Employment Opportunities for Women and Girls in Fragile Contexts

Filipino Muslims cheer outside the presidential palace after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Philippine government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front on March 27, 2014 in Manila. Getty Images

Gender norms inform what work is seen as appropriate for women and girls. This affects employment opportunities in nearly all contexts and often constrains what work women and girls are able to do. Yet, in conflict-affected environments the disruption to social and normative systems caused by the conflicts means that opportunities for women and girls can expand—whether it’s running businesses or participating directly in support of war efforts. On the one hand, the disruption caused by the conflict can lead to opening, if limited, opportunities for women and girls. On the other hand, the ongoing fragility and poor economic development often endemic in fragile and conflict-affected states can make gains for women’s equality difficult to realize for the majority of the population, particularly in employment.

Research we conducted in the Philippines emphasized both the ways in which gender norms shift to expand and close opportunities for women and how ongoing fragility affects the types of employment available to women and girls. This work focused on the Southern Philippines, which lags behind the rest of the Philippines on nearly every development indicator, including women’s rights and equality, and still shows elements of conflict.[1] Formally, the peace agreement between the Philippines federal government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended hostilities in Mindanao. However, a number of armed groups continue to operate, and political violence continues sporadically.

The peace process in Mindanao created some opportunities for the formal advancement of women’s rights in the region. It recognized the role that many women and girls played in creating and supporting peace in Mindanao. In interviews we conducted in Mindanao in September 2015, we talked about how women and girls negotiated temporary cease-fires at the community level and created systems to help communities displaced by conflict or natural disasters during the conflict between the Philippine national government and the MILF.[2] The resulting peace agreement was among the first in the world to be negotiated and signed by women, and included specific requirements for gender inclusion.[3]

A report by the Asia Foundation found that conflict brought substantial changes to the lives of women and girls in Mindanao. The conflict created new opportunities to be community leaders that wouldn’t have been available to them otherwise given prevailing cultural and social norms. A similar change happened in Marawi (located in Mindanao) following a violent siege by Abu Sayaaf in July 2017. Shelters set up by local women’s organizations exposed women to their legal rights, educating them about domestic violence and a woman’s right to work without her husband’s permission. The article reports that many of the women who visited these shelters are now actively involved in rebuilding the city to be more beneficial for women.

However, despite these advances during the conflict, employment opportunities for women and girls are highly dependent on where in the Philippines they live and on which side of conflict they reside: “Despite achievements that have catapulted the Philippines to being a regional role model for the empowerment of women, the majority of women in Mindanao still continue to live in makeshift accommodations and temporary shelters, and low education levels among women and girls constrain their ability to seek better employment and forge social networks.”[4]

The conditions for women and girls in Mindanao are also heavily influenced by routine displacement, whether caused by armed violence or natural disasters, as well as lack of access to education. Without proper infrastructure in place and with a lack of vital services, economic growth in Mindanao remains limited and pushes women and girls into the informal sector, rendering them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

This is particularly true for women and girls from Mindanao who work overseas. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, more women (247,000) have left Mindanao looking for work overseas than men (100,000) in 2017 alone. Due to having little formal education or job training, women and girls tend to take low-skilled jobs in domestic roles like maids or caretakers for children or elderly. This often then results in poor working conditions, exploitation, and various forms of abuse.

While the conflict in the Southern Philippines may have transformed many formal systems for women, these transformations have a limited impact if economic development lags. For the majority of women who directly experienced the conflict, the formal end to conflict and ongoing fragility necessitate overseas work. This creates some opportunities for women and girls by providing an avenue for independent income and the ability to support their families through remittances. However, in the absence of viable alternatives, women and girls continue to be stuck in a cycle of low-skilled work that underutilizes their potential.

 

[1] Joel Mangahas, Making a Difference in Mindanao (Mandaluyong City, Philippines: Asian Development Bank, 2010), https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/28004/making-differe....

[2] Alexandra Amling and Marie O’Reilly, From Global Promise to National Action: Advancing Women, Peace, and Security in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, Serbia, and Sierra Leone (Broomfield, CO: One Earth Future Foundation and Inclusive Security, 2016), 25–35, https://oefresearch.org/sites/default/files/documents/publications/Globa....

[3] Yasmin Busran-Lao, “Legitimacy and Peace Processes: From Coercion to Consent,” Accord, no. 25 (2014): 28–29, https://www.c-r.org/accord/legitimacy-and-peace-processes/philippines-wo....

[4] Amling and O’Reilly, From Global Promise to National Action, 29.

  • Getting to Peace Using Open Source Data

    The world is complex enough when everyone is operating with the same set of underlying facts on any given topic. When those facts are hidden or manipulated, overcoming intractable conflict becomes nearly impossible. Sharing open source data among adversarial governments, within governments, and between “Third Siders” and conflict parties gives us a greater chance than ever before to manage complexity and get to peace. Read More
  • ONN Director Laura Rockwood at European Parliament's Korea Delegation Meeting

    On 1 July 2021, Open Nuclear Network (ONN) Director Laura Rockwood participated in a meeting organised by the Delegation for Relations with the Korean Peninsula (DKOR) of the European Parliament. The discussions focused on prospects for denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and recent relevant developments. Read More
  • peacebuilding requires learning, communication, standards, and transparency

    Key Themes From Evidence-based Practice Digital Workshop

    Findings from the recent global study and report from One Earth Future and the Alliance for Peacebuilding was at the center of a digital workshop event on May 14th that was hosted in partnership with the Better Evidence Project at George Mason University. We breakdown some of the main takeaways and conclusions from the event's discussions. Read More
  • networked coordination an effective approach to peacebuilding

    Using Coordination as a Key to Peacebuilding

    The challenges of peacebuilding involve maximizing the contribution of multiple technical experts in an often quickly changing environment, and one where participants may not always trust all other participants or where they may be concerned about maintaining their individual authority to make decisions. OEF's Conor Seyle shares how a coordinated approach to peacebuilding can be most effective in these conditions. Read More
  • Chadian president Idriss Deby killed

    Risk of Instability on the Rise for Chad and the Sahel Region

    Following the announcement by the Chadian government on April 20 that president Adriss Deby had died after 30 years in power, OEF analyst Matthew Frank breaks down the poltical situation in Chad and discusses what OEF's CoupCast data shows about the risk for further instability in the country and throughout the greater Sahel region. Read More
  • the important of using evidence to make decisions in peacebuilding

    How Do We Get to an Earth Without War?

    OEF's Executive Director and Chief Operating Office, Jon Bellish talks about OEF's commitment to Relentless Empiricism as core to its belief in and support of iterative problem-solving and careful, analytical design. He discusses how OEF relies on evidence to cut through complexities in order to solve concrete problems at the root of armed conflict, and bring new, collaborative forms of governance into being in its place. Read More