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Women find support after Haiyan

Children and women faced increased risks of violence and abuse, emotional distress and trafficking when Typhoon Haiyan struck Leyte and neighbouring provinces on 8 November 2013.

Norma, 51 and mother to 14 children, lives in Tolosa, Leyte, which was heavily affected by the typhoon. She is a volunteer facilitator at a Women-Friendly Space (WFS), one of many community initiatives Plan International helped to set up as part of our typhoon response.

“We help address issues of violence against women, such as domestic violence, and refer survivors to appropriate government agencies,” says Norma.

Working with other volunteers, Norma is determined to support the women and children living in her community and help them build a more positive future.

Empowering women

The Women Friendly Spaces (WFS) empower the community members who attend the spaces, as well as the facilitators who run them. Myrna, 42, a mother of four and a WFS volunteer says: “We used to be confined to our homes, but being facilitators in the Women-Friendly Space has broadened our experience.” 

We used to be confined to our homes, but being facilitators in the Women-Friendly Space has broadened our experience

The WFSs are also excellent opportunities for women to learn more about their rights and opportunities and to draw from their personal experience to provide support to other women in the community.

“When it comes to marriage, we always tell the women that men and women should have equal rights in the relationship. Women should not be treated as the lesser partner,” says Norma.

Maternal health and family planning

Many women in Leyte struggle with birth control issues and men are apprehensive about having a vasectomy believing it will impact on their strength. With a heavy reliance on fishing and physical labour for their livelihood, the men are not prepared to take this risk.

The WFSs provide an opportunity for women to discuss such issues, as well as a range of other maternal health and family planning concerns. Aquilina, 38, a mother of eight and a WFS volunteer says: “We also talk about our issues as mothers. We know from experience how difficult it is to have many children, so we advise women to plan for their family.” 

The challenges that communities like Tolosa face in recovering from the typhoon are immense, but women volunteers like Norma, Myrna and Aquilina are determined to play their part in rebuilding a stronger and healthier community committed to gender equality.