by Elainne Lopez and Orland Quesada
Editor’s note: Elainne Lopez is an analyst of ICSC’s Climate Governance Team and a geodetic engineer. Orland Quesada is ICSC’s community outreach officer and gender focal point under the RE-Charge Pilipinas program. They were both part of the team which conducted workshops on gender, health, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and climate in Guiuan, Eastern Samar last March 2021 under the Women and Earth Initiative (WORTH) of the Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW).
In March 2020, ICSC’s Climate Governance and RE-Charge Pilipinas teams were already set to organize a climate and gender and development (GAD) workshop in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.
In the middle of preparations, we received news that a life-threatening virus that originated in Wuhan, China has rapidly spread in parts of the world, including the Philippines. The country recorded the first COVID-19 case in January 2020. Two months later, the national government imposed community quarantine protocols in response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration of the spread of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. However, we did not anticipate this lockdown to be the longest in the world.
In the blink of an eye, the pandemic affected the entire world. Everything stopped, movements were restricted. Country-wide lockdowns confined people in their homes and some lost their jobs. As a development worker, I struggled in doing the work that I love most. To continue our work, we had to adopt an online, work from home set-up. Being based in Guiuan, I had limited access online due to limited Internet connection. Despite these struggles, I had to remain calm, vigilant, and hopeful for the coming months.
Fast forward to March 2021, we took the risk of pursuing the official travel to Guiuan amid the pandemic to engage with our local partners for workshops under WORTH Initiative. Fortunate to be part of the team, I traveled all the way from my home in Bataan where I have been staying since the first lockdown.
To protect the workshop participants and our team, we secured the travel requirements needed and coordinated with management and partners on the ground. I felt both excited and concerned as we embarked into a completely new experience of working in the field during a global pandemic.
The success of our activity relied on the full cooperation of organizers and participants. Organizing a workshop amid the threat of COVID-19 also means that apart from the event-specific preparations, we also had to ensure that health and safety protocols were implemented.
We posted health and safety reminders across the venue and we ensured that we were equipped with enough cleaning and sanitizing materials: water, soap, alcohol, and even hand sanitizer. My colleague Glinly was our designated safety officer who constantly reminded everyone of the protocols, including wearing their face masks and regular disinfection of their hands. Also, time for activities were shortened and the venue was in an open and well-ventilated space.
Part of the workshop activities required participants to go to the field to gather data and interact with community members – this was crucial as we had to make sure that the participants as well as the locals they talked to were following protocols and protected from COVID-19.
It was a challenging yet fruitful experience. We successfully completed our tasks and even delivered beyond what was expected. Our hard work has paid off, especially since no one got sick and everyone enjoyed the three-week long stay in Guiuan.
In our workshops with locals and officials of Guiuan, we dove deep into the cross-cutting vulnerabilities that link gender and health, through SRHR, with climate change. Through this, we hope to help our partners improve their gender and climate plans, and translate this into their local development plans for building the community’s long-term resilience. We introduced photovoice – a participatory method of data gathering that uses images – to enable the participants to provide their narratives on climate, gender, and health through photography.
Involving locals themselves in photovoice, data gathering helps provide more concrete evidence for planning. Our theoretical gaps emphasized the importance of this workshop as an opportunity to validate literature and enable actual analysis of firsthand climate vulnerabilities and impacts.
Apart from work-related activities, we also caught a glimpse of the Elcano ship from Spain in time for the 500th year commemoration of Christianity in the Philippines. I witnessed the local government put in their time and effort for a week-long historical event without compromising health and safety, hoping for the same level of effort and investments in their long-term plans that would secure lives and future development.
This experience also emphasized for me how women have the immense potential to start transformative change. With youth as the untapped champions of climate action, women are effective educators and leaders in multiple platforms, both formal and informal, who should be equipped with the right knowledge and resources to educate and mobilize families and communities.
By recognizing the multiple roles and burdens women face, with most being worsened by climate change, we are unpacking complex vulnerabilities hindering their potential that resonate in different parts of the world. Local governments should make use of local studies and data analysis to make development plans and strategies more gender- and climate-responsive to maximize existing adaptive capacities, especially those that can be championed by women, empowering them and involving them more in local governance.
The Guiuan government, with the help of the multi-stakeholder Guiuan Response Recovery and Sustainable Development Group for Resilience (GRSDGR), are consistently taking great strides with their development planning, incorporating resilience and, more importantly, prioritizing the lives of the most affected towards a more secure and adaptive future.
Moving forward, the lessons and outputs from this experience can provide a basis for sound policy recommendations and tools for mainstreaming existing development plans. In Guiuan’s case, the integrated approach to climate and gender planning will be rolled out in different barangays to enhance the municipality’s existing adaptation plans and strategies.
Elainne and Orland:
The communities of Guiuan, led by its women, prove that dedication, perseverance, collaboration, and putting the needs of people first is key for communities to survive and thrive. This whole experience taught us one thing: a global pandemic, despite the challenges, will not hinder our progress towards a resilient future.
Photos by AC Dimatatac, Glinly Alvero, Danica Supnet, and Elainne Lopez