Philippines: A Day In The Lives Of Women At The Forefront Of Emergency Telecommunications
By Haelin Irene Jeon and Miko Superable
Even before the sun rises, Nicole Co is already at her duty station at a Government compound in Quezon City in the Philippines, preparing for the day’s meetings. She is a project development officer for the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), focusing on the organization’s emergency telecommunications project called MOVE (Mobile Operations Vehicle for Emergency).
The country has the highest disaster-risk rating in the world according to the 2022 World Risk Report. The country experiences a yearly onslaught of record-breaking typhoons, strong earthquakes, destructive landslides, and volcanic eruptions — An average of 20 tropical cyclones hit the country each year. Additionally, WFP’s Climate Change and Food Security (CCFSA) Study reveals that climate change has a direct effect on the country’s food security, with floods and disease outbreaks affecting livelihoods primarily focused on the production of rice, vegetables and perennial commodity crops.
With climate change intensifying the impact of extreme weather events in the Philippines and globally, there is not a more crucial time than now to use technology and innovation to respond to disasters and save lives. The MOVE project is a partnership between WFP and DICT that centres on vehicles equipped with communication tools to restore connectivity and bring back internet connection and phone services, to communities and humanitarians during emergency operations.
Nicole is aware of these challenges and describes the MOVE project as not only our response but also our “investment for the resiliency of the Filipino people.”
Nicole is only one of the few women in DICT who work on emergency telecommunications, but she believes there is a general balance in the male to female ratio within the organization. “I have never experienced being treated differently as a woman in our workplace, because I believe the world has generally become more accepting and gender sensitive. DICT itself boasts of many women leaders,” she adds.
Recent reports reveal that The Philippines has made great strides in closing the gender gap. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, The Philippines is second in the Asia-Pacific region and the 17th globally to close the gender gap. When asked if working on emergency response is different for women and men, Nicole says “Gender is not a variable in our work. There neither exists a male responder, nor a female responder — A responder is a responder. No more, no less; Across all, there should only exist only a strong willingness to deliver.”
Since 2018, the World Food Programme has been engaged in the MOVE project with the government of the Philippines, as part of WFP’s dual mandate of saving lives and changing lives. One of the people involved in this project is WFP’s Dorothy Teopengco.
A year and a half ago, Dorothy would begin her day as one of the few logistical female humanitarians on the ground in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Odette (international name Rai). The typhoon, which affected 11 out of the 17 regions in the country, saw Dorothy meeting with community members in remote and hard to reach areas who were waiting on emergency relief food. At home, her two sons anxiously waited for updates from their mother.
“During Odette, I think I was one of the very few females on the ground. Our job was to make sure the trucks were where they needed to be, in the face of rain, border checkpoints and the Covid-19 lockdown,” says Dorothy.
Equipped with a degree in electronics and communications engineering, Dorothy is an experienced logistical coordinator who joined WFP for the Super Typhoon Odette response in 2021. Prior to that, she worked in power plants in the Mindanao region which was also male dominated.
“My colleagues were all male. In the teams where there were females, it still was not balanced,”
Dorothy shares. Luckily, she never experienced any mistreatment or bias and credits her degree to her ability to collaborate well with her male, engineer colleagues.
“I knew what they talked about; I knew what the specifics were,” she says.
Behind the scenes, Dorothy is a dedicated mother to two young boys who were used to always being by her side. She says, “Like any mother, it was difficult to leave them.” With patience, Dorothy managed over time and was able to cultivate a balance between being a mom and a member of the MOVE team, visiting home as often as she can and going on video calls with her boys frequently.
For her, it never really gets easier leaving home for the field, but Dorothy says motherhood does not affect her fulfilment in the workplace. In fact, these are interconnected for her.
“Motherhood can be quite difficult, but I realized that my children are my lifeline. If I do not work, I will not be able to sustain them,” she says.
When asked if she had advice for women who want to enter technology, she says “There is no way that being a woman should be a hindrance to reaching your dreams. I do not believe that.”
Nicole agrees. “I hope emergency response in the Philippines would become 100% resilient and capable, like the women of today. Women now are showing their agility, passion to learn, and willingness to be part of the action.”
As a new day shines in the Philippines, women continue to work at the forefront of emergency response- showing that ‘saving lives’ sees no gender and can be undertaken by anyone who has a vision and passion to participate.
This March 8, 2023, WFP celebrates International Women’s Day, with the theme DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality. WFP aims to empower women and acknowledge their tremendous social and economic contributions that lead to the flourishing of communities. This article celebrates the women like Nicole and Dorothy, involved in innovative projects that contribute to WFP’s efforts in emergency telecommunications in the Philippines.
WFP has a protection, gender, and disability inclusion action plan in place developed by a multi-functional gender results network to mainstream these crucial elements throughout all our work.
Furthermore, a ’Leaving No One Behind’ analysis is being conducted to gain an in-depth understanding of what groups are at risk of being left behind in terms of food security and how WFP can ensure these groups are included to achieve the goal of zero hunger.
WFP sends its gratitude to the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for their continued support and partnership on the MOVE project.