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Globalization Head-On: Women Confronting Poverty

(Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Manahan)

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Mary Ann Manahan helps rural women in the Philippines build their knowledge, strength, and political voice. Here she speaks of how women are creating alternatives to violence and poverty in their lives. They use strategies for change that start at the household and community, and then connect to the global level, so they can confront the crippling impacts of globalization.

Mary Ann Manahan | Manila, Philippines

It’s very inspiring for many young feminists and young activists like me to see how, in the midst of globalization, the most vulnerable women are using collective action to build their strength. These are people who are considered victims, who’ve faced decades of being battered by wrong agricultural policies and by their husbands, of not being taken seriously by the government or even by their male counterparts in the farmers’ movement.

Women are called “shock absorbers” because they are the first to feel the crises caused by the economic and social insecurity of globalization, and right now specifically by the financial crisis. Essentially, the global economy is being run on the backs of women, especially women in the global South.

But, even in the most vulnerable sector of society, women have strength. They get it from within their family and from interacting with fellow women.

Birthing Justice

In my many interactions and dialogues with women in the rural and informal sectors – not only in the Philippines but around the world – I see women bonded by the same ideals and vision: they need to get out of poverty and they can do that through concerted political action. And they hold the long vision that they can actually change the world.

Mary Ann ManahanMary Ann Manahan is the third from left in the front row. (Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Manahan)

Many of the women that I work with are trying to link what’s happening at the local level, through their lived experiences, with the national and global levels. They see that their problems are no longer limited to their localities or communities. Since globalization has made the issues global, so too are their strategies, solutions and alternatives – but also while trying to change their government and emphasizing the importance of the local economy. What they do is to try to understand the bigger picture, locate themselves in it, and see how they can get out of the situation.

Trying to grapple with very complex processes and how they traverse household and community levels, you would be surprised that the women actually get it right away. They say, for instance, “When the global food crisis struck last year, it was really difficult for us to get cheaper rice. So as a coping mechanism, we moved the schedule of eating to have a brunch – no snacks anymore – and then dinner.

One strategy the women have used is information and education campaigns. They go house-to-house and talk to women in the communities. They call for a meeting in someone’s house. They normally open up with topics that are very dear to the heart of the women or issues that plague their communities.

Another important piece is confidence-building. Having been battered so much, they don’t normally have the confidence to present themselves as women of knowledge, or women who can actually insist on their rights. Central in their interactions is women’s rights and the importance of changing gender relations.

Once they have enough knowledge and confidence, another strategy is doing trainings to improve their skills in light of government policies. They’re now ready for a much bigger arena of engagement: collectively going to the mayors and local executive to insist, for example, that we have a policy where 5% of the budget goes to gender and development projects. They also want to be recognized formally as stakeholders who should be consulted when it comes to the development projects and policies that will affect them and the whole community. Many of the women leaders engage with national congress in passing pro-women and pro-reproductive policies. Rural women have also pushed for recognition as agrarian reform beneficiaries and as farmers.

Another strategy which is equally important is networking and coalition-building, linking up with other sectors in Filipino society. These women understand that they can learn a lot about what can work in their own circumstances from other experiences. At the same time, you know, there’s a lot of strength in numbers. They see that as long as they’re together in a collective, they can have a louder voice. In 2001, recognizing the need for an all-women network, they built a national coalition of rural women. That coalition is actually making a lot of dents in getting support services for themselves as farmers and producers, at the local, national, and even the global levels. These women are carving out a space to survive collectively in this very tumultuous time. It’s a very beautiful experience.

To learn more about Mary Ann Manahan’s organization, Focus on the Global South, please see

Inspired? Here are a few suggestions for getting involved!

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