MANILA, Philippines - The fight against global poverty need not discriminate. In its aim to uplift lives, it should favor nothing and no one - no nationalities, religions, political ideologies, and ethnicities - not even gender.
This proves true for Millennium Challenge Account-Philippines (MCA-P), a government corporation created to manage and supervise poverty-reduction projects funded by the United States Government's Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The mantra for both MCC and MCA-P is that "it is only through gender equality that a nation can truly promote economic growth and alleviate poverty."
In line with this and in compliance with MCC's Gender Policy, MCA-P has developed a Social and Gender Integration Plan (SGIP) to ensure that in spending the $434-million Compact grant, the projects recognize the positive contributions of women and the vulnerable members of the society (such as the elderly and the disabled) in the attainment of growth objectives.
One MCC-funded project where women empowerment is strong is the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI-CIDSS) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Also known as KC, it is a community-driven project that enables community members to have the power to plan, choose, implement and monitor their own projects.
KC has a grant allocation of $120 million for capacity-building and sub-project implementation in about 3,829 barangays located in 164 municipalities. These municipalities, considered to be the poorest with a poverty incidence of at least 30 percent, are in 24 provinces in six regions in Luzon and the Visayas.
Because the sub-projects are mainly infrastructure in nature, one big challenge is the participation of women, the elderly, and the disabled in the project activities. On this, Ma. Victoria E. Añonuevo, MCA-P managing director and CEO, said, "Most of the volunteers of the KC project are women and more than just their participation in the assemblies, they are taught such skills as bookkeeping, auditing or even managing warehouses. They are also involved in data gathering so as to better identify the most pressing gender issues within their communities."
Sadly, some of these women see these pursuits as too trivial or too easy to warrant a regular paycheck.
"The women are doing all these legwork but the perception is that they don't need to get paid as long as their husbands receive a paycheck," lamented Añonuevo, adding that this was the kind of mindset they would like to change.
"Through KC, we'd like to ensure the participation of women in all sub-projects; to make sure that all their concerns and issues are brought up, and that they remain an integral part in decision-making," she said.
To address all these, Añonuevo cited the creation of a $1-million Gender Incentive Fund. With this, enhancing M&E (monitoring and evaluation) and embedding gender into impact evaluations will enable MCA-P to better track benefits and evaluate results of gender-focused activities.
MCA-P would also like to encourage local government units to use their Gender and Development (GAD) funds to promote gender programs and projects in the communities. LGUs are mandated by law to allocate five percent of their total budget for GAD. The funds, however, if not totally left untouched, are used to hold ballroom dancing lessons or aerobics classes. In short, the LGUs and the communities are unaware on how to utilize the funds efficiently.
"What we would now like the communities to do is to reach out to the LGUs and tell them that they would like to use the GAD budget for more meaningful programs, and MCA-P will match whatever amount the LGU gives them," explained Añonuevo.
The expected outcome is two-fold: one, the community will better understand the need to include women and other vulnerable groups in implementing their projects; and two, programs will become sustainable, even way beyond MCA-P's project life, because the communities already have the knowledge and the capability to use the GAD budget wisely and judiciously.
MCA-P's gender-related activities are also in line with national frameworks and policies on gender equality, including the Harmonized Gender and Development Guidelines and the Magna Carta of Women.
Another project where the role of women is critical is the road project or the Secondary National Roads Development Project (SNRDP), which aims to rehabilitate a 224-kilometer road in Western Samar and Eastern Samar.
"But our involvement in the Samar road project is more than just about building roads," stated Añonuevo. "There will be lives affected before, during and after the road project and we want this road project to really help the development in Samar."