It is not common for a local government to seriously pursue an agenda catering to almost every possible need of its women. To achieve this goal, the Balayan Municipal Center for Women was created to provide services in the following areas, namely: (1) health education, (2) legal assistance, (3) livelihood aid, (4) counseling, (5) community organizing and networking and (6) advocacy and research.
From October 1997 to December 1999, the Center extended free legal assistance to over 100 women who suffered different forms of physical, psychological, verbal and emotional abuse from spouses, partners and/or family members. It gave marriage counseling to 125 couples and gender sensitivity seminars in 38 barangays including the local police stations. It provided cash aid to 160 qualified recipients as well as self-employment assistance in the form of interest-free loans to 67 women-clients. Skills training like meat processing, candy making and sari-sari store management were provided to almost 100 women from five barangays.
Because of the strong commitment of leaders and volunteers and their competence in handling sensitive issues that affect women, the center has gained the trust and respect of Balayan residents – both men and women alike. Male Clubs have been organized to provide support to reproductive health activities and gender-sensitivity training. Satellite/mobile centers have also been created to cater to women who cannot afford to go to the Municipal Center. The good news spread effectively because women who availed of the services themselves willingly became spokespersons for the program. In fact, it has been replicated in three neighboring municipalities and has reached-out and brought its services to seven others.
Raising the consciousness of women with regard to their identity, rights, responsibilities and most importantly their potentials is one of the wisest investments of the local government of Balayan. The harvests are unmistakable in terms of unleashing their power in community building. As a proof, only 2% of women in the past became town leaders but now 25% of the women lead and this figure is still growing. Family ties as well as alternative income opportunities for the household have improved significantly. Clearly, a relationship between men and women that thrives in mutual respect and solidarity goes a long way as far as local development is concerned.