Masons, carvers, painters, and restorers are traditionally considered male-dominated occupations in the Philippines, but a vocational school located in Intramuros and Bohol is showing how women are slowly breaking these gender stereotypes.

Since its establishment in 2009, Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc. (ETFFI) has been recruiting and training more women in heritage conservation and the construction industry.

Out of their 700 graduates, 20 percent of their graduates are women with masonry as the trade with the most number of women graduates.

“In our observation, attention to detail is one of the strengths of in women stone mason carvers,” ETFFI Executive Director and Architect Tina Bulaong said in an Intramuros Learning Sessions seminar on March 27.

Despite its gains in closing the gender gap, Bulaong admitted that women are significantly underrepresented in heritage conservation and construction where only 15 percent of their trainees are women.

Citing a study conducted by the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID) on why women are underrepresented, she said it can be explained by “supply and demand issues.”

“I guess we can relate this to culture. There still is some gender stereotyping. For example, conservative families would still have the thinking construction is only for men. Even connected to that the role of women in society is always thought as having to do with domestic demands or women’s role in the household. The idea is women when they work, they still have to worry about what’s happening in the household, they manage all sorts of things that have to do with domestic life more than men,” Bulaong said.

Female masons shaping stones in Angeles Church in Pampanga. (Photo courtesy of Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc.)

“There are still some biases in demand for workers. Like for example there are employers even in construction companies that would prefer to hire men over women and sometimes they would even explain it that it has to do with economics. Like for example a contractor prefers to hire all men because if he hires women he would provide separate facilities for women workers like maybe even separate barracks, separate comfort facilities so some contractors would say it’s more costly for them,” she added.

She said there is a need to review policies and provisions in laws, codes to promote women’s availability in the workplace.

“One of the constraints why women tend to stay home especially after they give birth is we have a law that says if you are going to avail of daycare facilities, in our barangays there are daycare facilities where mothers can leave their child, but there’s only a maximum of four hours. So how can you work in that context?” she said.

Provisions, she said, can be made to include necessary infrastructure and facilities for motherly and domestic care.

She added that efforts could also be done to incentivize employers, clients, and companies to include more women in their workforce.

Currently, many efforts are being done by ETFFI to include more women in the job market, especially when it comes to heritage conservation and construction.

PROTECTING HERITAGE. Bernalyn Lucindo now works at the Cultural Properties Division of the Intramuros Administration which handles the care and restoration of artifacts in the vast collection of IA. She was part of the team that restored the choir seats (silleria) of the San Agustin Church choir loft in Intramuros. (Photo courtesy of Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc.)

“We put a lot of effort in getting more women to participate in our training programs. We tend to use propaganda where you see in most our communication materials there are always women in our visual materials,” she said.

ETFFI, she added, has also included women trainees in their skills training programs such as masonry; carpentry and woodworks; painting and finishing; electrical; plumbing; and metal works.

For example, Bernalyn Lucindo, a former saleslady, now works in a conservation team that the Intramuros Administration has formed to conserve, repair, and rehabilitate their antique collections. She is just one of the many women graduates who have been involved in heritage conservation and construction.

As a trainee, Lucindo was involved in the restoration of the silleria or the wooden stalls of the San Agustin Church Choir Loft and in the reconstruction of the traditional roofing of Ivatan stone houses in Batanes.

“The involvement of women in heritage is really key and I’m proud to say that somehow we’ve made a big difference and an impact to giving jobs and opportunities to women in particular,” she added.

ETFFI started as a collaborative project of the government of Spain represented by AECID and the government of the Philippines represented by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

In December 2013, ETFFI evolved into a non-profit organization and school aimed to promote the protection, conservation and rehabilitation of the Philippines’ tangible heritage through skills development and training. (Azer Parrocha, PNA)