Siegfred Aldous Lacerna

Published: March 18, 2024

While building her own career in the fields of climate and food security, Filipina scientist Monica Ortiz actively advocates for the voices of women in the agriculture sector.

These women, according to Ortiz, face gender disparities, including limited access to knowledge and resources, and the burden of gendered roles in both farm work and household duties.

“When disaster strikes, women can be vulnerable to these climate shocks and are then left to cope, and may take on more burden for securing their household’s nutrition, or take on extra labor to make ends meet,” Ortiz, who is currently based in Chile, said.
Ortiz works as an assistant professor at Chile’s University of Concepción. She was previously a postdoctoral researcher at Chile’s Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad.

Before moving to Concepción, Ortiz worked at the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government, Department of Biology and Manila Observatory where she studied disaster preparedness and risk management for natural hazards like tropical cyclones.

In this interview with Climate Tracker Asia, Ortiz explained why women agricultural workers in the Philippines are disproportionately affected by climate change, how the sector can fight the crisis, and how her scientific perspective on climate was enriched by her work in Chile.

How vulnerable are women in the agricultural sector, especially in the Philippines, when it comes to the risks of climate change?

MONICA: Women in the agricultural sector are highly vulnerable to climate change (e.g. increases in temperature) and its extremes (e.g. typhoons) in the Philippines. This is because of several reasons: firstly, crop production (or fishing, or livestock rearing) is sensitive to changes in temperature and rainfall, and especially hazards like typhoons or droughts.

This means that affected households who depend on agriculture are vulnerable: their livelihoods, their food security. Within this context, women are particularly affected.

This is because agriculture in many parts of the world, including the Philippines, faces many gender disparities, such as access to knowledge, resources, and gendered roles within agricultural production and the household.

In practical terms, this means that women are paid less because they do agricultural tasks that are typically more related to post-production processing, or are left in charge of household and child-caring tasks (usually unpaid). This creates a situation of dependence on their income-earning partners: men thus typically have more decision-making and economic power within their households.

The slow-onset changes caused by climate change also mean that agricultural productivity may be decreasing, and this also has impacts on women’s income and their agency. Gender disparities also mean they have less access to financial capital, land, and knowledge.

Women are strong, and resilient. They are integral to agriculture in the Philippines; however, the current system and society itself needs significant work to allow for greater equality.

How can women, especially those that are living in small communities in rural Philippines, take part in the fight for climate justice?

MONICA: I think the key here is organizing together with other women, other farmers, and other groups. But it may be easy for me to say that, as a woman with significant privilege not living in a small rural community nor farming for my own food, that “everyone should be involved in fighting for climate justice.”

It should also be considered that many small and rural communities still live in poverty, and women in these communities may not have the information nor capacity to know what the politics or fight for climate justice is, even if it is their daily lived experience, and they suffer its worst impacts.

So I think alongside encouraging these groups to work together, and unite their voices to express their own communities’ messages in their own voices, this is also the role of current climate action movements and organizations who do have a voice: to advocate for these vulnerable groups and their needs.

How can the youth, especially those in the women sector, lobby for policies that are pro-environment at the national level?

MONICA: I think youth climate movements are already doing a tremendous job and carrying a large burden of responsibility for lobbying and pushing politicians to wake up to the climate emergency. I am grateful for them.

At the national level, I think it’s important for the youth to be informed by science, to make connections and networks that can take our messages up to decision-makers, and remember also that as voters, we are decision-makers ourselves.

Amid various climate action movements, there’s a growing push for incorporating a gender-responsive approach. How could our battle for climate justice shift if more young women were to engage in this cause?

MONICA: Giving greater representation to young women, and also non-binary youth, in these spaces can help bring more awareness to the challenges that young people face. By incorporating their diverse perspectives and experiences, young women can illuminate the intersectionality of climate change with gender inequality and other social issues.

Their involvement can inspire innovative solutions, empower communities, and nurture future leaders who are more caring and cognizant of today’s challenges, including that of mental health. Ultimately, I really think that greater participation of young women and LGBTQ+ youth can help to influence policy agendas towards more equitable and inclusive outcomes.

You have also delved into the intersections of gender and biodiversity dimensions in your research. What pushed you to continue in pursuing this research undertaking?

MONICA: As a person studying climate change initially from a scientific perspective, my work has become increasingly interdisciplinary. This is because, as many others have articulated better than I have, climate change isn’t necessarily a “scientific” problem requiring technology-driven solutions. Rather, its solutions require people: it requires society to engage in change and transformation, not create a carbon-capturing device (although this would be nice too).

As I dove deeper into food security in my research, it became clear to me how significant the role of women is in the household for producing and securing food, and thinking about everyone’s health and nutrition. So, I decided to make a decisive shift in my own work to work on these themes. Hopefully, I can do it justice as a young woman researcher.

As a working woman and mother myself, I personally decided it is a core value of mine to “lift while I climb”: to help raise the voices of others, to visibilize women in these spaces, as I continue with my own career.

How has your experience as a scientist in Chile enriched your expertise in the field of climate? In a way, how is Santiago similar or different from Manila?

MONICA: Working in Chile has been an enriching experience; I feel like there is a strong push for innovative, interdisciplinary research. It’s been inspiring to work with the scientific communities here, but also get to know the local and indigenous people (Mapuche) in the process too, and its diverse landscapes which are truly awe-inspiring (although it has nothing on Philippine beaches).

Santiago, like Manila, faces challenges such as urban density and contamination, particularly air quality because of its geographical features, while Manila on the other hand grapples with flooding. I live in Concepción, which is smaller city close to the Pacific Ocean. The people are also kind and warm, but I do miss home, or at least my memories of it.

Do you believe in the idea of rest and compartmentalization of your personal and professional life? Who is Monica Ortiz without her doctorate degree?

MONICA: Wow, I need to lie down for this question. I do believe in it. Definitely. I also definitely continue to struggle with it. My professional life is informed by what I care about personally: my family, my son being able to enjoy fresh air and be in a forest, and a feeling of needing to give back to the Philippines.

But me without my PhD is still someone who cares about these things. Maybe just baking a bit more, someone sipping a tea and reading a book in the garden while my son plays next to me.

Read more stories of other remarkable Filipina women in climate action here.