Challenging gender roles in the Philippines

December 13, 2013

Manila, Philippines

By Bobby Ranoco

The Philippines economy has surged with 7%+ growth for five straight quarters but for some, jobs remain hard to come by. The answer for some people has been to look for work in an area traditionally filled by someone of the opposite gender.

I contacted the state-run Technical Educational Skills and Development Authority (TESDA) which offers training courses for ‘unisex jobs’. I met three women undertaking training courses in the traditionally male jobs of automotive repair, welding and electrician.

One of them, Vina Jane Aranas, a 17-year-old high school graduate said she dreams of finishing college. She took a nine month fixing cars vocational course which she hopes will allow her to work and support her herself through college. “I am not ashamed of what I am doing, even if people think that automotives is a job for men. Life is hard nowadays and it is difficult to get a job… I believe this is a way for me to finish college, and I dream of having my own car repair shop,” Aranas said. I started taking pictures of her fixing a car engine, lying on the floor to align car wheels. I told her that I was impressed and that she was way better than me because while I have my own car, I don’t even know how to change flat tires. We both had a good laugh.

After taking pictures of Aranas, I went to a welding course where I met Sol Edon, a 32-year-old mother of three. Edon was taking a four month welding course, which she looks at as a ticket to a high-paying job overseas. Despite the Philippines’ strong growth momentum, unemployment in the country remains stuck at around 7 percent, the highest in Southeast Asia and underemployment hovers around 20 percent. Millions of Filipinos continue to leave the country every year to work abroad, even if it means many months or years away from their families.

I also met men working as hairdressers and make-up artists. I went to a cosmetology school run by a well-known local hairdresser Ricky Reyes. There I met Edwin Manalo, 39, who is married with two children. Edwin lost his job as a salesman of sports sunglasses two years ago and looked for an alternative job which landed him in the hair-styling business. Manalo said he was not ashamed of his new job. “I don’t mind whatever people say about me, as long as I’m happy and my family too are happy about my job, that’s what matters,” said Manalo.

The next day, I met a man working as a make-up artist. I watched as 21-year-old John Claude Ganibe, with a tattoo on his arm, meticulously put lipstick on his model. Ganibe, a straight man, said he is often asked by his friends if he is gay. He says he doesn’t mind the questions, as long as he makes his customers beautiful, satisfied and happy.

The most surprising part of this assignment was when I documented women training in butchery. I went to a slaughterhouse in Mandaluyong City, a suburb in the capital Manila. There I met three women including Luningning Alejandro, a 41-year-old mother of three. Alejandro, a housewife, looked for an alternative job, which landed her in the butcher business. “If men can do the work of a butcher, women can also do the task. And it will be a big help to my family if I finish the butcher course because I failed to get a job in the many days and years I spent looking for work,” Alejandro said. I also met, Geramie Abat, 21 years old and single. Abat lost her job at a electrical shop, and couldn’t find work anywhere so she took up the challenge of becoming a butcher. Abat said she knew that her chosen field was considered a man’s job but she didn’t mind, saying she dreams of having her own meat shop after finishing the course.

This assignment has reminded me of the saying “Desperately hanging on for dear life.” One will take any job even if it is traditionally seen as for men or women only. As long as you work with dignity and perseverance, you can be sure that your family will be proud of what you do.

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