This is a sad reality facing women in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. While we celebrate the victory of many political rights for women, Muslim women are burdened several times over. A Moro woman is a mother, daughter, sister, teacher, cook, income-earner, house manager to a clan of tens of heads in just one house. When the men are away because of overseas work, worse, war, the women have to solve the myriad problems confronting a clan which range from daily acts of giving to relatives in need (from death, marriage, hospitalization etc) to political decisions of who to support in elections.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) notes that ensuring access to high-quality basic social services (i.e., education and health) is a major challenge in the Philippines. Moreso, I note, in ARMM, where all the MOST occur – POOREST, FARTHEST, thus VOICELESS and POWERLESS. The ADB further notes, while there have been some notable accomplishments in the public health system (including the devolution of health services to the local level), major geographic inequities in access to health facilities and services still exist.
Because of the sporadic war in the South, many Muslim women have migrated up North to earn income as sidewalk vendors. Sadly, many have been caught possessing illegal drugs, thus detained in many of NCR jails.
This is not to condone their acts. But can we also look at the causes of poverty? How many layers of discrimination does a Muslim woman have to contend with? Being Woman, being Muslim, being Moro – that’s three.
If the wife of a big Muslim leader who is appointed to a Constitutional Commission is aggrieved at being turned away in applying for a rented house for her family in Manila because of being
Muslim, then how much more for a poor, non-English/Tagalog speaking Badjao or Yakan from the islands?
Despite 5 to 8 million Muslims in the country, Muslim images in TV are not seen or mainstreamed in newspapers unless they are talking of violence by terrorists, criminals or kidnappers. The lack of inspiring images for Muslims tends to alienate them from doing better. And I hope by writing about their issues, I may be able to help Muslims better speak and articulate their concerns.
There are several proposed laws that may address the concerns of Muslim women – the Magna Carta for Women and the Anti-Discrimination Bill now pending in the Senate. These would provide POSITIVE ACTION mandatory for offices, schools, companies to provide access to MINORITIES, including Muslims who have been marginalized because of their name, identity and dressing.
Many things have to be done to empower our Muslim women. With education and more women fighting for their rights, Muslim women can be inspired to say, Yes, We Can. (Samira A. Gutoc is former secretary-general of the Philippine Muslim Women Council and former editor of the Moro Times.)