How do you empower women so they won’t become victims of different abuses? According to Marlene Pepino of Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. (VF), the first step is to lead them to opportunities where they can become economically productive.
Pepino stressed that economic empowerment is an important factor that can prevent women abuse.
“If you are economically stable or you have an income as a wife, mawala ang physical abuse. We can say abuse can happen if you are too dependent on your husband. The first will be verbal abuse,” Pepino said.
“For me economic empowerment is very important. It is the core aspect that will prevent you from experiencing abuses like psychological, physical or emotional,” she added.
Although Pepino is actively involved in a non-government organization that fights human trafficking (she is currently a provincial coordinator for VF in Negros Oriental), she has not abandoned this advocacy on economic empowerment for women.
She knows how effective this is in empowering women and in helping them change their perspective on themselves because this is one of the greatest lessons she learned in her life.
The 64-year old revealed she was once a victim of abuse from her late husband who passed away six years ago. The two of them lived together for 35 years but she started experiencing abuse from him for 15 years.
Pepino explained that she lacked the courage to defend herself that time because she was not yet empowered.
“There were times I was struck in the head and called me some bad words. I think we can say it’s physcological, emotional abuse. I thought these acts were ordinary,” Pepino said.
The turning point in her life came two days after a major incident happened to her. Her husband brought her three kids to her mother-in-law’s house where they will stay for few days. However, her youngest child, who was close to her, was able to get out of their grandmother’s house and returned to their home.
“Since he brought all the children’s things. I sent somebody to their house, my niece to fetch some clothes. The hurting part there was when my niece came back and she relayed their message: niingon sila wala ka’y pinalit sa gamit sa bata so dili sila mohatag (They said you did not buy any of the children’s things so they will not give it to you),” she said.
“Didto ko (naka-realize). Wala man tuod ko’y contribution. I have not bought even a single panty or brief for my children because I was just a mere wife. Didto ko nasakitan ug maayo. Para nako, murag pagpapanawong na wala ka’y pulos (I realized I had no contribution for my children. I have not bought even a single panty or brief for my children because I was just a mere wife. I was really hurt. For me, it was telling straight to my face I have no use),” Pepino recounted.
After that incident, Pepino was determined to look for opportunities to earn money so she won’t have to depend on her husband to buy stuff for her kids. She also promised herself she will not allow him to hurt her again.
At first she sold dinuldog (a local version of guinataan), she turned to selling pot holders and other products made of textile recycling to stores.
Pepino then looked for an agency where she could apply for a loan. She was adviced to go the Department of Social Welfare and Development office. When she inquired there, she was informed that she can only apply for a loan if she becomes a member of Kalipunan ng mga Liping Pilipina (KALIPI).
When she became member of the women’s group, Pepino was able to borrow money from the organization and used it for her livelihood to help augment her income.
Pepino eventually became a president of KALIPI. She was an active officer of the group for more than nine years. She recounted that it was in her stint in KALIPI where she learned about women’s laws and women empowerment.
Even though Pepino is earning her own income, there were still attempts of physical abuse from husband. But at time, she already knew how to defend herself.
Pepino shared that since then up to the time her husband died, she was already financially independent.
Because of her story, Pepino would receive invitations to speak in various engagements every Women’s Month.
In 2014, she was one of the resource speakers of the local Kapihan sa PIA forum here where she shared her experience to participants of the forum.
Since the issue of economic empowerment is close to her heart, Pepino also shared her story to the members of Bantay Komunidad (BK) organization in Sitio Dumandan in Barangay Mayabon, Zamboaguita town through a livelihood initiative called Ventures for Freedom.
Through this endeavor, Pepino was able to share to BK members, mostly composed of mothers of child laborers and other victims of abuse, her skill on sewing and textile recycling.“I teach them whatever skills I know which I am sure can bring income to them, including the access to materials I introduce it for free,” Pepino said.
Every month the group produces more than 1,000 pieces of textile products such as doormats and potholders. The group supplies these textile products to some local supermarkets in Dumaguete City and in other parts of the province.
Aside from the livelihood trainings, members also undergo orientation on different government programs like Social Security System (SSS) benefits and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) programs which they can access because they want them to be aware of government services they can utilize.
Pepino said that some the members of the group are already active members of SSS. However, the most rewarding in all of this is to see them regain their self-esteem and become economically productive.
With this, Pepino has this message for other women: “The only person that can help you is yourself. The change you want to achieve starts in you. The government has laid down its programs, services and laws. It’s already there. If you want to access livelihood there are programs in other agencies. It’s up to you how to adopt, embrace and take action on it.” (rmn/ral/PIA7-Negros Oriental)