Rustic rural areas like Kapatagan in Lanao del Norte are characterized by a sluggish adaptation to social change.
Edelyn Montefalcon Dela Cruz grew up in a place where subservience and a strong sense of rebellion against the appalling economic and political realities were part of the daily life matrix.
Kapatagan used to be the hotbed of New People’s Army guerillas during the time of Marcos and even in later years.
Today the physical, social and economic structures are becoming landmarks as the town has kept up with the pace of a globalized modernization.
Women’s values and roles are also markedly changing due to the insights and persistence of a change agent who has made strides in a number of occupations where before women feared to tread.
Dela Cruz’s personal life has itself become a symbol for women in this southern part of Lanao del Norte who are on the brink of wanting to make a significant change in their lives.
Belonging to a middle class family, Edelyn completed her degree in Commerce major in Computer Science at the University of San Jose Recoletos in Cebu in 2000.
She also had a degree in education from Medina College in Ozamiz City, after which she ventured into a number of occupations where only men in her time used to engage with.
Once married, a hormonal problem prevented Edelyn and her husband from having children.
“My husband was of the homely type. He loved to do things at home and rarely went out. Not having children for a number of years was excruciating for both of us,” she said.
Later she made the painful decision to separate from her husband. “I wanted to make him happy. I wanted to let him find a woman who can give him a child,” she lamented.
While she has not experienced domestic violence, Dela Cruz believes that wives are being maltreated by their husbands due to jealousy, conflict of values and drugs.
“But now that illegal drugs are less used due to the government’s intervention, physical violence especially in rural areas will be less likely,” Dela Cruz said.
Iligan City Social Welfare and Development head Grace Joy Saquilabon, cited findings from the Philippine Statistics Authority where one out of 5 women aged 15 to 49 years old experience physical violence.
One fourth of married women in the population aged 15 to 49 have experienced emotional, sexual and physical abuse from their own husbands, and out of those who experienced physical abuse, only 30 percent were reported.
“In rural towns and villages, while there are incidents of physical abuse against women, the family has become a safety net where women can take refuge,” Dela Cruz added.
The protective nature of the family in Philippine society cannot be underestimated said Dela Cruz.
Women empowerment has become a major issue in changing the role of women in the family and community.
Edelyn Dela Cruz empowered herself professionally and economically. She sees education, livelihood support and equal work opportunities as ways to empower present day women.
The stereotypical belief that women cannot survive without men or having a husband is now being questioned, and the celebration of International Women’s Day has symbolized the empowerment of women.
At 40, she already had 20 years of experience in community organizing and development having served as council officer for the Local Council of Women in Iligan City after her stint as chapter president of the Iligan (women) Jaycees in 2014.
Her experience in aquafarming or prawn hatchery led her to expand to organic farming.
She used her farmland in Kapatagan as a model for organic farming. She trained intensively in organic farming and is now training both Christian and Muslim women in Lanao del Norte.
“My belief in environmental protection has led me to increase my knowledge inorganic farming. I want to impart this to the women in Lanao del Norte,” Dela Cruz said.
“Recently I enrolled in a course in hollow blocks making and electrical installation since these are skills that women must also know,” she said.
She designed an Eco Farm agricultural learning site in Kapatagan where she conducts her weekly training on organic farming. “TESDA provided the initial design,” said Edelyn.
There are no fees charged but participants can contribute any voluntary amount after the training. Most of the participants are women from different towns of Lanao del Norte.
“It is only in being involved that we can expect genuine change, and it is only in being together that we can make things better,” capped Dela Cruz.