Men as allies in adapting to climate change impacts in households

Posted September 30, 2015 from Philippines

How does climate change impact on gender relations and roles in domestic affairs?

I had some insight into a positive possibility at two resettlement villages built in the aftermath of Typhoon Sendong in 2011-- most of the women therea said that they no longer hold the purse for daily food needs even as they still are on top of daily cooking and food preparations. Their husbands who work in construction sites come home only on weekends, not to hand in their wages to their wives as they did before the storm changed their lives. The husbands bring in rice, vegetables, fruits and various canned goods consisting of the next week’s food ration.

I learned about this trend last year as I organized three discussion sessions of women leaders among disaster survivors as part of a study on women’s roles and perceptions on food security and climate justice, which was commissioned by a think tank.

But surprisingly, the wives say they do not feel they have lost much as they ceded responsibility in making decisions about what food to buy, how much, when and where to buy, and even pass on the marketing task itself to their husbands.

In fact, they see the new arrangement as a way of making men and husbands as allies in domestic affairs as they feel relieved of the responsibility of making both ends meet with very little cash on hand. Also, it means they save fares to get to the nearest market about an hour away by public transport.

“So my task is focused on preparing the food every day,” said one. This buys them a few more hours to attend to the needs of their children or their elderly parents, or to engage in homecrafts like rugmaking or sewing totebags.

This pattern of decision-making departs from the data from a survey done among almost the same communities in 1996-97 that showed that food procurement, access and consumption were the territorial tasks of wives.

Linking with these women has reinforced what has been asserted by gender advocates at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction: that women do play a huge role in ensuring the resilience and recovery of communities after a climate change-induced weather disturbance.

The massive flooding brought by the Typhoon swept entire villages into the sea and survivors had to rebuilt homes from nothing.

“We run after our lunch at breakfast; after lunch, we go after our supper. Sometimes we forego breakfast or supper. We eat only once.”), a woman survivor of Typhoon Sendong, describing in stark terms how she feeds her family, as if time had wound back to the primitive era of hunting for food.

It was necessary then for me to listen closely to women-on-the-ground : how they were responding to food-security challenges they encountered as they re-established homes and engaged in (re)building communities after experiencing disaster, displacement and homelessness. From their experiences, lessons can be gleaned on how government and non-government organizations can strengthen support for them as well as for those who shared the same plight after two extreme weather phenomenon in the subsequent two years in the Philippines.

Along the way, I also discovered how resourceful and enterprising women can be, and how these traits are helping them cope with the challenges of recovering from disaster. I also learned how men and women are adjusting their roles as they cope with the changes.

Since 2011, at least one severe typhoon had struck portions of the Philippine islands yearly, with each severe storm leaving in its wake a devastating impact on people’s lives and property.

In December 17, 2011, Typhoon Sendong (international code Washi), became the first strong typhoon to hit Northern Mindanao in decades. Then, in 2012, Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) hit Eastern Mindanao and in 2013, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit the Visayas.

The United Nation’s Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change had repeatedly warned that as a result of global warming, extreme weather such as long intense droughts and severe storms will take place more frequently, creating widespread disasters among the most world’s most vulnerable populations in the Third World. Indeed, in the aftermath of Typhoon Sendong and its flashfloods, about 70,314 families (228,576 persons) were affected.

Of these, 38,071 families (228,576 persons), or around 54 percent were residents of Cagayan de Oro City.(1) About 13, 321 families/65,046 persons, who were survivors of the calamity in Cagayan de Oro city, were rendered homeless and lived in evacuation centers and transition shelters for months and, in some cases, for more than a year.

Most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) were landless informal settlers who had built their residences of wood and other light materials along the flood-prone banks and deltas of the Cagayan de Oro River, areas that were earlier identified as risky no-build zones by the government’s environmental agencies. Most of these settlers were migrants drawn by convenient livelihood as cheap providers of services and petty trade in and near markets, ports, inland transport terminals, small-scale trading centers, hotels, and government offices.

Within six months after the disaster, already four resettlement sites were completed out of proposed 20 sites, and by the first quarter of 2014, almost 7,000 homeless families who were earlier housed in temporary tent cities were relocated in new homes in areas deemed safer but situated far away from the urban centers.

In a comprehensive post-Sendong disaster needs assessment report released in June 2012, the gender, social protection and livelihood sector had identified a recovery framework which would guide local government units and civil society providing support for the IDPs on their journey to recovery. It was expected that after the disaster, recovery will be ensured if the recovery framework were to be implemented seriously and its strategies embraced by the IDPs as their own.


According to the United Nations, food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Much had been written to point out how in rural areas climate change impacts on rural women’s food production, and thus, to the food security. The hunger risk arises from fluctuations in production since most of what they eat are harvested from the land and little is bought elsewhere. But for grassroots women in peri-urban settings who are mostly food net buyers, the risk to food security is due to fluctuations in income.

• In the case of the women in resettlement areas in Cagayan de Oro, only two of the informants were engaged in agricultural production, part-time and seasonally cultivating a relative’s small farm holdings in a nearby town. As most of them were poor landless migrants, they do not produce their own food but are largely only food consumers.

• This is rather ironic because most resettlement sites are situated in peri-urban settings at the city’s outskirts, surrounded by productive agricultural areas where rice or corn, fruit trees like mangoes, bananas and lanzones and cash crops like cashew and abaca, are grown.

• There are restrictions to using areas for livestock production and informants recall having signed agreements not to raise livestock or chickens within the residential quarters. The restrictions are obviously due to considerations of sanitation and health. The allocated house size ranges from 26-30 square meters, and it would be impossible to raise livestock inside such cramped, ‘shoebox’ spaces among row houses.

But an informant said she defied the restrictions and raised two pigs inside her house but it was hard work to keep clean the pens and dispose of the pig’s offal daily. But she was able to raise enough money by selling the pigs after three months and used most of the money to pay for the tuition of a child in college.

• As they left the evacuation centers to resettle in their new homes, each household were provided seed packets by non-government organizations but most of the seeds, according to the women, could not be used for lack of space. Those who had sown the seeds of vegetables like petchay, cucumber, tomatoes, kangkong, bitter melon and eggplants, were able to harvest some though they noticed the growth was stunted due to the lack of water supply in the areas. The produce from these frontyard gardens supplemented their diets for a time.

• In four of the resettlement sites, however, collective gardens of lemongrass, moringa and yams were made available. The women were growing gardens in their own yards, use recycled tetrapacks which are sewn together as pots or containers since these were plentiful at the evacuation centers. Some of the extra vegetables were sold at church yards sales and markets, thus providing additional incomes.

• “We were over-trained at the evacuation centers. I know how to curl hair, pedicure and manicure, cook siomai and siopao, make rugs and peanut butter,”said a woman from Xavier Ecoville. She thought the trainings have increased her options for income generation.

“But I could not ply any of these trades because for one, I do not have capital. And I do not want to latch on to the high interest rates of loan sharks. Two, I cannot have paying customers here, no one here can afford to pay for my services. I am supposed to offer my nail cleaning services among employees in government offices in the city. So in my spare time I just paint the nails of my children and neighbors and relatives but for free.’’

Another woman, aged 65, was planning to go back to her lean-to under a bridge so that she can sell cigarettes on the streets. She worried, however, that the soldiers now guarding the bridge might not allow her to return. And she is not alone in thinking of going back to the risky no-build zones.

• The women think that fresh capital for their home-based endeavors and vending will help them tide over and reduce hunger risk for their families. For now, capital in the form of loans/credit is only available from motorcycle-riding pautang (lending) firms that charges very high interest rates of 15-20 per month. They wonder if NGOs or government can offer start-up grants given gratis and without obligations for payments, and hope it will be available to women, not only to men. They said they have heard of such grants assistance for Sendong victims and survivors but they have not received such amount, which they said has been announced in the local papers.They shun grameen banking as previous experiences with collective loan systems did not work out well for them so they would rather take responsibility for personal loans. Most of them consider themselves unemployed but they keep their households afloat by engaging in various home-based and small-scale or petty trade.

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Comments 1

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Oct 06, 2015
Oct 06, 2015

Thank you for giving us with such a well-reasoned and detailed analysis. Communities must recover from disastor and there seems to be such a disturbance and change in people's routines and roles. It is very interesting to read how this shift happens and what consequences it has. I now see how what may have first been perceived as negative is in fact a positive for many of the women who have more free time and view the men as contributing and as much-needed allies in their day-to-day struggles. I can see that your discussion sessions are providing some great insights.