A scene from the first Womenitarian Summit in Manila, the Philippines. Photo by: WENet

CANBERRA — “Invisible” and “undervalued” were two of the key terms used by female community representatives from across the Philippines to describe their role in humanitarian responses.

The Philippines’ first Womenitarian Summit, a women-led humanitarian summit held in Quezon City last week, aimed to address these challenges and bring the focus on the needs of women and their role in rebuilding communities following a disaster.

“[Women] have external connections to engage with multiple stakeholders ... a nurturing capacity through caring for families, and resilience in the face of challenges. These are essential qualities [for] a leader.”

—  Marian Ticzon, project officer, Women in Emergencies Network

The 150 women who attended from both urban and rural areas represented diverse experiences — from farmers, fishers, indigenous women, formal and informal workers, to members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, older people, youth, and more.

What they had in common was their role as the main providers for the needs of their families.

The summit led to a call for action through the declaration delivered by the women in attendance — including climate action and respect for the environment, addressing gender-based violence, and inclusive approaches to humanitarian response.

Promoting the value of women as leaders

The summit focused on three key areas: upholding women’s rights, elevating their leadership, and promoting women’s resilience in disasters and crises.

“Women are responders and leaders, but because of social biases they are often neglected and hidden,” Marian Ticzon, an organizer of the summit and project officer at the Women in Emergencies Network, explained to Devex, saying that the summit aimed to emphasize the role of women beyond that of caregiver.

“They have external connections to engage with multiple stakeholders, and they have a nurturing capacity through caring for families and resilience in the face of challenges. These are essential qualities a leader should have and the summit amplified this leadership capacity that is not commonly highlighted,” she said.

With the Philippines a high-risk region for natural disasters, Ticzon added that overlooking the role of women created a risk to resilience — but also created a greater social divide that could see women and minority groups left behind.

“It is important to have this discussion because the Philippines is continually impacted by natural disasters — natural, man-induced, and more,” she said.

The call for action

The two days of discussion, which included workshops on climate change and peace and security, empowered the women in attendance to make their own policy recommendations to be forwarded to NGOs and government representatives.

Among the call for action was a recommendation for improved female representation on the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of the Philippines, and a shifting political focus that ensures women — especially those in rural and remote areas of the country — benefit from policy and other decision-making.

“Although our roles and responsibilities are essential, [they are] invisible and undervalued ... And in the case of lack of basic services such as health, education, water, food, and care for children, the sick, and older persons, we carry the burden,” the participating women explained in the summit’s declaration.

Supporting them to become visible will be a network of NGOs, local politicians, and international partners.

Advocacy networks

Among the partners for the summit were the Canadian government, ActionAid Australia, Oxfam Philippines, and the Footprints Foundation — all advocates for a gender-based approach to development.

“They see the importance of investing in the capability of women,” Ticzon said. “And this summit was an opportunity for them to engage with a diverse group of women to support them in their advocacy.”

Ticzon explained that advocacy and lobbying all sides of government to support women’s rights as leaders is just beginning, and the summit was an important event to kickstart the process.

“We will continue building local women champions,” she said. What we want — and need — is more women leaders in this space and we’ll build that through training, funding opportunities, and advocating with our supporters to achieve this.”

About the author

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    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Devex Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.