In beauty pageants, we witness charming women vying to win the crown, with hopes of bringing glory to their hometowns and inspire others. But while we take pride in the prestige of these “beauty queens”, beyond the world of pageantry, there are a lot more women who are showcasing their own kind of beauty. They also help and give pride to our country in a different and unique stage. Instead of wearing make-up, swimsuits, evening gowns and posing before cameras, they are often surrounded by sacks of rice, facing the heat and with warehouses and rice fields as their runways. They are no less than our women farmers and agricultural workers.

Marilyn Buano and Marilou Gabotero, rice farmer-members of the Southern Agusan Multi-Purpose Cooperative (SAMPCO) in Trento, Agusan del Sur are among the many women in the agriculture sector who are also ‘beauty queens’ in their own ways. And just like pageant candidates, Marilyn and Marilou sat down with us for a ‘question and answer’ portion to share their experiences and principles as women in the farming industry.

The ‘Major Major’ reason why they are into farming

Marilyn, enterprise manager of SAMPCO, was already involved in rice farming activities with her family which made her appreciate the field even since she was young. This led her to studying and eventually becoming a graduate of Bachelor of Agriculture Technology. Bata pa ko, na expose na jud ko sa pag-uma. Gani, before ko nag skwela ug agriculture, 2 years ko nag stop, nag uban-uban ko ug mag tabang sa akong mama sa uma. Maski unsa ka init, naa sila sa tunga- tunga sa basakan. Mao to ang isa sa nag tuklod sa ako na magkuha ug agriculture” (Ever since I was young, I was already exposed to farming. Even so, I stopped studying for 2 years before I enrolled into agriculture), Marilyn recalled.

Being a SAMPCO Board Member and experienced farmer, Marilou shared how farming has always been a way of life for their family. She and her husband were dedicated full-time farmers who started small, tilling only 1 hectare of corn farm in 1987. “Magdaro akong bana, naa pud ko didto nga mag alalay gyud sa iya. Nakita jud namo ang kanindot sa pag-uma kay permi mi nay pagkaon, ug kontrolado pud namo among oras” (Whenever my husband is plowing, I’m also around assisting him. We really saw the beauty in farming because we never run out of food and we are also in-control of our time), said Marilou.

 The essence of being a woman in agriculture

With confidence, Marilyn and Marilou believe that women are essential in agriculture, recalling their experiences as women workers in the field and as members of SAMPCO.

Wala ko nag sugot nga sa balay ra ko kay mas manindot man gyud kung ang imong bana nay katambayayong kontra sa isa ra siya nga maningkamot. Kung kamo duha, lahi ra gayud. Dili siya laayon, dili siya tapulan ug mulambo gyud ang inyong panginabuhian kay nag tinabangay man mo duha” (I didn’t want to just stay at home because it’s really different if your husband has someone to work with compared to when he’s working alone. If both of you are working, it’s so much better. He will not get bored and sluggish and your livelihood will surely improve because you are helping each other), Marilou shared.

Marilyn emphasized that being in a line of work that is dominated by men did not stop her from doing her tasks. “Diri sa SAMPCO halos kauban nako na akong gina manage kay puros mga lalaki ug pasalamat ko maminaw pud sila sa ako. Pag farmer ka, naa gyuy panahon nga mulukdo ka ug sako sa humay maski pag babae ka pwede rajud ikaw mu hands-on sa paglihok or mag manage sa uma” (Here at SAMPCO, most of the workers I manage are men thankfully they listen to me. When you’re a farmer, there are times when you have to carry sacks of palay, even if you’re a woman you can be hands-on in doing farming activities or managing the farm), she added.

Women farmers finding the ‘silver lining’ amidst struggles

Similar to the journey of every beauty queen, being a woman farmer also has its fair share of setbacks and challenges. But as Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray said, we need “to see situations with a silver lining” which can also describe how Marilou and Marilyn overcame the struggles of women farmers and Agrarian Reform Beneficiary Members.

Normal ra jud na nga naay mga problema or kabalaka, pero basta loyal ug matinud-anon ka sa imong trabaho, ma-overcome ra jud na nimo. Dili lang ka mahadlok na tungod kay babae ka di nimo makaya, pangitaan nimog paagi, maningkamot ka” (It’s normal to encounter problems or worries, but as long as you are loyal and truthful in your work, you can overcome it. Just don’t be afraid that you can’t do it because you’re a woman, find a way and work hard), Marilyn said.

Daghan jud mga possible nga problema sama sa atong pandemic, or simbako masakit imong bana. Mao kinahanglan kabalo gyud ang mga babae unsaon pagpanguma. Ako wala gyud ko nahadlok kay ug mabuhat man galing sa lalaki, mabuhat pud na sa babae. Dili na pasabot na tungod kay lalaki sila, mas taas sila ug kaalam” (There were  problems just like the pandemic, or god forbid your husband gets sick. That’s why women really need to know about farming. Personally, I’m not even scared because if men can do it, so with us women. It doesn’t mean that because they are men, they are more knowledgeable), Marilou added.

All women farmers deserve to be crowned

According to SAMPCO Operations Manager Maximo Gegato, Jr., the presence of women in their cooperative is an important factor to their operations, and that the coop discourages discrimination among its members especially in terms of gender. 15% of its 91 members are women and 1 among the 7 board members being a woman with 3 women members of its 5 operational staff.

“Empowered ang mga babae nga miyembro, walay babag ug problema sa ilaha. (That’s why) We’re blessed to have women members as they are diligent in their work. Ug untana magpadayun or mulabaw pa gyud ang ilang kakugi sa trabaho para sa kalambuan sa coop ug sa uban members” (Women members are empowered, and there are no hindrances and problems with them. We’re blessed to have women members as they are diligent in their work. And hopefully they will continue or surpass their diligence for the progress of the coop and other members as well), Manager Gegato added.

Our women farmers might not be doing pasarela’s onstage, wearing heels and fancy clothes in the daily, but they are queens whose reigns will never end. Their courage and determination to break gender roles in society, especially in agriculture, make them worthy of recognition, just as when we say that all pageant contenders deserve the crown. Indeed, our women farmers are confidently beautiful with hearts to feed the world.