Ana RiaBarrera explains the concepts of disaster risk reduction to farmers affected by Typhoon Mangkhutduring a community cash card distribution in Enrile, Cagayanwith the support of Oxfam. (Photo: Denvie Balidoy/Oxfam

Recognizing Women's Roles in the Frontlines

In 2003, Oxfam in the Philippines carried out a gender audit among its partners to assess the extent to which gender equality is effectively institutionalized in the policies, structures, decision-making, and budgets. Some time thereafter, when Pampanga Disaster Risk Reduction Network (PDRRN) needed recruit a project assistant, they decided that they would be offering the role to a woman to ensure balance in staffing. That’s how Ria’s humanitarian journey started.

PDRRN’s mission has evolved to not just serving the Pampanga community but the whole of Philippines; and the same goes for Ria’s role. From being in the frontlines doing needs assessments and managing distributions, she now leads coordination meetings in between responses at both the national and local levels.

A teacher by profession, Ana Ria Barrera, 39, rose through the ranks and has now assumed the role of being the Humanitarian Response Officer to what is now called Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Network.

“I always remind my team that from the start of everything that we do, we should be inclusive and have clear gender objectives. Women are everywhere and they have huge roles to play especially during rapid needs assessments in responses.”

She emphasizes how barangay (village) health workers, mobilizers and teachers – who tend to be women – are the community’s first sources of information. They are key in providing appropriate help.

Despite playing a handful of roles in their respective families, they are the ones who are first to assume responsibilities in rebuilding their communities.

PDRRN is also part of the Humanitarian Response Consortium, a group of nine local organizations working together to provide quick and impactful aid to communities during emergencies.

Working in a consortium, while also in high tension, fast-paced environment, can be quite challenging, according to Ria. As a woman assuming a leadership role in a cross-cultural and gender-diverse team, misunderstandings are unavoidable. Having a common goal is what unites everyone at the end of the day.

While her parents and family lovingly encourage her to go back to being an educator, she’s convinced that her calling is in humanitarian work. She’s fueled by the gratitude of

each of the communities she and her organization is able to reach, especially when the context is particularly challenging.

Ria shared that this career can be very rewarding but just like any other job the pace can be feverish pace when there are specific deadlines to meet.

“My father just passed away just three months before Typhoon Urduja hit Biliran in 2017. It was almost Christmas and I knew my Mother needed me most during that trying time."

But among her team at PDRRN, Ria had the most familiarity in the area, having lived there before during Typhoon Haiyan response in 2013. 

“I had to make a difficult decision and leave my grieving mother behind because I knew more people needed life-saving aid. She understood, and she was proud of me.”

Ria’s dedication and expertise were shaped by both her personal and on the ground experiences. Her advice to young women who want to follow the same footsteps:

"There are a lot of innovations now about how you can provide better aid like digital cash programming, and the likes. The needs and context are ever evolving but one must never forget the very essence of humanitarian work – to uphold people’s dignity, especially women. Whatever you do, when you do it with and for women, you ensure that whatever you do is appropriate and inclusive. When you bring gender lens to the work you do, you make things better for everyone and not just for women.”