As International Women’s Day draws closer, my thoughts turn to the women I met on my recent trip to the Philippines. Strong. Confident. Empowered. Business women who started from scratch, but never gave up in spite of the real challenges and limitations they faced. The women I met had received a loan from Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation Inc. (NWTF) to set up a business.
Twenty kilometres from Bacolod, in Dulao, one of Bago City’s barangays (‘village’ in the Hiligaynon language), lives Theresa Tomaro (43), a member of a Dungganon group of NWFT Center 176.
NTWF’s Project Dungganon aims at economically empowering women by providing training, collateral-free group lending, and support to unlock and develop their business skills and entrepreneurial spirit. The Dungganon women are encouraged to speak up and learn to express themselves by singing and dancing.
Fifteen years ago, Theresa received her first loan of PHP 3,000 (around € 56) from NWFT to start a sari-sari (‘mix-mix’) convenience store. Her first profit was used to cement her kitchen. NWFT provided her with training to improve her business and financial skills. Since then, Theresa’s store has grown and she has made improvements to her house. “We also improved our food. Before, we only ate dried fish and rice.”
Her current loan (PHP 300,000) has been used to purchase a second-hand truck that her husband Tirso (a member of a sugar cane cooperative) will use to provide transport services to sugar cane farmers.
Theresa is proud that her business is running well and that she has contributed to her children’s education and the wellbeing of her family. Her eldest son will graduate in IT and her other two children attend high school. She was also able to buy a plot of land where Center 176 is currently located. The Center hosts 65 women from 13 loan groups who meet once a month to repay their loan and share their experiences of the past week. For these women, the meetings represent a moment for themselves and her friends.
“Today, I can even take my family to the local restaurant. My children like chicken and fries. I prefer the spaghetti with tomato sauce and hot dog,” Theresa giggles.
Women’s empowerment can be expressed in different forms. Theresa became economically empowered which enabled her to develop in both a personal sense and as a businesswoman. This also gave her self-confidence, independence, and resilience. She is well respected and seen as an inspiration to other women.
Theresa’s advice to other women entrepreneurs: “Be patient with your customers. And use your loan wisely; it has to go to the business.”
Women’s economic empowerment1 is fundamental to achieve sustainable development. Women take more charge in the survival of the family and the improvement of its livelihoods. Their families and communities respect them because they are entrepreneurs, contribute to the family’s finances, and have access to finance.
Being empowered is living ‘Dungganon’.