Philippines: Single mother in Mindanao survives domestic abuse, earthquakes, and COVID-19
TULUNAN, NORTH COTABATO, The Philippines --- The rainy season has come again, and for "Sarah" (not her real name), a single mother in her late 20s from Tulunan, it only brings back bitter memories. Keeping an eye to her little store and her two young children, aged three and one, Sarah vividly remembers the pains that she went through because of her partner.
“This rain reminds me of those years of verbal abuse from my partner and how he eventually left me and the two kids,” she said, holding back tears.
It was when she was filled with anxiety after being shaken by a series of earthquakes in October 2019, Sarah with her two sons in tow decided to visit her partner, who was working away from home as part of the citizen auxiliary force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. “The children were missing their father so much that I thought I would pay him a surprise visit.” Sarah was not at all prepared for his reaction when he said, “Leave now. I am now with another woman.” Sarah and the two boys left hurriedly, in disbelief.
“I thought of taking my own life at that very moment,” Sarah recalled. “But I watched my children. They are so young and innocent. They would still need a mother around.”
The idea of a failed relationship and uncertainty as to how to raise her little sons by herself alone, distressed Sarah giving her sleepless nights. However, she did not file a complaint against her partner and instead settled for monthly financial assistance. Sarah and her young sons immediately moved to her mother’s house, and with a little capital that she had saved, Sarah opened a small business and put all her energies in it. “The income is however barely enough to put three meals on the table,” she recalled.
1 out of 4 Filipino ever-married women experience intimate partner violence
Sarah is one of those 26% of Filipino ever-married women aged 15-49, who have experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence committed by their husband or partner (the National Demographic and Health Survey, 2017). Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, the Center for Women’s Resources reported that more than 16 million Filipino women were ‘economically insecure’. The report also showed that those living in poverty were vulnerable to gender-based violence(GBV). And now that the COVID-19 outbreak and associated community quarantine measures have resulted in forcing women to get stuck at home, there have been increasing reports warning of the rise in domestic violence.
Soon after the series of powerful earthquakes jolted North Cotabato Province including the Tulunan town, UNFPA in the Philippines, with support from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), started working with Mindanao Organization for Social and Economic Progress Incorporated (MOSEP) and other local partners, to address the physical, emotional, and socio-economic consequences of GBV in evacuation centers established in the earthquake-affected communities. UNFPA’s support through MOSEP includes providing care for survivors, helping women to navigate the judicial system to report abuse, and raising awareness about the causes and consequences of GBV among young people and men, and the project has continued in spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic and quarantines.
MOSEP’s Executive Director, Ms. Mariam Ali, said “GBV can escalate among those couples whose homes are hit by an external crisis, such as earthquake or typhoon or armed conflict. If the abusers believe in violence as a solution, or mistakenly think that women are lesser than men, then the stress and uncertainty brought about by such an emergency can increase the risk of abuse.”
“Cash for Protection,” Hope, and Freedom
Sarah was among the 49 women who benefited from UNFPA’s new initiative implemented with MOSEP entitled the “Cash for Protection”, to protect women from gender-based violence and provide a social safety net for the survivors. Each target woman receives a cash aid worth PHP 10,000 (approximately USD 200) from the “Cash for Protection” initiative.
“Many women in abusive relationships do not leave their violent partners, because of financial dependence. They are not confident if they can survive and support their children by themselves alone. Because of natural disasters and now with COVID, these women are even more unsure of their potential to become independent. This is exactly why this cash-transfer assistance is so significant and meaningful for these vulnerable women because it helps them to break ties with their abusive partners, help them move on, give them a sense of empowerment, ownership, and resilience, standing on her own two feet,” Ms. Ali of MOSEP highlights.
Sarah was at a town hall where MOSEP supervised the distribution of ‘cash for protection’ to GBV survivors like her, as the government eased the two-month-long community quarantine against the coronavirus pandemic to allow some economic activities to resume in the communities.
Sarah was grateful for UNFPA’s ‘Cash for Protection’ support. “I will use some of the money as additional capital for my small business,” she shared with a smile back on her face. “It would be a lie if I say I don’t remember the painful memories. But at least, the six years of an abusive relationship that I had to endure is gone, it’s over,” Sarah said. “I will spend the remaining money for the needs of my sons, and also save a little for our future.”