We were immobilized—but only for a moment. We slowly got our bearings and were right back on track before we knew it!
We were excited, inspired, and could not wait to embark on all activities we planned for the year—that is, until the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The sudden gravity of the public health crisis, nationwide lockdowns, physical distancing protocols, and even the prohibition of interprovincial travel greatly affected our plans. By mid-March, it felt like we were suspended mid-air.
How do you do migration advocacy work without the migrants on sight? This was the question we grappled with at the onset of the pandemic—but not for long.
We knew from the start that shifting our work to online meetings and webinars would not only entail problems in accessibility but also more importantly on the role of women migrants and migrant advocates in all the work we do.
The ‘digital divide’ was also a hurdle that many of them had to overcome, with digital and online platforms being unchartered territories for them. Participants, especially the women, also had to juggle training sessions with work and household responsibilities. Despite these difficulties, we managed to fulfill all our plans in the end—and more.
We made time to regroup, rethink, and reimagine our initiatives. We had new terms to contend with (‘synchronous sessions’, ‘breakout group sessions’ to name a few) and new, quintessential apps to live by (‘Zoom’, ‘Jitsi’, ‘Google Meet’ etc.). Connectivity became our lifeline to proceed and continue with our work but it was definitely not a walk in the park!
Redesigning our modules, shifting to online learning, and fast tracking the digitization of our programs were at the forefront of our pandemic response. What was initially a 4-day face-to-face annual capacity building training program with FES Philippines, was now spread out in a span of 1.5 months.
As we continue to build back better in the wake of this pandemic, we reflect on the wealth of possibilities it has nevertheless provided for broader cross-regional, cross-sectoral, and even cross-country networking and exchanges between partners and various stakeholders. Migration advocacy work has always been all about connectivity anyways!
More significantly, we reflect on the opportunities it has presented to migrants themselves, particularly to women migrants in building up their confidence, their active engagement in dialogues and activities, and, most importantly, empowering them and their networks in the communities.
The impact of the shift to online work for advocacies and organizing impacts women in household differently than men in offices. Of course we know this because our office is an all-women team, and we are now very well-adapted on how to manage our household time and our work-from-home time. This is a reality we all must keep in mind as we organize the next zoom sessions.###
Ellene Sana is the Executive Director of the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA). Ellene leads an all-women team of migrant advocates and research specialists on migration since its inception in 1993.