… if there are intrusions of illegal fishers its very risky for the women to react on the illegal fishers in the marine sanctuary during nighttime… with their forces combined of the illegal fishers, what can the women do against the men? It’s very hard for women because we are weaker than men so when we’re in trouble, we’ll be put in deep sea (drowned)” (female government staff)
me: “What would be the benefit of including women?”
Men: “it would be clean here… and they could cook for us. And if our wives were involved… we would (have sex in the guardhouse while guarding the sanctuary at night)”.
And that’s all. The men couldn’t think of any other benefit.
It reminds me of a child I knew who put a caterpillar in a jar because she didn’t know it would become a butterfly…