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My Davao | Women leading in crisis response

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Men may dominate the airtime and screen time in most media outlets during this pandemic, but it is actually the women who are at the forefront of COVID-19 response in the community level.

Most of those considered “essential workers” who are forced to work outside their homes while on community quarantine — grocery clerks, food service crew, pharmacy workers, caregivers, and healthcare workers — are women.

The World Economic Forum noted that women comprise majority of frontline healthcare workers globally, and that “female representation is vital in tackling the coronavirus crisis.”

It added that at least 70 percent of the world’s healthcare staff are made up of women, but only 25 percent of global leaders are female.

And yet the countries recognized as having the best coronavirus responses have one thing in common — they are all led by women. Germany, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Taiwan have been cited as “managing the crisis better” compared to other

Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte has been criticized, along with US President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for framing the pandemic as a “war” and treating an invisible virus as an “enemy” that must be crushed.

This is probably why President Duterte appointed all men, and mostly generals, in the task force he created to respond to the pandemic in the country. Because wars are generally viewed as the area of men.

Meanwhile, President Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Z. Duterte is leading her community differently. Mayor Inday, as she is fondly called by Davaoeños, set an example by self-isolating immediately after returning from her trip to Metro Manila and just recently committed to donate her entire one year salary to help the city’s healthcare workers who got infected by coronavirus. She also put Davao City on community quarantine even before there were confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city as a preemptive measure. The directives given to government workers, local law enforcement units, and civil society are clear and transparent and communicated to the public in a timely manner. Every citizen is encouraged to do his or her part to help one another.

When Araw ng Davao events in March were cancelled to stop mass gatherings, there were no complaints heard. Everyone (except probably those who continued with the cockfight derby) understood that public health is more important than prospective income generated from the

The city’s 911 integrated emergency response system is also now being used for telemedicine where people can connect to doctors for free consultation and get online prescriptions for medicine that will be accepted by pharmacies. It is only in Davao where such system is in
Yes, in Davao City, used to be known as the “killing fields of Asia” just a few decades ago, it is clear that this is not a war. This is a public health crisis that affects everyone and needs a coordinated collective response.

And all Davao residents are called to showcase the best of the Davaoeño spirit — pioneering, innovative, creative, collaborative, disciplined, and concerned.

So instead of waiting for supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) coming from Metro Manila (where most supplies are centralized), Davaoeños just made the PPE themselves with available materials here in the city and delivered them to those in need.

Among the notable efforts in the city is that of women Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Downtown Davao (RCDD) led by its current President, Dr. Ethel Chavez-Caceres, and by its President-Elect Myla Cocon-Agustin.

Doc Ethel, who is a dentist by profession, calls her Rotary sisters “WOW,” short for “Women of Worth,” as they pooled all their savings from not having to attend their weekly Rotary meetings during community quarantine to fund the production of improvised PPE for healthcare workers at Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC), the only hospital in the city tasked to handle COVID-19 cases.

“In this time of crisis, we need to stop negative thinking. What we need is to spread love and positive energy in every direction for the wellbeing of the whole humanity,” she said.

Doc Ethel teamed up with her successor, Myla, who is an entrepreneur, to coordinate RCDD’s PPE project, which they dubbed “Connecting Rotary and Helping Protect our Health Workers.”

It was Myla who researched the designs and reached out to various suppliers for the materials needed to produce the PPE and led the delivery of these herself, risking exposure to the coronavirus. “Because if not me, who will do this for them?” she asked.

RCDD Past President Marina Bello-Ruivivar connected Myla to Isadora owner, Susan Magno-Antepuesto, who, in turn, mobilized a dozen of her cutters and sewers to produce the PPE to be donated by Rotary at the soonest time possible without compromising quality and safety. Isadora is one of Davao City’s leading makers of corporate wear and office uniforms.

Marina, who is 80 and living with lupus, cannot leave her home so she helped by serving as a bridge to other women and acting as cheerleader to the younger women through social media instead.

“These women, who are mothers themselves, call me ‘mother’ so we instinctively know what to do to respond to a crisis like this. It is an act of solidarity,” Marina explained.

She added that they think of healthcare workers as “our children who take care of us when we are sick and some of them are mothers, too, who are away from their own children because they have to take care of others.”

RCDD’s other “mother,” Past President Edna Ko, who was one of the biggest donors to the project, did not expect that their “Rotary Sisters” group chat which they use to share jokes, inspirational messages, and prayers would lead to “an extraordinary outreach service” during this pandemic. “With so much time in our hands, we now have time to listen to God in our hearts which led to this amazing outpouring of grace!” she exclaimed.

Susan, on the other hand was looking forward to the downtime during community quarantine so she can start with her personal projects of arts and crafts as well as hone her piano and guitar skills. But when Rotary, through Marina, asked Susan to help in their PPE donation project, she could not say no. “I did not think twice or hesitate. I delved right into organizing our team, redesigning the pattern, and consulting medical professionals for inputs,” she shared.

Women have been socialized to take care of others before their own needs so dropping everything to help others in need usually becomes their default mode.

One of Isadora’s sewers, Fely, said that Rotary’s PPE project is an answered prayer to “non-essential” workers like her who do not have any means of livelihood during the quarantine period. When enhanced community quarantine was declared, however, the improvised PPE makers are considered part of the support team for health workers so they are, in fact, essential, too.

Part of the funds raised for the project goes to daily wages of the sewers and Susan, who also owns Wild Garlic restaurant, gives her PPE workforce weekly care packages of rice, fish, vegetables and fruits for their families.

“I am grateful for this opportunity to earn because my husband is unemployed and I am the only one supporting our family,” said Fely, showing once again that it is women who usually find ways in times of crisis.

Women solidarity does not just support, it also inspires other women. Myla’s sister, RCDD Past President Twinkle Cocon-Gamboa, who is stuck in Metro Manila during the travel ban, supported her younger sister’s efforts by also funding a food drive in partnership with Fat Cow owner and chef, Patrick Co. This food drive provides thousands of packed meals for hospital workers and security personnel who are not able to go home.

Generosity, like the coronavirus, is contagious. What these women Rotarians are doing got shared on social media and encouraged others to give as well. So other Rotary clubs in Davao, not just those led by women but by men as well, joined in — the Rotary Clubs of Central Davao, East Davao, West Davao, North Davao, South Davao, Davao 2000, and the mother club, RC Davao.

To date, they have raised close to 800,000 pesos that enabled them to produce over 500 coverall suits, 500 face shields, 100 goggles plus face masks and gloves not just for SPMC health workers but also for the Davao City Health Office, Davao 911, Davao City Police Office, and Police Regional Office, Region 11.

Even during this pandemic that hit Davao City the hardest in Mindanao, Davao’s community spirit has spread outside the city’s borders. The donations have overflowed and extended to other cities and provinces like Panabo City; Kabacan; Midsayap; South Cotabato; Agusan del Norte; and all the way to Zamboanga.

And Rotarians keep going for as long as the coronavirus pandemic goes on. They apply the same passion and commitment Rotary has shown in eradicating polio globally.

“As Rotarians, we connect to our community through service,” said Rotary International 3860 District Governor-Elect Riezel Reyes. “This is our way to touch lives of the people who are always there to protect us. We respond to every opportunity open to save humanity,” he

Rotary Assistant Governor and Davao City Health Office dentist, Dr. Bolyn Puno, who is among those who are serving in the community health centers during this health crisis said that she was “touched by the selfless act to help” the healthcare workers who are very scared because they lack protection from the coronavirus.

“I truly appreciate the fact that everyone just said yes immediately and did not complain or expressed opposition to the project,” Doc Bolyn said.

She made that comment in the context of what she is seeing and hearing in media about how some of our fellow Filipinos in the national capital region are reacting to this crisis.

Images of police arresting protesters; citizens complaining that government aid is not enough; leaders criticizing other leaders that border on personal attacks bombard us on national news outlets. The divisive nature of war is manifesting in some people already.

Maybe Metro Manila thinks this is what war must be like because they have not experienced an actual armed conflict fought in their streets since World War II. On the other hand, Mindanao, which is constantly and continuously besieged by real wars, do not treat this pandemic as
a war at all.

In Alissa Wilkinson’s article entitled “Pandemics are not wars” published by Vox, she noted that using war as a metaphor for illness during a pandemic is not new and that governments use it to make their citizens treat what is happening seriously.

In that same Vox article Lisa Kranen, a medical rhetorician who studies how we speak about viruses and other biological threats, explained that using war as a metaphor “makes us focus on fighting and not on caring.”

She said that if we are fixated on fighting an enemy, “that might put us in a framework where we’re thinking less about support and care and broader networks that we need to put in place.”

Women are practically experts in organizing broader networks of support whether in crisis or not because they are often socialized to play supporting roles. But framing this pandemic as a war excludes women’s voices in decision-making and planning.

Most women avoid wars because aside from having their children sacrificed in the name of war, they are usually the ones who are left to do the hard work of making ends meet while men go to war. They are also the ones expected to heal and rebuild disrupted lives in its aftermath.

War also promotes fear and panic. Not a good response to have in any crisis.

Twinkle, who is married to Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Archie Gamboa, reflects on the Rotary project they initiated and perfectly sums up how women are responding to this crisis: “We did not choose fear, we chose love to empower us to act.”

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