The Philippines celebrates Women’s Month this March not only to recognize the women’s significant contributions and achievements in nation building, but also to look critically at equality and opportunity matters for them for a fair and just society for all.

The celebration of the women sector began in the 1900s as women struggled for equality in economic opportunities. Presently, this struggle has become a global advocacy to achieve equality across all genders, create platforms for women empowerment and lobby for program and policy reforms.

As the lead in social protection, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) espouses women empowerment and gender equality in its policies and programs like the Pantawid Pamilyang Piipino Program (4Ps).

 4Ps as a platform for women empowerment

4Ps was enacted into law in April 2019. It has become the national poverty reduction strategy of the government that invests in health, nutrition, and education of the eligible poor households. Program beneficiaries receive cash grants provided that program conditions are satisfied. Among which are enrolment and attendance of children aged 3-18 years old in school; deworming of at least twice a year for children aged 1-14 years old; pre and post-natal check-ups for women; preventive check-ups to children aged 5 and below and attendance to monthly Family Development Session (FDS)  of at least one responsible person in the household.

Through the FDS, personal development for the parent beneficiaries is given a primary concern.  FDS is the venue for the program beneficiaries to enhance and acquire new skills and knowledge in responding to their parental roles and responsibilities particularly on health and nutrition, education and psychosocial needs of children; promotion of positive family values; and strengthening marital relationships, and promoting involvement, participation, volunteerism, and leadership for strengthened individual and community empowerment.

In the conduct of FDS, parents or guardians are organized into a group. These groups are led by parent leaders (PLs) who are elected by the members. The PL serves as the direct link between the program and the beneficiaries. They provide assistance to the municipal link especially in updating the profile of the beneficiaries, conducting meetings, and in the preparation of FDS.

As of December 31, 2020, the 4Ps has around 158,061 parent leaders, of whom more than 149,600 are women.

From a shy woman to a public servant

One of the many women empowered through the 4Ps is Jane Del Rosario, used to be known as a timid, and shy person. At 40, Jane shared how she and her family juggled to survive from poverty and life’s adversity. Her family lives in the remote barangay of San Antonio in Sta. Marcela, Apayao.

Jane and her husband, Calixto, patiently depend on the meager income from farming. With no farm to cultivate, Calixto relied on the daily labor work offered by their well-off neighbors. But according to Jane there were times that they did not receive work offers and this has made their situation even harder.

“Sobrang hirap ng pamilya namin. Kung saan-saan ako nangungutang ng pera para may pambili ng bigas. Saka lang kasi kami may pera kapag may tatawag sa asawa ko na magtrabaho sa bukid” (Our family was very poor. I borrowed money everywhere  just to put rice on our table. We only had money if my husband is called to work), Jane continued.

Jane added that their situation also affected her self-esteem and confidence in dealing with different people.

“Hindi ako gaanong lumalabas ng bahay, hindi ako marunong makisalamuha sa maraming tao dahil  sobrang mahiyain ako, at hindi ko iniisip na maghanap ng iba pang pagkakakitaan” (I do not  usually go out from our house because I was really shy to talk to other people and looking for another source of income did not cross my mind), Jane said.

When Jane’s family was included in 4Ps, not only did their living condition improved, but her outlook in life also changed. Her participation in FDS helped boost her self-confidence, and she became a parent leader.

“Natuto akong makisalamuha sa maraming tao dahil sa FDS. Ang mga seminars na aking nasalihan ay lubos na nakatulong sa akin at nakapagbigay din ito ng lakas ng loob na makapagsalita sa harap ng  maraming tao” (I learned to mingle with different people because of the FDS. The seminars I participated in were really helpful in developing my confidence to talk in front of many people), Jane narrated.

Aside from being a parent leader, Jane is also actively involved in their community. The previously timid and shy Jane is now a Barangay Health Worker.  She shared that with the blessings she receives from the government, it is but time to give back and share her services to the most in need members of her community.

Disability is not a hindrance to become a leader

In 1992, when the reported cases of poliomyelitis totaled to 5,485 in the Western Pacific, three-year old Jimmilyn from Rosario, Agusan del Sur was one of them.

“Sa nagdako ko, sakit kaayo ang akong mga nadunggan nga panaway. Usahay gusto nako nga mulaban, pero gipili nalang nako nga muhilak, ug mangutana nganong nahitabo man sa ako ni” (Growing up, I experienced and heard hurtful words. Sometimes I wanted to fight back, but I just chose to cry, and ask why this happened to me), Jimmilyn recalled.

Robert, Jimmilyn’s husband, remembered the time when people were giving him unsolicited opinion/advice, telling him to look for other women – those without any disabilities. But despite all problems, Robert managed to prove his love to Jimillyn, and they decided to live together.

Rearing and raising four children was hard for Jimmilyn. Due to financial constraints, she was also unable to pursue her studies. However, being a 4Ps beneficiary has helped her and Robert meet the needs of their family, moreso the education of ther children.

“Gidawat nako nga dili na gayud ko makahuman og eskwela, mao nga maningkamot ko na mapahuman ang akong mga anak” (I accepted the fact that I will no longer finish my studies, that is why I strived hard to let my children finish theirs), she said.

Knowing fully well the difficulty of not having finished schooling, the cash assistance her family receives from the 4Ps all goes to the educational needs of her children.

But more than the cash aid, Jimmilyn said that the program has helped her overcome her disability. She was able to build her morale and developed her confidence to become parent leader where she was given the opportunity to help her co-beneficiaries. Jimmilyn, despite her disability, became a role model as a Pantawid Pamilya parent leader.

Jimmilyn’s neighbors saw her efforts and started believing in her capacity and sense of responsibility. They chose her to be their leader/lector of their Gagmay’ng Kristohanong Katilingban (GKK).

Moreover, she is an active member of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) and was even elected as an officer. In their barangay’s women’s group, she was also elected secretary for four consecutive years. These are all because of her eagerness to learn, adapt, and help in their community, even with her frailty.

Karon, makaingon ako na usa ko ka-empowered na babae kay wala ko nako nahadlok nga mahimong babag ang akong pagka-PWD sa pagpanday sa akong kaugmaon, labi na ang kaugmaon sa akong mga anak” (Now, I can say that I am an empowered woman because I am no longer afraid that my disability would stop me from building my future, especially my children’s future), Jimmilyn bravely exclaimed.

The stories of Jane and Jimilyn are concrete proof that 4Ps has achieved its goal of promoting gender development among its beneficiaries.  Today, more than ever, women program beneficiaries are no longer just passive recipients of government assistance but are partners in nation building.

4Ps is designed to provide health and education opportunities to the children, at the same time capacitating their parents through various skills training, life skills session, to include women empowerment. Through community leaders like them, the 4Ps proves that it is a program that is more than the provision of cash subsidy. ###