Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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The Real War: Women’s Experiences of Conflict in Mindanao, Philippines

By Fatima Pir T. Allian

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Fatima Pir Allian is Programme Manager of Nisa Ul-Haqq fi Bangsamoro (Women for Justice in the Bangsamoro) in the Philippines.  She was a participanticant at the WELDD workshop entitled “Culturally-Justified Violence Against Women: Resistance and Sustaining Our Activism” in Jakarta, Indonesia in August 2014. 

“The real war happens after all the bombs and guns have been silenced. The real war begins when you start suffering from hopelessness because there is no money to buy food and medicine, or when all your hard earned properties were burned down by the military.”

In 2009 we were given a chance to do a research on the effects of conflict on Moro women in Basilan and Sulu.[1]

It was difficult for many of us to hear their stories of deaths in the family and the trauma they have experienced. But somehow through their stories we sense their hope for a better Bangsamoro. They still dream of better days ahead filled with opportunities that were not available to them in the past such as livelihood opportunities, education for their children, free from fear especially during harvest season. Here are the stories of the women from Basilan and Sulu.

Recollections of the situation in their area before the conflict bring a wistful smile, especially to the older participants. According to one, “We were free to harvest our root crops, bananas and squash. Sometimes, we sell them and sometimes we just get them for food. But if there are a lot of harvests, we sell them so we can have money to buy rice and fish and sugar to eat with the piyutu (cassava cake).” They remember an idyllic place where one was free to move around and partake of the bounties of nature, whether the forests or the sea. However, all these changed with the seemingly unending string of violence.

For many, the armed conflict is a series of incidents that they have learned to live with.  Thus, despite the volatile situation, many are “stayees”, choosing not to flee while still keeping a vigilant eye on any increasing dangers to their family. As most pointed out, they would have nowhere to go anyway. At times though, the violence escalates to a situation characterised by indiscriminate firing, strafing and aerial bombardment.  In these times they are forced to leave their homes temporarily.

For many respondents, however, staying in their homes was no longer an option at all as they were burned down during the conflict. Likewise, there was a constant threat to their lives as either the military or the lawless militia elements settled in their villages.

A number of respondents related how their entire villages were torched and how they witnessed some people hurt and even killed. However, while they consider the burning of their homes as a big loss, they are still grateful to Allah that their lives and that of their family members have been spared. Even their loved ones’ deaths have been accepted with grace, believing that it was Allah’s will.

A previous version of this blog was published in the Daily Zamboanga Times, August 18th 2014

This is the 9th entry in our #16Days 2014 blogging series.  We are bringing you an entry from one of our inspiring activists on each day during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

[1]The Moro people, or Bangsamoro, are a population of ethnically indigenous Muslims in the Philippines, forming the largest non-Catholic group in the country, and comprising about 9 percent of the total Philippine population.  The Province of Basilan is an island province of the Philippines within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).  Sulu is an autonomous island province within the ARMM.

Peace and Security