In a coastal community in Tacloban City in Leyte, Philippines, Maria's life was intricately woven with the ebb and flow of the sea. Her days were filled with caring for her two young children and selling fish caught by her husband at the market. Little did she know that winds of change were brewing far beyond the horizon.
In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan descended upon Maria's community with an unforgiving force, leaving a haunting landscape of destruction. As the wind and rain subsided, Maria emerged from what remained of her home. Her heart shattered as she surveyed the wreckage. Many people had been killed, including her husband. With no time to grieve the loss, the weight of being the primary caregiver intensified as Maria’s thoughts turned to her children.
Maria had to walk further each day, just to secure a meager ration of rice and clean water. Her youngest child had developed a persistent cough. Ordinarily, she would have rushed to the local clinic, but now she felt helpless as the nearest functioning healthcare facility was miles away. The school, where Maria's eldest daughter once eagerly learned, now stood as a skeletal reminder of interrupted dreams.
Like many women in the Philippines, Maria had to juggle the responsibilities of rebuilding a home, providing for her children, and ensuring their survival. A study by Oxfam Pilipinas showed that women usually spent an average of 12.53 hours daily on care activities before the typhoon. The women of Leyte faced a common struggle, and Maria found solace in the Filipino bayanihan, the communal spirit of helping one another. As the island rose from the ruins, Maria's story became one of resilience. The scars of Haiyan were evident, but so were the stories of survival, of caregivers who carried the weight of their communities on their shoulders.
Maria's situation is not an isolated case. The Philippines is ranked as the world’s most disaster-prone country due to its high susceptibility to disaster and lack of adaptive and coping capacities. During disasters, both direct and indirect care work increase due to disruption of care-related services. Recognizing climate change’s profound impact on care work, the Philippines has been at the forefront of addressing the climate-care nexus. Oxfam Pilipinas and its partners have been campaigning to tackle social norms, advance policy reform and emphasize the importance of unpaid care work in community resilience building, leveraging evidence of exacerbated care tasks post-Haiyan.
This year, a pivotal moment in this endeavour was marked by a subnational consultation on care organized in Region 8 by ESCAP, Oxfam Pilipinas, the National Economic Development Authority-Region 8, Philippine Commission on Women and Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement. This event, timed during the 10-year commemoration of Typhoon Haiyan, provided a platform to delve into the dynamics of the climate-care nexus.
The consultation deepened the understanding of the intersection between climate and care, with the presentation of ESCAP's recent policy paper on gender equality and climate change. The discussions illuminated the commendable progress made by the Philippines in advancing the care economy, notably through their recent national consultation on care and successful policies, including care ordinances led by local government units. However, significant challenges emerged, such as the provision of climate-resilient care infrastructure and care policy implementation, especially in rural and remote areas. Additionally, concerns were raised about the limited availability of unconditional social protection measures focused on care, highlighting caregivers’ vulnerabilities during disasters.
During the event, Oxfam Pilipinas appealed to the local government agencies and decision-makers to make visible the invisible, making the case that care work is integral and crucial when thinking of solutions to address climate change. They highlighted the importance of bringing about the agency of carers, mostly women and girls, as active participants in any change process.
ESCAP’s Conceptual Framework for Policy Action on Care Economy emerged as a tool for addressing climate-care challenges in Region 8. This framework outlines four crucial policy categories for addressing the care economy: care infrastructure, care-related social protection, care services and employment-related care policies. These components aim to tackle unpaid care work, promote equitable distribution, and ensure accessible, affordable and high-quality care services.
The active participation of line ministries, local government officials, and CSO representatives, sparked innovative ideas which culminated in recommendations to address the climate-care nexus in Region 8. These included the need to improve national data on unpaid care, increasing the role of women as stewards of nature-based solutions such as mangrove restoration, and the potency of creating a cohort of champions to recognize and redistribute care work through shifting norms and formulation of policies.
Haiyan's aftermath exposed the vulnerabilities of caregivers to climate change, yet, the Philippines has emerged as a pioneer, embarking on a journey to address the intricacies of climate and care. The valuable insights and strategies developed through these efforts now stand as a blueprint for the entire Asia-Pacific region which is the most disaster-prone in the world. Let's build on these initiatives and propel towards a world that is more gender-equal and climate-resilient, where no one is left behind.