Employment Opportunities for Women and Girls in Fragile Contexts

Filipino Muslims cheer outside the presidential palace after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Philippine government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front on March 27, 2014 in Manila. Getty Images

Gender norms inform what work is seen as appropriate for women and girls. This affects employment opportunities in nearly all contexts and often constrains what work women and girls are able to do. Yet, in conflict-affected environments the disruption to social and normative systems caused by the conflicts means that opportunities for women and girls can expand—whether it’s running businesses or participating directly in support of war efforts. On the one hand, the disruption caused by the conflict can lead to opening, if limited, opportunities for women and girls. On the other hand, the ongoing fragility and poor economic development often endemic in fragile and conflict-affected states can make gains for women’s equality difficult to realize for the majority of the population, particularly in employment.

Research we conducted in the Philippines emphasized both the ways in which gender norms shift to expand and close opportunities for women and how ongoing fragility affects the types of employment available to women and girls. This work focused on the Southern Philippines, which lags behind the rest of the Philippines on nearly every development indicator, including women’s rights and equality, and still shows elements of conflict.[1] Formally, the peace agreement between the Philippines federal government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended hostilities in Mindanao. However, a number of armed groups continue to operate, and political violence continues sporadically.

The peace process in Mindanao created some opportunities for the formal advancement of women’s rights in the region. It recognized the role that many women and girls played in creating and supporting peace in Mindanao. In interviews we conducted in Mindanao in September 2015, we talked about how women and girls negotiated temporary cease-fires at the community level and created systems to help communities displaced by conflict or natural disasters during the conflict between the Philippine national government and the MILF.[2] The resulting peace agreement was among the first in the world to be negotiated and signed by women, and included specific requirements for gender inclusion.[3]

A report by the Asia Foundation found that conflict brought substantial changes to the lives of women and girls in Mindanao. The conflict created new opportunities to be community leaders that wouldn’t have been available to them otherwise given prevailing cultural and social norms. A similar change happened in Marawi (located in Mindanao) following a violent siege by Abu Sayaaf in July 2017. Shelters set up by local women’s organizations exposed women to their legal rights, educating them about domestic violence and a woman’s right to work without her husband’s permission. The article reports that many of the women who visited these shelters are now actively involved in rebuilding the city to be more beneficial for women.

However, despite these advances during the conflict, employment opportunities for women and girls are highly dependent on where in the Philippines they live and on which side of conflict they reside: “Despite achievements that have catapulted the Philippines to being a regional role model for the empowerment of women, the majority of women in Mindanao still continue to live in makeshift accommodations and temporary shelters, and low education levels among women and girls constrain their ability to seek better employment and forge social networks.”[4]

The conditions for women and girls in Mindanao are also heavily influenced by routine displacement, whether caused by armed violence or natural disasters, as well as lack of access to education. Without proper infrastructure in place and with a lack of vital services, economic growth in Mindanao remains limited and pushes women and girls into the informal sector, rendering them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

This is particularly true for women and girls from Mindanao who work overseas. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, more women (247,000) have left Mindanao looking for work overseas than men (100,000) in 2017 alone. Due to having little formal education or job training, women and girls tend to take low-skilled jobs in domestic roles like maids or caretakers for children or elderly. This often then results in poor working conditions, exploitation, and various forms of abuse.

While the conflict in the Southern Philippines may have transformed many formal systems for women, these transformations have a limited impact if economic development lags. For the majority of women who directly experienced the conflict, the formal end to conflict and ongoing fragility necessitate overseas work. This creates some opportunities for women and girls by providing an avenue for independent income and the ability to support their families through remittances. However, in the absence of viable alternatives, women and girls continue to be stuck in a cycle of low-skilled work that underutilizes their potential.


[1] Joel Mangahas, Making a Difference in Mindanao (Mandaluyong City, Philippines: Asian Development Bank, 2010), https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/28004/making-differe....

[2] Alexandra Amling and Marie O’Reilly, From Global Promise to National Action: Advancing Women, Peace, and Security in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, Serbia, and Sierra Leone (Broomfield, CO: One Earth Future Foundation and Inclusive Security, 2016), 25–35, https://oefresearch.org/sites/default/files/documents/publications/Globa....

[3] Yasmin Busran-Lao, “Legitimacy and Peace Processes: From Coercion to Consent,” Accord, no. 25 (2014): 28–29, https://www.c-r.org/accord/legitimacy-and-peace-processes/philippines-wo....

[4] Amling and O’Reilly, From Global Promise to National Action, 29.

  • Brief on the 19 October 2021 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile Test of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

    On 20 October 2021, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) reported that the DPRK’s Defence Science Institute had conducted a test of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on 19 October. This is a preliminary brief on the test launch. Read More
  • Preliminary-Analysis-missile-test-thumb-ONN

    Preliminary Analysis of 30 September 2021 Anti-Aircraft Missile Test of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

    On 1 October 2021, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) reported that the Academy of Defence Science tested a newly developed anti-aircraft missile (see Attachment). The test, which took place on 30 September, also marked the fourth missile test of the DPRK within the same month. Read More
  • observations-on-hypersonic-missile

    Observations on the 28 September 2021 Hypersonic Missile Test of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

    The Hwasong-8 test launch marks the first test of a ballistic missile of the IRBM class since 2017. It also demonstrates that the DPRK military industry is trying to fulfil the tasks set out during the Eighth Congress of the Korean Workers’ Party in January 2021. Read More
  • Impact Investors in Shuraako’s Groundbreaking Nordic Fund Visiting Somaliland

    Visionary impact investors in the historic partnership that One Earth Future’s Shuraako program has pioneered through its Nordic Horn of Africa Opportunities Fund will meet next week with clients and partners in Somaliland. Read More
  • Blurring the Lines of Separation; Localizing Ourselves for Peace

    The recent presence of military coups covered in the news may lead people to believe that coups are more prevalent in 2021 than they have been in recent years, however, this perception may warrant further questions pertaining to what qualifies an event as a coup, and how loosely should the term be used? Read more: Read More
  • Secure Fisheries Speaking at the World Cold Chain Symposium 2021

    Secure Fisheries Director, Sarah Glaser, and Field Manager, Mustafe Mohamoud, to participate as featured speakers at the World Cold Chain Symposium (Register Now)

    Secure Fisheries, a program of One Earth Future, is excited to announce its participation in the upcoming virtual World Cold Chain Symposium on September 14th, 9-11 A.M. (EST), hosted by The Global Food Cold Chain Council and the United Nations Environment Programme. Experts from around the world will come together to collaborate on how the cold chain can increase food security, reduce food loss and waste, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to a more sustainable future. Read More