Before implementation of the Program on Gender and Development, 90% of the Capocan municipality’s population was poor and had little access or control over land resources. The municipality did not have established commercial nor industrial sectors.
Lacking skills and economic opportunities, the women of Capoocan were compelled to seek employment outside the town as house helpers or were forced into prostitution. Many of the women were economically dependent on their husbands, who were barely able to provide for their families. This cycle of poverty generated tension within the household that sometimes ended in violence against women; such cases often went unreported by women out of fear and shame. Access to basic health and reproductive health services were very limited, many people had misconceptions about reproductive methods. Child birth-related infections and maternal mortality proliferated.
Women rarely participated in governance. Of the 189 elected positions in the municipality, men occupied 133 or 70%. With no distinct women’s voice in the decision-making process, the limited resources of the municipality were spent for programs that did not necessarily address the needs of women. Implementation by local leadership of the Program on Gender and Development of Capoocan (PRO-GAD Capoocan) in 2001 was a genuine innovation, because gender fairness and empowerment had not figured into previous development programs.
PRO-GAD Capoocan is a comprehensive development program that employed participatory and gender-responsive governance as its basic framework. By opening various avenues for women's participation in governance, PRO-GAD Capoocan consciously involved women in the entire development process. The PRO-GAD Capoocan program has the following as program components: community organizing; educational training; socio-economic and livelihood development; health, nutrition and reproductive health services; as well as program opposing violence against women and children. The program covered all 21 barangays (the smallest unit of governance in the Philippines) of the municipality and was funded through the 5% mandated GAD budget, both at the municipal and barangay levels.
To increase women’s participation in the development process, especially in development planning and budgeting, the municipality embarked on a program to help form and strengthen women organizations at the barangay and municipal levels. Efforts were also made to increase women’s participation in decision-making by reactivating the Barangay Development Councils (BDCs).
There are now women’s organizations in the municipality as well as all 21 barangays of Capoocan. By including existing people’s organizations (fisherfolk, senior citizens, and youth) and cooperatives in its organizing efforts, Capoocan’s leadership was able to reach more people and widen support for promotion of gender equality and women empowerment. The reactivation of the Barangay Development Councils gave women leaders an opportunity to assume an active role in the formulation of the Barangay Development Plan and to participate in the Annual Investment Planning, thus making it possible for GAD-related activities to be prioritized.
All municipal employees of the 21 barangays underwent gender sensitivity training. They also received awareness training violence against women and children. This training included topics on anti-sexual harassment in the workplace, reproductive health and sexual rights, women's economic empowerment, and basic legislation for barangay women’s legislators. To address education concerns, innovators pursued the establishment of day care units: all the barangays now have day care units, and 11 have permanent structures.
Since poverty is the biggest problem in Capoocan and the biggest challenge posed by the Millennium Development Goals, socio-economic development initiatives and livelihood programs became central missions of the PRO-GAD Capoocan program. Women's groups and other sectoral organizations were given livelihood assistance that included entrepreneurship as well as activities that ensured household food security.
As a result of the poverty alleviation initiatives, Capoocan registered a 16% reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty, a 15% reduction for those living below the food threshold, a 19% reduction of people with no access to safe drinking water, and a 7% reduction of people with no sanitary toilets. Poverty eradication remains a big challenge for Capoocan but the socio-economic initiatives and livelihood assistance provided to the people already show significant gains.
As mentioned earlier, violence against women was pervasive in Capoocan and was one of the main goals to be addressed by the PRO-GAD program. The municipality began its own “Women’s Danger Zone Map,” which identified areas that were unsafe for women, especially at night. Planners used the Map to organize the street lighting program of the municipality; with law enforcement officers and are required to patrol the identified danger zones in the municipality.
The biggest accomplishment of the PRO-GAD Capoocan program is the increase in the reporting of cases of violence against women and children as the result of the intensive campaign. Today, the number of habitual perpetrators has decreased by 98%, an astounding accomplishment. In addition to this special commendation for continued excellence, this program also received the Galing Pook Foundation’s 2005 “Top Ten Outstanding Local Government Programs” Award.