By Mikhaela Dimpas
A great divide between men and women has always been seen. Men and their sons are expected to work, while the women and their daughters are expected to keep the home. The same can be seen in Compostela Valley, Mindanao.
But little by little, it is starting to close.
Mary Jane Cenal used to work at the Davao Fruits Corporation (DFC) since 1985, until the land was put under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and they were encouraged to apply.
She said that she didn’t expect to become an agrarian reform beneficiary, but she did. She thought that it would change her life — and it did – but in ways she never imagined.
“Dati, akala ko kapag may lupa ka, yayaman ka (Before, we thought that if we owned land, we’d become rich),” said Cenal. “Pero nung nagkaroon kami ng lupa, halos lahat gastos parin namin kaya mas lalo pa kaming naghirap (But when we got our land, we paid for each and every expense and made us poorer).”
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, women represent only around 11% of landholders and only 33% of the CARP beneficiaries in the Philippines. Cenal is just one of the few women who now has a land to her name.
After being awarded of the land, the new agrarian reform beneficiaries signed a contract with SUMIFRU Philippines. However, instead of bettering lives, the contract that they have signed has further pushed them down the ledge.
“Hindi sapat yung kinikita galing sa SUMIFRU para sa gastos sa araw-araw. Maliit lang kasi yung bili nila sa mga saging (Whatever we receive from SUMIFRU as profit is not enough for our everyday expenses because the prices of the bananas are too low),” she said.
Since 2008, a box or 13.5 kg of bananas is only bought by SUMIFRU for $3.00. The banana farmers only recently secured the price of their bananas up to $4.25.
Other companies, however, buy a box of bananas for $6.00. As of October 2016, the Freight on Board (FOB) price of Philippine bananas already range from $4.00 to $8.00. The Philippine Exporters Confederation – Davao even slated the price up to $10.00.
Despite the billions of dollars that the industry has raked in, with P31 billion in 2016, the owners of the land and those who work their fingers to the bone have not received the fruits of their labor.
Because of these unfair contracts, the cooperative cannot give the farm workers the right salary with the right benefits. For the part of the farmers, they become buried in debt and in poverty because of the high costs of inputs and the never-increasing prices of their produce.
If you only have a small portion of land, like Cenal, then things become even harder for you. The Pentagon Active Agrarian Beneficiary Cooperative (PAWARBCO) was awarded 41 hectares of land. Each farmer beneficiary owns less than a hectare or .56 ha of land only. According to her, a small land like hers cannot even sustain a family of five.
Their current condition is further aggravated by these unfair contracts.
The burdens that these have brought upon the communities are ultimately shouldered by women. Women in agricultural communities render long hours of unpaid work in the farms just to cut production costs. These working hours are in addition to the hours they spend for household duties and child rearing.
They are also faced with the daunting tasks of budgeting the meager amount that they receive. They are the ones left to scrape for resources to feed their children, to pay for their schooling, to budget for their debts, and to think about their daily expenses.
Cenal, however, doesn’t directly work in the farm, but her husband does. She works as the Compliance Officer and Secretary of PAWRBCO.
She said that there are instances where men are preferred over women, but it doesn’t make a woman any less.
“Di kasi pwede yung mga babae as harvesters. Pwede sila sa pruning, sa stem sanitation (Women can’t work as harvesters. They can work in the pruning, in stem sanitation),” said Cenal. “Yung lahat ng mga trabaho dito, mga panlalaki kasi mabibigat (All of the work here are mostly done by men because of their body build).”
Most of the women in the plantations work in the packing house – where the bananas are received and packed before being distributed in the market. Women also do the surveying work in the plantations and, sometimes, even the handling of pesticides and fertilizers.
According to FAO, women comprise 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. Additionally, the agriculture industry in the Philippines employs the 2nd most number of women. However, the number of women does not necessarily translate to their participation and access to resources.
They remain invisible and faceless in the industry. Their access to resources such as education, land, financial services, and information are curtailed. Even in political and economic decision-making bodies, their presence are hardly seen.
For Cenal, however, this needs to change.
Closing the divide
“Kawawa yung mga kababaihan sa mga liblib na lugar. Hindi sila nakakapag-aral at wala silang natatanggap na tulong (Women in far-flung areas have it harder. They can’t pay for their education and they don’t receive help),” said Cenal. “Pero para sakin, mababago pa natin yun kapag nagtulong-tulong ang mga kababaihan (I believe that we can change that when women start working together).”
Together with other women farmers and the wives of the farmers, they have established their own group. It’s just something small, Cenal said. Just something to help the women in their community.
For eight whole months, they have organized the women in the communities and established a small savings and credit group. Every week, they give their shares to the group, even P10.00 per day can already go a long way.
Once they have enough money, Cenal says that they want to go into business. They are currently eyeing a catering business where the women can cook and manage the services that they will offer.
There is still a long way to go, but their efforts in collectivizing and participating are already big steps.
According to Cenal, giving the women livelihood and teaching them about the importance of gender equality will better the quality of their lives.
“Gusto namin ay women empowerment at livelihood para at least maka-angat man lang at makatulong sa pamilya. Ngayon kasi sobrang hirap ng buhay at parang walang nagbabago (What we want is women empowerment and livelihood. Through those, we can rise and help our families. In our current situation, life is really hard and it seems as if nothing is changing),” said Cenal.
She added, “pero mula noon mas natututo kami na dapat ang mga kababaihan ay may boses at empowered, at alam na namin kung anong mga dapat namin gawin para bumuti yung buhay namin at ng pamilya namin (But ever since we started learning that women should have a voice and be empowered, we also learned the steps that we should do to better provide for ourselves and for our families).”