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SHE TALKS PEACE: Orange the World

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QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 28 November) — Did you know that there is a global campaign to end gender-based violence?  It seems that, years ago, civil society had initiated this annual global campaign from November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day.  In support, the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women campaign (UNiTE campaign) calls for global actions to increase awareness, galvanize advocacy efforts, and share knowledge and innovations.

The global theme for this year is “Orange the world: End violence against women now!”
Sisters and men who believe in and support women, wear anything orange!

I decided to do little research on violence against women in the Philippines and you will never guess what I found out.  Contrary to the belief that Muslim women are the most abused women in the country, the Philippine Statistical Authority in a 2018 report stated that Muslim women have had the least experience of all types of violence of “ever-married” females aged 15 to 49, as compared with cases recorded of other Philippine regions.  How about that?

In Muslim Mindanao, only 5.3 percent of women had experienced emotional violence; 2.3 percent physical violence and only 1.0 percent sexual violence.

Central Luzon was the lowest in the north, but higher by more than 500 percent (than the ARMM figures)—with 11.9 percent cases of emotional violence; 8.5 percent physical violence; 3.7 percent sexual violence.  But I wonder how it is now, with the rise in gender-based violence due to the pandemic.

Our guest on “She Talks Peace,” lawyer Anna Tarhata S. Basman, believes that the Marawi Siege and the long-term stay of the IDPs in camps may have increased the incidence of gender-based violence (GBV).  In the camps, women and girls have been at risk, with unsafe conditions conducive to sexual abuse.   A Member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), MP Anna, Vice-Chair of the Special Committee on Marawi and concurrently the Chair for its Sub-Committee on Marawi Rehabilitation, has monitored the situation of the Marawi IDPs.

Previous to the siege, Marawi had not experienced armed conflict or displacement and was completely unprepared for the devastation. She has received reports of unsafe conditions– when bathrooms have to be shared with strangers. As are sleeping facilities.  Four years of displacement and uncertainty is an onerous burden.She thinks rehabilitation needs to be fast-tracked.

I asked Anna, who is one of only 16 women members of the 80-strong BTA, if she felt like an outsider of an all-boys club.  “I didn’t feel that way.  The challenge was understanding how they operated in the BTA.  I am not heard less because I am a woman.  Even if there are only 16 of us, a lot are lawyers, engineers, experts in our fields.  I don’t feel that it’s an onerous task to be heard in the BTA,” says Anna.

With the rise of Taliban, fear also rises that Bangsamoro women will suffer from the infusion of Taliban ideology in Muslim communities.  MP Anna believes that our context is different from Afghanistan.  While our communities are grounded in Islam, this is not a deterrent to women’s participation.  The barriers are more the problem of education and access to opportunities.  The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and the BTA need to work more on those issues.

She reminds us that Bangsamoro women are no strangers to armed conflict.

Bangsamoro women have been indispensable in resolving conflict and building peace in the BARMM. They lobbied in Congress to pass the law creating BARMM, they lobbied with both government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  panels for gender equality to be included in the peace agreement, they have been mediators and community humanitarian workers.  MP Anna says it’s hard to imagine any meeting where women will not speak.

Outside the resettlement camps, Bangsamoro women are doing better than before.   There’s a stronger Regional Commission for Bangsamoro Women (RCBW) under Minister Bainon Karon, former Regional Vice-Governor of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.  There are many women in position of leadership in BARMM and BTA, a manifestation of the trust that the MILF leadership has in women who have the capabilities and expertise for the job.  In civil society, women play a significant role.

Anna sees a robust and expanding room for women’s participation in the Bangsamoro.  She hopes that the Taliban influence will not trickle down to the BAFMM.

Atty. Arbee Arquiza, Chief of Legal Division of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR)  Region 9, joined the conversation and spoke of their initiatives to educate on women’s rights and GBV, including a unique program – We, Men, Defenders of Human Rights.  CHR educates men on women’s rights and the elimination of GBV.

Can this be implemented for the men in BARMM? Anna thinks it’s “something they won’t resist.”  Encouraging.  Anna reminds us that the autonomous region has always had collaboration with CHR, from the time of Chair Loretta Ann Rosales to the late Chair Chito Gascon, who was part of the government peace panel in the negotiations with the MILF, particularly looking into power sharing.  She foresees more collaboration on transitional justice.

Do listen to our conversation on the “halaw” from Sabah on She Talks Peace.  Halaw is a Malay word that means “driven away” or deportee.   There are over a million Filipinos who are illegal migrants in Sabah.  Some of the Filipino women married to Sabahan men who may suffer abuse, want to come home.

MP Anna’s message to the young, especially women:  “Our youth and gender should not be a hindrance to becoming peacebuilders.”

We saved the last words for a man championing women’s rights.  Atty Arbee states,  “Know your rights, stand up for your rights, fight for the right of others regardless of age, sex, race, religion.”

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Amina Rasul is the President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, an advocate for Mindanao and the Bangsamoro, peace, human rights and democracy)

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