In the present day, women in Batangas can be just about anything they desire to be. They can be owners or top executives of companies, call center agents, bankers, soldiers, store managers, sales clerks or just about anything individual aptitude gives them in the way of economic opportunities. The women in Batangas have always been active in an economic sense, or so attests a 1916 paper written by one Teresita Malabanan entitled “Economic Activities of the Women of Batangas Province.1”
Suffice it to say, however, that the economic opportunities more than a century ago in 1916 were far different from those available in the present day; albeit, Malabanan proudly wrote, “In Batangas, the idle lady does not exist.” Even a woman listed by the census as unemployed was in most likelihood managing the household and, thus, doing “the work of the cook, maid and housekeeper…”
While in the present day, women of Batangas can be doctors, dentists, nurses, engineers and many others, back in 1916, the only profession that women went into was teaching. The other professions that they went into were “so few that the quantity is negligible.”
Malabanan wrote that these teachers were either in the employ of private institutions or the insular government, the latter referring to the public school system that the Americans had introduced. Those who worked in private institutions earned ₱15 to ₱35; while those in the employ of government earned from ₱40 to ₱1002.
The women of Batangas were also very much into household or backyard industries, wrote Malabanan. Among these was weaving, something exclusively done by women; and an allied industry for the creation of “dinugtong” (literally, connected or attached), as knotted fibers were called. From these industries, women could earn anything from ¢25 to ¢75 per day.
Embroidery was also another way for women in Batangas to earn money. In fact, they had developed quite the reputation that embroidered cloths from the towns of Batangas and Taal were known collectively in Manila as Batangas embroidery. These were creations of fine needlework on white cotton, linen, silk, jusi and most especially piña.
The women of Batangas also produced crocheted works, presumably women’s wear and doilies for use as placemats on household furniture. These were created, Malabanan wrote, exclusively for American ladies who lived in the province.
While the manufacture of flower pots (called “paso” in Tagalog) and cooking pots (called “palyok”) was not the exclusive domain of women, many of them were engaged in it because often, because pottery could be a backyard industry, there was no need to leave the household.
Another profitable activity that women in Batangas engaged in back in 1916 was the ownership of stores, especially those that sold cloths and other products that were imported from Manila. There were so many of them engaged in buying and selling that there were those, such as the women of Lipa, who had banded together to form a guild.
These women travelled to and from Manila to shop for goods together and, because they were organized, had the clout to “resist with vigor enactments of the municipal council which they think are prejudicial to their interests.” On days that were slack in a business sense, female merchants of the larger towns would bring their goods to smaller towns to make up for the slack.
Aside from those who sold cloths and other dry goods from Manila, where were also women who preferred to sell rice, abaca and presumably other agricultural products. The sale of jewelry was also another profitable business, but this was often done on a person-to-person basis.
In agricultural communities, peasant women, apart from taking care of the household, also helped with some of the farm work. They were not expected to plow the fields or take the animals out to pasture. However, they did help in sowing seeds, weeding the fields and in harvesting the crops.
Among women who had little or no formal education or the capital to engage in small businesses, the most common way to earn income was to work for other households as laundry women or as servants.
Idleness did not sit well with the women of Batangas that, whatever little breaks they had from housework, they used to make native cakes for their children to sell in the neighborhood. In towns such as Lipa, where there was an important weaving industry, women spent whatever spare time they had to weave fibers of abaca.
To conclude, Malabanan wrote, “…we may state that in Batangas Province, women have as many money-earning activities as the men.”
Notes and references:1 “Economic Activities of the Women of Batangas Province,” part of the Henry Otley-Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
2 If one takes into account inflation, the value of ₱15 in 1916 would be ₱343 in the present day, not even minimum wage. However, the cost of living back in 1916 would also have been presumably so much cheaper.