Collective action towards collective growth

Members of the the Pawak Saguiaran Golden Ladies Producer Cooperative showcasing their main product, turmeric powder. (Photo: Vina Salazar/Oxfam Pilipinas)

More than anything, collective action pushed the M’ranao women of Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur to organize themselves towards social and economic empowerment. 

Since 2016, the Pawak Saguiaran Golden Ladies Producer Cooperative, formerly the Saguiaran Turmeric Organization, has inspired women in the four barangays of Saguiaran to become economically empowered, which gained them respect and recognition of their capacities as women. 

Economic Independence

Being part of the women-led cooperative, women in the community have a source of income that helped them and their families find relief from economic hardships. For most of them, they were able to support their children’s studies through their income from turmeric powder production. 

Roconsalem Amer, President of the Pawak Saguiaran Golden Ladies Producer Cooperative, shared that through her income from turmeric powder production, her children were able to finish college and are now registered nurses, a police officer, and an engineer.

“That time na nag-aaral pa sila, OFW yung asawa ko at hindi naman araw araw may pera. Yung daily na pangaingailangan ng mga anak kong nag-aaral gaya ng pamasahe o bayad sa mga libro o projects, natugunan ko dahil kumikita ako sa turmeric (powder production),” Amer shared. 

(When they were still studying, my husband, an overseas Filipino worker, could not always send money. I was able to support  the daily needs of my children, like their transportation costs and books through the income I earn from turmeric powder production.)

Photo: Vina Salazar/Oxfam Pilipinas

This is also the case for 49-year-old Monara Sumagina, who is currently supporting her youngest son in senior high school. 

“Nag-aaral anak ko na senior high sa Marawi City. Kung wala yung kinikita ko sa turmeric (powder), wala ako maibibigay para sa kanyang everyday na ginagastos sa eskwela,” Sumagina said. 

(My son was studying in senior high in Marawi City. Without my income from turmeric powder production, I could not support his everyday needs in school.)

According to Sumagina, there’s a huge difference in their current income in turmeric powder production compared to when she planted vegetables like corn, eggplant, and string beans and sold them in the market. In turmeric powder production, “Sarili mo lang ang puhunan mo,” she said, about their labor as the only capital in their enterprise. 

Photo: Vina Salazar/Oxfam Pilipinas

Apart from these stories, Salima Mamayo mentioned that earning and managing their own income also allowed them to assert their positions in the household. Contributing to the household income provided women the leverage to have a stronger voice in the in the decision-making processes within their household.

“Nalaman ko na yung kinikita ng isang babae, dapat pala siya ang nagdedesisyon kung paano niya ito gagastusin. Hindi pala dapat hinahayaan na ‘yung mister lang ang nagdedesisyon kapag pinansyal,” she said. 

(I learned that as a woman, I should be able to decide how I spend the money I earn. I learned that these financial decisions should not be solely decided by the husband.)

Mamayo further shared that in one of the training sessions, she learned about economic abuse that often happens within marriages when a husband refuses to support their wife financially or denies them in financial decisions in the family.

Prior to their organization, most of the women in the community were solely focused on child care and household work. 

“Dati, puro gawaing bahay lang ginagawa ng mga kababaihan dito tulad ng pagluluto, paglalaba, at pag-aalaga ng mga anak. Ngayon, marunong na kami na mag-business at higit sa lahat alam na namin ang mga karapatan ng kababaihan,” Amer shared.

(Before, women used to do all the household chores like cooking, washing clothes, and caring for the children. Now, I already know how to manage a business. And most importantly, we already know our rights as women.)

As shared by the women, being a mother and a woman in their community, they are heavily burdened by the care work they provide for their family. However, their economic independence and capacity have given them a sense of dignity, feeling of empowerment and contributed to the improvement of their lives and their families.

Women’s rights and empowerment

In addition to their skills in turmeric powder production, the Golden Ladies of Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur were also capacitated through awareness-raising activities on women’s rights and empowerment. 

Roconsalem Amer recalled the many times they were invited to attend learning sessions, workshops that were organized by the Al Mujaadila Women’s Association (AMWA) as part of the Women’s Empowerment for Leadership in Development and Peace in the Bangsamoro (WELD PEACE) Project together with Oxfam Pilipinas and with support from the Australian Government.

In addition, laws on violence against women and children (VAWC) and rights of women and children were also taught in the seminars. Mamayo shared that they now understand their rights related to  domestic violence and abuse and know how to report such incidents.

Amer, who married her husband at 16, mentioned that the impact of child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM) was  also one of the topics in one of the learning sessions they attended.

Photo: Vina Salazar/Oxfam Pilipinas

“Kung hindi ko nalaman na nakakasama pala iyon sa buhay at sitwasyon ng isang babae, baka ipinakasal ko rin ng maaga yung mga anak ko,” she added. 

(If I did not learn about its harmful consequences to women, I would have also married off my daughter early.)

Amer also mentioned that being part of their cooperative has greatly improved her confidence and social skills. Before their engagements in the organization, she couldn’t speak in front of many people to share her life stories. 

Johaima Daluma, daughter of a cooperative member, described the changes she had observed since her mother joined the cooperative. Significantly, her mother’s ability to participate in organizational activities such as meetings and gatherings have improved. Her mother, who was usually quiet, begun socializing with other women in their community.

Photo: Vina Salazar/Oxfam Pilipinas

To further their growth as a women-led group, the cooperative has also been included as a member of their municipal development council. 

According to the LGU’s Gender and Development focal person,  Miara Fatima Mapandi, it is important for local government units to listen and engage with women in the communities as they represent the sector mostly excluded from crucial discussions concerning their welfare and their community. 

Now that Pawak Saguiaran Golden Ladies Producer Cooperative is recognized as a cooperative and accredited by its municipal government, they can have more opportunities to collaborate and engage with other private and government bodies.

The local government of the municipality of Saguiaran aims to continue its mutually beneficial relationship with organizations and cooperatives like the Golden Ladies and work together to address the problems of their communities. 

The Golden Ladies, as they described themselves according to the golden color of the turmeric powder they produce, have shown how collective action can lead to collective empowerment and community growth. The Golden Ladies of Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur, continue to prove that empowered women empower other women. In the last seven years, the cooperative has grown to have more than 100 members in Saguiaran, and they wish to continue encouraging other women to join. 

Photo: Vina Salazar/Oxfam Pilipinas

“Sana mas lalo pang umunlad ang aming organisasyon at sana mas marami pang kakabaihan ang sumali,” Amer said. 

(I hope our organization prospers and more women join us.)

Amer added that the cooperative wishes to expand its enterprise by exploring other organic and sustainable products that the women could learn to produce. The cooperative looks forward to having more opportunities to work with civil society organizations and non-government organizations such as Oxfam Pilipinas and AMWA to sustain their organizational capacities as well as strengthen and expand their existing and emerging functions as an all-women cooperative.