Women volunteers take the spotlight in Yapak ni Maria, Yapak ng Pagboboluntirismo webinar

by Angela Zarcedo 

Women volunteers, Ms. Ela Victoria Sarmago, Ms. Arlene Mahinay, Ms. Maria Lourie Victor, and Ms. Precious Leaño shared their advocacies, inspirations, and experiences working in different fields and communities in a webinar*, “Yapak ni Maria, Yapak ng Pagboboluntirismo” last March 21.

It is the first of the three installments of the series, “Mga Mukha ng Kababaihan: Si Maria, Melchora, at Juana” organized by UPLB Ugnayan ng Pahinungod, together with UPLB Gender Center and UPLB Business Affairs Office (BAO). 

Women volunteers, despite sometimes getting underestimated for their gender, step up during difficult times. (From left to right, top to bottom: Ma. Rowena Beatriz Inzon, Ela Sarmago, Precious Leaño, Ma. Lourie Victor, Arlene Mahinay)

Role of volunteerism in women empowerment and gender equality

Ms. Ela Victoria Sarmago, Chief Volunteer Service Officer of Program Coordination, Monitoring and Evaluation Division (PCMED) under the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA), provided an overview of volunteerism in the country and its importance in women empowerment and gender equality. 

She shared that millions of men and women donate their time to help others. However, women take on 57% of their time in volunteer and care work. In 2020 and 2021, more women volunteers shared valuable contributions to COVID-19 response in health, agriculture, transportation, livelihood, and basic life support. 

Although more women engage in volunteer work, they still receive less support. Thus, Ms. Sarmago highlighted the need to include gender-specific messaging and safety concerns in volunteer campaigns, mitigate gender resource gaps, and address sector segregation. 

“Voluntary and collective engagement in development requires concerted efforts of women, men, youths, volunteer organizations, and government institutions,” she said.  

Women volunteers for peacebuilding

On the other hand, Ms. Arlene Mahinay, Head of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) Philippines, focuses their operations on peacebuilding in the Bangsamoro community. To achieve global goals through women empowerment, the organization has worked with national and international volunteers, partner organizations, and community members with both women and men. 

Despite the successful outcomes of their initiatives, Ms. Mahinay said that it is still a work in progress. The tireless efforts of their volunteers will continue to thrive. 

“There is still a very long way to go. There is a need to keep building from whatever little successes we gain,” she said. 

Respect for human dignity and gender identity

Director Maria Lourie Victor of the Indigenous Peoples Education Office described being belittled simply because of her gender. 

In her journey as a volunteer, a “Mariang Jose” story as she called it, Ms. Victor shared how people questioned her gender identity because the way she moves is not a typical woman’s gracefulness. As a woman volunteer, she had faced stereotyping from male co-workers, but she did not let these challenges get ahead of her. 

She continued to volunteer in youth capacity-building initiatives, community-based education, organization management, and other involvements outside her community. 

Her journey as a volunteer made her realize that there should be a balance between self-respect and respecting the community’s sensibilities. She added that mutual respect is essential to understanding each other’s worldviews and sense of being. 

Ms. Victor urged the audience to nurture the space for dialogue that volunteer initiatives tend to provide. The openness to learn can hopefully deepen the fundamental respect for human dignity, whatever the shape and size of one’s gender identity. 

Beyond the frontlines, inside the mobile kitchen

As a co-founder of Art Relief Mobile Kitchen (ARMK), Ms. Precious Leaño tirelessly cooks tasty and nutritious food for the hungry in calamity areas. 

The community kitchens opened an opportunity to serve food for the victims of Super Typhoon Odette in Butuan, Dinagat Islands, and Surigao. ARMK was also launched in other parts of the country including Davao, Iligan, Surigao, and Tacloban. 

Volunteers have been cooking for more than a year in Los Baños to support low-income communities and frontline workers affected by the pandemic. 

In the face of desperate hunger, Leaño proudly shared the collective efforts of determined mothers and compassionate women volunteers in chopping vegetables and cooking meals to keep the disaster evacuees fed. 

“Our prayer is that, with every meal, a family would find the strength that comes from food cooked with love,” said Leaño. 

Leaño also shared that it takes a while to be accepted as a leader if you are a woman. 

“Bago ka makilala bilang babae, kailangan mo munang mag-lead ng isang hardcore mission. Kaya mahalaga ang communication skills sa pagpapalakas ng boses ng kababaihan. Magsalita tayo. Nakita niyo naman ang kaya naming gawin. Huwag niyo na kaming ismolin,” said Leaño as she called on the recognition of women leaders.

The four women volunteers advocate for women empowerment and gender equality by promoting the inclusion of women in leadership roles and stepping up in volunteer work.

The webinar is available for replay at the UPLB Ugnayan ng Pahinungod Facebook page

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