Young Women Speaking the Economy: Economic Realities Abroad

[Editor's Note: IMOW's newest online exhibition Young Women Speaking the Economy brings 44 young women from four countries together to discuss their thoughts and ideas about entering the workforce at a time of economic uncertainty.

As part of the exhibition, four events were held in each of the participating countries--the U.S., Denmark, Sudan and the Philippines--with some of the exhibition creators traveling all over the world to meet and discuss their ideas in person. For the next few months, we'll be publishing some of the reflections from student participants who traveled to foreign countries as part of this project. This post was written by Kirby Kimber, a student at Mills College in Oakland, California, who traveled to the Philippines for the exhibition. Check out Kirby's project here, and explore the entire Young Women Speaking the Economy exhibition.]

A few of the project participants and advisors in the Philippines

I have heard that the United States is a wealthy country, but the significance of that statement was not real for me until my visit to the Philippines last May as a participant in Young Women Speaking the Economy through the International Museum of Women. Despite communicating with the other participants (from Denmark, Sudan, the Philippines, and the U.S.) online through Facebook since November, I don’t feel like the real work of the project was complete until I met face-to-face with some of the amazing women of Young Women Speaking the Economy. Facebook just can’t replace the depth of understanding and conversational spontaneity that is possible in person, or the feeling of working together and showing the world what you made through a concrete event like the Young Women Speaking the Economy Philippines debut at the Ayala Museum.

Through making our projects for Young Women Speaking the Economy I had learned some of the economic realities of the Philippines before I arrived in the country, but some projects, such as Valeene Salanga’s on the rampant unemployment experienced by recent graduates, have a much more contextualized meaning now.

Photo by Kirby Kimber
The extremes as we know them in the United States pale in comparison to the normalized economic extremes that I observed in the Philippines. Without even leaving the highway I could see huge houses (what would be called McMansions in the US) a block away from shanty towns.

Roman Catholicism is observably prevalent in the country. It was not uncommon to see large St. Francis crosses, and huge pro-life and Knights of Columbus billboards. Our hosts at Miriam College were very friendly and patient with me, explaining all of the history and background for the things I was seeing and hearing.

Economic extremes and a strong Catholic culture are resulting in a national debate over the passage of the RH bill that would nullify the ban on contraceptives in the Philippines. The population of the country is overwhelmingly young (annual population growth is around 2.3% versus around 0.98% in the US) and this has led to a shortage of jobs. I had to fight the urge to clean off the table at a fast food restaurant or assume I would make my own cup of coffee. With so few jobs available there is an employee hired for everything.

Catholicism is deeply rooted as a part of Filipino culture, and Filipinos are aware of the problems within the country. Reconciling the RH bill with this aspect of their heritage was a serious ongoing endeavor in the country during my visit, and Filipinos seem to be walking the same tight rope as the United States for some middle ground between national identity, belief, and the pressures of reality.

In many ways the problems of the United States and those of the Philippines can sound very much like the same laundry list: poverty, unemployment, over-population, and overall economic decline. But the words stretch into the reality of our different circumstances. Poverty in the US can mean being on the Medicaid rolls. In the Philippines it is four million people (in Metro-Manila alone) living in sprawling slums built on top of garbage heaps.

We got to enjoy some of the sights and history of Manila during the trip, but there are still slums in the background of our privileged tourist pictures.

[Previously: "From Aarhus to Oakland" by Kristina Moeller Andersen]