Population, Health, and Environment Through a "Gendered" Lens

Lori M. Hunter

The water lapped at the side of our tiny outrigger boats as we struggled to get our sea legs up onto the dock. We had just arrived at Gilutongan, one of more than 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines nation. Coming from land-locked Colorado, the turquoise blue water signaled vacation in my mind-but we weren't on vacation. I was one of 50 visitors to Gilutongan as part of the second annual Population, Health, and Environment conference held in Cebu City, a bustling hub in the centralVisayas region. Among us were journalists, activists, researchers, and development practitioners, and our island excursion was meant as a window into the harsh reality that governs island life.We were also there to witness first-hand the components of an integrated development program that aims to reshape the islanders' harsh and remote reality.

Filipino life and culture are permeated by the sea, which is the source of sustenance, income, and transportation and is never far away. Yet the nation's once-prolific fisheries are in dramatic decline. Filipino fishing households typically live far below the Philippines' official poverty threshold; on average, a household has six members, each earning 20 pesos (US$0.40) a day. Related to this wrenching poverty, malnourishment is common among fishing families.

Although the fisheries crisis is driven by myriad forces, population growth is part of the problem.Unlike the rapid fertility declines (and thus smaller families) in other East Asian nations, such as Korea and Taiwan, Filipino families remain relatively large. Larger families require more fish, both for consumption and as a hopeful path out of poverty.