During this period of the pandemic, we have heard of both female and male leaders doing a great job at managing the crisis in their respective countries. However, more and more, the spotlight seems to be on the former.
For Cami Anderson who wrote in a Forbes article entitled, “Why do women make such good leaders during COVID-19,” women possess vision, inspiration, direction-setting, and creative thinking — qualities of transformational leaders. In the same vein, Michelle P. King added that “research has consistently found women tend to adopt a more transformational leadership style, which included demonstrating compassion, care, concern, respect and quality. In the context of this pandemic, women leaders were also seen as ‘other-directed’ and have ‘a sense of commitment to the common good.’”
How have women leaders in the Philippines responded to the COVID-19 crisis?
ON THE LOCAL FRONT
According to Leta Hong Fincher, one of the key attributes of women leaders appropriately responding to the pandemic is that of early and decisive action. To a large extent, this was exemplified by Isabela City, Basilan Mayor Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, one of the 11 women elected as mayors in Mindanao. When asked about strategies she used in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, she explained a five-fold approach consisting of prevention, response and management, assistance, communication and information, and data.
At the onset, prevention was the priority strategy. As early as February 2020, the Isabela City COVID-19 Task Force was established. Policies on social distancing, limitations on non-essential establishments, no angkas (riding pillion on motorcycles), curfew, and skeletal workforce systems were already implemented even before the general community quarantine (GCQ) declaration on March 25. They also set up a BalikBayani program for returning Isabelenos from Luzon and other areas with COVID-19 cases for contact tracing.
The second strategy was response and management targeting positive COVID-19 cases, should they begin to have them. According to Mayor Turabin-Hataman, they only have a Level 1 hospital catering to the entire province of Basilan. Thus, they undertook urgent actions as regards capacitation of their health workers to handle COVID-19 patients and the procurement of equipment, supplies, and medicines. They also set up a Ligtas COVID facility for the isolation of suspected COVID-19 cases and are currently preparing an identified quarantine area for the use of other Isabelenos coming back home.
Isabela City has a 52% poverty rate and many of its residents are in the informal sector. In this light, Mayor Turabin-Hataman’s third strategy was the provision for assistance. Under the GCQ, they were able to distribute assistance to 36,502 families. They also provided free delivery services for those needing essential supplies available only in Zamboanga City.
The fourth strategy revolves around communication and information that consists of having regular video messages that give updates and inform the public about preparations as well as reminders on existing policies.
And lastly, the fifth strategy focused on data. They constantly updated their data on suspect-probable-confirmed COVID-19 cases, the number of affected households and families, displaced workers, logistics (a Procurement and Inventory Committee was created), movement of people, etc. To date (as of May 9), Isabela City, Basilan has zero confirmed COVID-19 cases, zero probable, and 16 suspected cases.
As a woman leader, she believes that leadership must provide a platform for people to work together and maximize their potential. She also believes in the currency of innovative approaches and foresight. And finally, the indispensability of human connection:
“Getting people to trust you. Reach out in every possible way you can and let them know what the city is going through. Tell the truth about the realities, while providing hope based on actual gains and positive projections.”
PEACEBUILDING AND PANDEMIC
In the time of COVID-19, peace education is most relevant for communities already under conflict and strife, for individuals battling against hatred, discrimination, and division, and for children who are the most affected by this multi-layered situation.
Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman leads the Teach Peace Build Peace Movement (TPBPM). In order to continue their mission of building a Culture of Peace and Resilience through Peace Education, they adopted a four-component strategy — assess, adapt and translate, technology exploration, and resources tapping and building. One of the results of their work was the launch of the #KumustaKa #PeaceInTheTimeOfCovid19 online campaign on March 30. As explained by Bai Rohaniza, this campaign consisted of “each day having themes that create opportunities for children, youth and adults to learn about finding peace with self and others in the midst of the pandemic.” Additionally, they launched the Peace in the Time of Covid-19 Campaign where they uploaded graphics, conducted live sessions, and received messages regarding how the sessions helped them find peace amidst the crisis.
Several factors influenced her and her team to think more innovatively about peace education. According to Bai Rohaniza, these were “1.) the immediate need for a strategic internet access and online or digital transition of peace education to address conflicts within self (e. g. depression and mental health), toxicity of social media and possible psychological and physical violence, which might emanate from inequity and poverty, brought about by the pandemic; 2.) possible worsening of existing conflict and context sensitivity issues in the communities we cater (directly and indirectly caused by the pandemic); 3.) positive opinions and response of the community with regard to physical, emotional and psychological impact and benefit of these strategies (from collected data survey); and 4.) available resources from the organization and partner organizations, which would help in the realization of strategies.”
Being a woman peacebuilder in the time of pandemic, Bai Rohaniza draws inspiration from her past experiences and learnings and the kind of ethos she has put together to meaningfully serve others. She said peacebuilding work has made her resilient and gain inner peace and taught her to adapt to difficult situations. But more importantly, this current crisis highlighted the humanity in her leadership.
“I am also the type of leader who values sensitivity, inclusivity, compassion and empathy with a strong practice of servant leadership combined with mindful and charismatic leadership styles on the aspect of continuing to serve, be inspired and driven by my conviction and commitment to our mission while making sure that other people’s needs are being served and a focus on the growth and wellbeing of those we serve. I am able to communicate empathetically and nurturing and guiding others towards our vision even under unfavorable circumstances and thinking of creative and innovative programs or solutions to address our challenges have been a part of my practice in serving our schools and communities. And in all of these, I consider everything as a gift from the Almighty as He is the reason behind the purpose and journey that I am in.”
Indeed, being a woman leader does not automatically and magically make one successful in dealing with a pandemic. However, as shown by the experiences of Mayor Turabin-Hataman and Bai Rohaniza, it is not really a matter of being better but rather doing things better that matter.
Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University.