Marawi City, Philippines, 17 March 2020 – For a long time, serving the household right after marriage was the future of many Maranao women. In more recent years, the hijab-wearing women of Marawi are learning new trades and creating new opportunities for themselves.

“In our culture, men have a different attitude when it comes to sharing labor with women,” says Alaminah Romuros, a woman who prefers measuring right angles during shelter construction for the city’s displaced population. “We are traditionally expected to carry babies instead of shovels and wheelbarrows,” she adds.

For one week Alaminah and three other women have worn reflective vests and hard hats, and been using shovels at a construction site in Barangay Kilala. This is part of their practical training for the second batch of the 26-day Galing Mason Program.

The program is a skills enhancement training administered by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) with funding coming from Holcim Philippines, World Food Programme (WFP), and the Japan Government through the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) to improve participants’ prospects of employability.

“We got the surprise of our lives. We were not prepared to see these Muslim women on the first day of our lecture,” confessed TESDA training officer Melbon Odal. “I was even approached by two men by the end of the first day of training who asked if these women can tackle the physically demanding masonry work,” he added.

Although women in other parts of the country enroll in short courses from TESDA, they usually take up courses on cookery, food and beverage service, bookkeeping, and housekeeping.

“I am fortunate that my husband has been very understanding and supportive of me,” Alaminah says. “At first, he was apprehensive and concerned that members of our clan would mock him – that I was doing a ‘man’s job.’ I had to talk him through it, told him that what others think should be the least of our concern. It is the intention that matters.”

Alaminah says that ever since learning of the Maranaos who fled the Marawi conflict back in 2017, she has wanted to help out in any way she could. She has become a source of support to some of her friends who witnessed the violent siege, giving advice and comfort to those who suffered from depression after the hostilities.

Now she wants to gain new skills to help build shelters. Once she completes the training program she and her fellow graduates will get the national Galing Mason certification. This could also help her employability in the future.

Foreman Ron Mambuay was also taken by surprise upon seeing Alaminah and three other women in the construction site, given Maranaos’ traditions. “Three decades ago, this would not have been possible,” Mambuay says. “Nowadays, most of these women have been educated and so they are more likely to take on any responsibility or occupy positions traditionally reserved for men. Times are changing in Marawi City.”

For Batch Two of Galing Mason, around 77 unemployed adults from Marawi City - including those who already have basic industrial and construction-related knowledge and skills - have participated in the training. They are expected to graduate in early April and will likely find themselves employed as construction workers for UN-Habitat’s Japan-funded Rebuilding Marawi through Community-Driven Shelter and Livelihood project.

“This program is not only meant for the trainees’ capacity development but aims to improve their future employability and more importantly, supports Marawi City’s peace-building as we are also rebuilding communities and building partnerships,” says Christopher Rollo, Country Program Manager of UN-Habitat Philippines.

The UN-Habitat project aims to construct 1,500 core shelters and 10 community infrastructure projects, and provide livelihood support to vulnerable families and communities as part of the post-conflict recovery and rehabilitation of Marawi City.

More than the certificate at the end of the training, Alaminah says she looks forward to the legacy that she and other women builders will create for other Maranao women and girls in her community, a legacy she hopes can empower them to make #GenerationEquality a reality.