#RealiTalk: National Women’s Month with Rach Basas

Happy International Women’s Day! Today, we celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and we challenge everyone to call out gender bias and inequality.

 

To show our support and solidarity, we talked to Climate Reality Leader Rachel “Rach” Basas about the intersection of systemic gender inequalities and the two global disruptions affecting us today—the COVID-19 pandemic and the prevailing climate crisis.

Rach is a Gender Consultant at the Asian Development Bank and an Assistant Professional Lecturer at the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde. She is currently working with other gender professionals in enhancing gender mainstreaming at the onset of programming and project planning in Southeast Asian developing countries.

In this #RealiTalk, Rach discussed the gendered issues that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of women in battling the health crisis and in ensuring a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery, the current landscape of gender diversity and inclusion in the country’s programs, activities, and projects, and the significance of integrating gender analysis in the country’s climate change response.

This year’s observance of National Women’s Month is set at the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a gender and social inclusion professional, what gender issues emerged during this global health emergency?

 

Rach: COVID-19 has exacerbated gendered vulnerabilities on various fronts. The quarantines and lockdowns had the major impact of aggravating pre-COVID-19 gendered differences and inequalities. The stresses induced by lost jobs and wages and the resulting confinement were found likely to have resulted in anger, frustration, depression, and anxiety, which may have stimulated a rise in negative coping behaviors including violent communication, gender-based violence of intimate partners and dependents,  acts of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Women and children may have been coerced to participate in online pornography, sex work, or other negative coping methods due to financial hardships brought about by the pandemic.  This is in part due to the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic upon women and their restricted ability to absorb such economic losses.

With regard to incidents of gender-based violence, the quarantines generated an increasing number of gender-based violence cases. At least 391 cases of violence against women and forty-two cases of rape have been reported. However, these numbers are likely underestimated given that many women will choose, for a number of reasons, not to report experiences of violence. Before COVID-19, at least one in four women have experienced spousal violence in the country. Also, there are hidden numbers and incidents of violence against the LGBTQIA. These remain hidden because they are unreported and underreported.

In addition, the quarantines imposed due to COVID-19 resulted in: (i) decreased access to sexual and reproductive health services such as safe contraceptives; (ii) decreased access to infant and child services, which in turn, led to increased unintended and adolescent pregnancies, maternal and infant and child mortality and morbidity; and (iii) the aggravated burden of unpaid domestic-and-child-care work for women.

The heightened care burden women face in managing the pandemic risks at the household level has taken a toll on their mental health and well-being. A study found that one-fourth of Filipino respondents reported moderate to severe anxiety, while one-sixth reporting moderate to severe depression during the early stages of the pandemic. At greater risk for anxiety and depression are females, 12–21 age group, singles, students, and those subjected to prolonged stay-at-home restrictions.

Meanwhile, COVID-19’s employment impact has had a greater impact on the youth and women. The youth unemployment rate surged to 19.4% in October 2020 from 12.9% in October 2019, and the youth not in employment, education, or training (NEET) rate increased to 20.4% from 17.2% over this same period. Women are disproportionately employed in the affected sectors. Nationwide, about 47.0% of employed men are in service sector jobs, but 77% of employed women work in the service sector.

What are the roles / contributions of women in battling the health crisis and ensuring a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic?

 

Rach: Did you know that 75% of our country’s frontline health workers are women? Global figures also reflect that majority of healthcare workers comprise women. Hence, through building the capacities of our health workers in providing the care necessary to combat COVID-19, including vaccine administration and safe and sustainable disposal of medical wastes generating from it, women contribute to a resilient and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outside the area of health, women contribute heavily to the national and global GDP. Even women’s unpaid care work, when computed, is found to generate USD 11 trillion globally. These and more figures show how crucial women’s roles are in recovering from COVID-19, but even without these figures, women play prominent roles in battling the health crisis and are key to ensuring an inclusive recovery.

"Women are disproportionately affected by climate change and disasters because of gendered vulnerabilities, as well as the roles and behaviors expected of them in the family and community."
RACH BASAS

A substantial body of research suggests that gender equity and the achievement of other sustainable development goals, such as climate action, are inseparable. Why is it important for climate change adaptation and mitigation, technology transfer, and climate finance to include a gender lens?

 

Rach: Women are disproportionately affected by climate change and disasters because of gendered vulnerabilities, as well as the roles and behaviors expected of them in the family and community. As such, women and children are 14 times more likely to succumb to disasters compared to men.

Key issues that Filipino women face during disasters are: (i) increased vulnerability to gender-based violence (in normal times 20% of Filipino women between the ages of 15 and 49 report at least one incident of grievous bodily harm in their lifetime); (ii) compromised sexual and reproductive health services and psychosocial counseling; (iii) lack of gender-responsive facilities and products, such as safe and separate sanitation facilities, sleeping quarters, and hygiene and menstrual kits; (iv) increase in unpaid care and community work, such as childcare, caring for sick and elderly family members, securing relief and food, and helping in community disaster response efforts; and (v) limited mobility and skills typically taught to men, such as swimming and climbing, thereby hindering self-rescue and self-defense. These are specific to the country, but certainly, these issues resonate even outside the Philippines. Given these issues, it is extremely important for climate change adaptation and mitigation, technology transfer, and climate finance to include a gender lens.

What is your assessment of the current landscape of gender diversity and inclusion in the country’s programs, activities, and projects?

 

Rach: I see the Philippines at the forefront of gender equality and women empowerment. The country’s commitment to gender equality is enshrined in the Philippine Constitution, as well as in its laws, policies, and government institutions. Given the integration of this commitment in all the policy instruments of the Philippine government, as well as the societal inclination to empower women by opening opportunities to them, the Philippines remains one of the most progressive states on the front of gender equality.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 shows that the Philippines ranks 16th out of 153 economies in closing gender gap in the areas of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. In fact, the country has closed 78 percent of its overall gender gap as of 2020, with the remaining 22 percent comprising the country’s low female representation in positions of leadership.

Since the Global Gender Gap Index was introduced in 2006 to serve as the framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress over time, the Philippines continues to always be included in the top 20.

More recently, the Gender Diversity Benchmark for Asia recognized our country as the first overall in gender diversity in the workforce among 10 Asian Countries. The report further found that our country has the smallest pay gap between men and women at 10.2%.

"...it is extremely important for climate change adaptation and mitigation, technology transfer, and climate finance to include a gender lens."
RACH BASAS

Are there any support systems and government programs in place to address the gaps in gender mainstreaming in the country? What should we do moving forward to integrate gender into climate change response?

 

Rach: As mentioned prior, I see the Philippines at the forefront of gender equality and women empowerment. The Philippine Government, through the Philippine Commission on Women, ensures that its branches, bodies, offices, and entities implement a strategy called “gender mainstreaming.”

Gender mainstreaming ensures that the “government pursues gender equality to achieve the vision of a gender-responsive society where women and men equally contribute to and benefit from development.”[1] It requires developing interventions on critical entry points—policies, programs and projects, people, and enabling mechanisms.[2] By utilizing these entry points, gender will be integrated into all stages of development planning processes—from planning to programming, budgeting, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

Our recent experience in COVID-19 response shows that the lack of gender analysis of data precluded the design of gender-responsive measures to prevent, contain, and mitigate the threat of infection. In addition, the lack of gender-sensitive and inclusive health care provision remains to be addressed—more specifically, the lack of appropriate facilities and protocols for COVID-19 patients, especially for women, children, persons of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and other vulnerable groups. 

Similar to this experience, I see that in integrating gender into climate change response, the conduct of gender analysis is crucial first and foremost. Integrating this process into the conception phase of interventions and responses will enable gender issues to be surfaced. If policymakers, decision-makers, and those at the helm of conceptualizing and planning climate change interventions, responses, and solutions wish to integrate gender, I believe that this is the first step. Through gender analysis, gender issues will arise, and with these issues visible, the responses and interventions can be instruments in addressing those, one gender issue at a time.