Shortly before the world panicked about the deadly COVID-19 virus, Sarah was just like any other BPO employee. She was a customer service representative for a voice account in BGC.
She worked in the graveyard shift but it’s okay, she had colleagues she considers as family. The company she worked in, too, was about to hire 100 heads and ramp up a global client. They had plans to launch the new account with an exciting sales rally.
But it never happened. By April, Sarah’s company was one of the many IT-BPM companies in the Philippines disrupted by the pandemic and ultimately, the global recession.
As bleak as it may seem, Sarah is now forced to go back to her hometown. She spends her days scouring the internet for home-based jobs within her skillset.
There are a lot of job posts for data entry jobs, audio transcriptionists, and even online English tutors but the slots are limited. Employers these days require a stable internet connection, quiet environment, good lighting, and other requirements that might not be all feasible in the small home she shares with her parents and married siblings.
Sarah is stressing about how to keep her family safe from the virus and from hunger. Her brother was also laid off from the newspaper company he works in.
Somehow all around the country and globally, there are many stories similar to Sarah’s. Getting laid off, trying so hard to make ends meet, and desperately looking for another job to hop onto as the whole world unfolds into one massive economic crisis.
The economic participation of women in the Philippines
In the Philippines, the women's labor participation rate (or the women who are employed) was 46% in a 20018 Reuters report. This was significantly lower compared to our ASEAN neighbors Indonesia (51%), Malaysia (51%), and Myanmar (48%).
“Stereotyped gender roles of ascribing to women the primary responsibility of taking care of homes undermine the labor force participation of Filipino women,” the study states.
The pandemic will most likely aggravate the plight of Filipino women in earning an income. The majority of Filipinas who are employed are working in the manufacturing and services sectors. There is a wide gender gap in industries requiring more cognitive skills.
It’s more than the economy
It’s more than an economic blow. There are also secondary impacts of the outbreak that are far too familiar to most of us.
Rowena’s pregnant with her second child and now is entering her third trimester. But since January of this year, she has not been regularly getting prenatal consultation for fear of contracting coronavirus in public clinics. Most if not all hospitals in Cebu City are also operating in full capacity catering to Covid-19 patients.
According to government data, the family planning services in public health centers were reduced by over 50% in March due to the nationwide quarantine. Limited public transportation, exhausted medical staff, and no access to hospital facilities have made it all challenging for Rowena's pregnancy. Obstetric emergencies pose a greater risk to pregnant Filipinos more than the coronavirus.
And there are small secrets, too, that often don’t come out when the front door is shut. Hazel’s husband is a software engineer. Luckily for him, his company allows him to work from home while the whole city is under strict quarantine measures.
Unluckily for Hazel, their house is too small and it’s impossible to hide from her husband when he gets angry and starts hitting her. But is she willing to file a case against her husband? There were a lot of times she wanted to but when she thinks about it – she’s more afraid of the virus than their marital troubles.
Gender-based violence brought about by the economic stress puts women and children at risk. Quarantine measures should also include protection not just from the health effects of Coronavirus but also against sexual exploitation, maltreatment, and household abuse.
As of June 2020, the Philippine National Police has recorded a total of 2,183 cases of violence against women and 2,077 cases against children since the start of community lockdowns in various parts of the country.
Together as women
It’s tough being a woman in these times. We may not be able to change the status quo but there are small surefire ways we can improve our current standing. For one, learning in-demand skills like programming can be a good way to start to improve chances in job hunting.
It’s also important for women to know that their voices are still heard even if the political turmoil in our country is deafening. Several NGOs can help with violence against women and children (VAWC) issues. Gabriela and Cebu-based Girls Advocacy Alliance are just a few.
Now more than ever, women should help lift each other.