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There we were, participants in the first Joint Meeting of the Provincial Task Force for Women and Children’s Concerns and Gender-based Violence Sub Cluster and Child Protection Working Group. To make sure that everyone was on the same page, we were watching a slideshow with pictures and information that showed the damage that Typhoon Bopha (local name: Pablo) had done in Mindanao.
Somehow the background music chosen for the slide show was The Beatles’ song In My Life.
When they sang, “There are places I remember, all my life, though some have changed, some forever not for better, some have gone and some remain,” the pictures, the information and the music became too much for many of the participants; it brought them to tears.
For indeed the damage to lives, properties and livelihoods is massive and it doesn’t seem like the province’s three hardest-hit municipalities will ever be the same again – at least not in the near future.
But efforts to rebuild are not wanting. On 6 December, two days after Bopha’s fury, we saw Maria (name changed) along the highway near the boundary of Boston and Cateel and her husband rebuilding their house while their eldest daughter looked after her younger siblings.
Maria recounted how difficult it had been for the family to survive the rains and the strong winds. How like frogs they hopped from one big rock to another to find cover. She was carrying her five-month old baby, their rice and some cooking utensils, while her husband had the four other children in tow, carrying the rest of their stuff. She said the baby was so heavy she almost dropped her.
They were able to go back to their house after a few hours but what was left of their house was a very small space and they had to sleep sitting down the following night when it rained again. She said the children were crying, wet from the rains, and could not sleep.
“If only we had money [for transportation] to go to our relatives in Davao City,” was all Maria could wish for at that time.
Like Maria, many other residents are looking outside for hope. At Baganga, in the second week after the disaster, the municipal administrator reported that although a tracking system is yet to be developed, she knew of residents, most of them single women, who had left the municipality and either went to Manila or Davao City to find work.
Disasters often exacerbate the vulnerabilities of a population and heighten the protection concerns for children and women. If in normal times, there is one in 10 girls and women between the ages of 15 to 49 who experience sexual violence, it is not difficult to imagine that in cramped temporary shelters, girls and women will not be safe.
The most vulnerable are adolescent girls aged 10-19. Child labour, trafficking and prostitution/transactional sex, the incidences of which are high in certain areas of Mindanao, will most likely be more prevalent during emergencies as families struggle to make ends meet. When structures for the protection of women and children are unavailable during regular times, the task is greater when disaster strikes.
While the damage to property and livelihoods can relatively be established and what to do about it planned for, protection issues are harder to track and remain largely hidden. This was what the joint meeting came together for – to start looking at protection issues and establish mechanisms to solve them.
One of the things we assist in is the setting up of women-friendly spaces where protection can be “delivered” to women. The spaces serve as hubs for services for women (and hopefully adolescent girls) and an entry point for identifying and addressing cases of gender-based violence. Obviously men need support too. They can also contribute substantially to solve problems of violence, prostitution and trafficking, both in normal times and times of disasters.
-- Lydia Dominga is gender advisor for Plan International in the Philippines.