Women and men from around Negros Island and from three continents gathered at Silliman University in Dumaguete, Philippines, on February 6, 2012, to discuss ways that women’s lives are transformed through livelihood opportunities. This one-day gathering was sponsored by the International Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women (ICUUW) and the Philippine based Buhata Pinay (Do it, Filipina).

The Rev. Rebecca Q. Sienes, President of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines and president of Buhata Pinay, a women’s empowerment initiative, served as general convenor and also opened the day with an inspiring sunrise worship. Barbara Kres Beach, President of the International Convocation, welcomed the group of more than 50 women and men from all of Negros Island and from Asia, Europe, and North America.

In the course of the day, the gathering heard presentations from Representative Luz Ilagan, head of the Gabriela Women’s Party and a member of the Philippine Congress; Dr. Fe Sycip-Wale, Professor of Health Services at Silliman University; Cecilia Hofmann, a Philippine activist on women’s issues; and Dr. Creamlimon Nongbri from the North East India Unitarian Union. All presented persuasive pictures of how women’s lives improve with increased livelihood opportunity. Dr. Sycip-Wale and Dr. Nongbri also spoke about women’s community-based health programs. All conference participants engaged in small-group discussion of the issues raised by the speakers.

Representative Ilagan was 20 minutes into her powerful presentation about the political situation of women in the Philippines when the room was shaken by a 6.7 earthquake. The group moved outdoors to the open courtyard at Silliman where Rep. Ilagan finished her talk and then took questions on many issues including reproductive health and education. After lunch, it was decided to move the conference to Valencia where Ms. Hofmann spoke about how the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has served to improve the lives of women in the Philippines. The gathering closed with inspirational words from the Rev. Carol Huston and others.

In the weeks prior to this event ICUUW joined hands with members of the UU Church of Annapolis (UUCA) for the next phase of their Empowering Women and their Families through Livelihood project. A two-day pilot IdeaShopTM for economically disadvantaged women in the remote agricultural communities of Doldol and Malingin offered women opportunities to expand their knowledge horizons about profitable income alternatives. The program featured Nelly Nacino, president and founder of the Manila-based Mother and Child Association speaking about her entrepreneurial experience growing from one sewing machine on loan to an organization of over 200 women. Other speakers included livelihood experts from the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry, the municipal government, and Kat Kowalski, artist and UUCA member. Approximately 30 local participants were interviewed and asked to share their top priorities for livelihood. ICUUW and NEW Pathways to Enterprise, an NGO founded by Christine Nielsen and Keith Raney, sponsored filming of the documentary, Palangitan-an: Empowering Women through Livelihood. The IdeaShopTM is one of the innovative approaches developed by NEW Pathways to Enterprise.

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