Mindanao is home to diverse communities, with 13 ethno-linguistic groups and around 30 Lumad groups. Of its total population of 25.73 million, some 18 percent are Muslims and approximately 5 percent are Lumad; the rest are migrants and their descendants. Females comprise half of the population. Hence, by sheer number, women are a vital resource for Mindanao’s development.
However, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Gender-related Development Index (GDI), “which measures the inequality in the achievement of women and men based on life expectancy at birth, educational attainment and standard of living,” are also low in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Sulu had the lowest GDI in the entire country at 0.322. According to a report: “Mindanao women need urgent attention in the areas of economic opportunities, reproductive health, political participation, education, and even basic services such as water and power.” Poverty, it said, “is deepest and most severe in the provinces where the indigenous peoples and Muslims reside.”
In December 2009, I visited Mintal gym, where more than a thousand Lumad families camped while they begged for pinaskuhan in downtown Davao. The Mintal gym is just one of the places provided by the city government to accommodate the so-called “exodus of Lumad” every Christmas season. There were piles of sacks containing clothes and crockery. The people slept inside the gym and cooked in the makeshift communal kitchen located outside. There was a crowd at the children’s park where some enterprising Lumad put up stalls that sold packets of coffee, sugar, oil, salt, and soy sauce. Candies, biscuits, hotdogs, and barbecued chicken necks and feet were for sale.
Strategies to deal with poverty
Begging to survive
Lolita, an Ata Manobo from Bukidnon, arrived at Mintal gym together with 18 family members. Lolita said the rations allotted by the city government cannot feed her troop, so they have resorted to begging. As a strategy, they identify themselves as Matigsalog when they beg. Had she not spent the Christmas season begging, Lolita would be in Bukidnon, tending to her vegetable patch.
Stashing the Christmas presents received from the Davao City government
Eva, a Matigsalog from Marilog, went to Davao with four of her children. Begging is not her game plan for she considers it ulaw (shameful). Instead, she keeps the ration of two cans of sardines and two packs of Quick Chow noodles. To feed her brood she cooks only two cups from her ration of two kilos of rice and vegetables from the nearby Mintal market. When she goes home on December 26, she brings with her 34 cans of sardines, 34 noodle packs and 17 kilos of rice, addressing somehow the food security of her family. Before she got married, Eva was employed as domestic helper in Manila for 14 years.
Their strategies may differ, but it is clear that severe poverty caused these Lumad women to go to Davao over the Christmas season. Their situations demonstrate the feminization of poverty.
Muslim women waging peace
IRIN (formerly Integrated Regional Information Networks) reported in 2008 that women suffered the most in the Mindanao conflict. Displacement due to evacuation engenders problems and risks such as lack of water and privacy, susceptibility to diseases given the cramped space shared with other evacuees, sexual violence, trauma caused by death of family members, and loss of livelihood. Sohaili, a Maguindanaon evacuee, said that to get by, her family simply relies on the relief assistance extended by international humanitarian organizations. They have deserted their homes for fear of getting caught in the crossfire between the armed men of the Ampatuan and Mangudadatu families.
Lumad and Muslim women in Mindanao bear the brunt not only of poverty but also of violence. A groundbreaking project aimed at empowering Muslim women as peace advocates, especially the aleemat or Muslim women religious scholars, was organized in partnership with women leaders from civil society, academe, government, youth, balik-Islam, and indigenous peoples. Former Senator Santanina Rasul, one of the prime movers of the project, said that the project aims to work for peaceful and clean elections, especially in ARMM, now known as the “cheating capital” of the Philippines. To realize this, they will focus on educating voters in time for the automated elections.
The Muslim women of Sulu are calling for the dismantling of the Police Auxiliary Unit, which is being used as private armies of political families. At the community level, they intend to restore the moral leadership of the ulama and aleemat to propagate Islamic values and peace education. To Dr. Amany Lubis, an aleemat from Indonesia, there is no sexism in Islam based on the Qur’an. Islam promotes gender equality and respect for human beings. But because of biased interpretations of this text, Muslim women are marginalized.
Every day, Lumad and Muslim women in Mindanao deal with poverty and violence. They strategize to survive and take concrete measures to attain peace and development in Mindanao.
Prof. Ma. Arve B. Bañez is currently a faculty member of the Division of Professional Education, College of Arts and Sciences, UP Visayas, Iloilo City campus. She is also a PhD Candidate in Development Studies at the Ateneo De Davao University, working on her dissertation entitled “The Narratives of Development of Lampirong (Placuna Placenta) Fishers of Oton, Iloilo”.
Condensed from the original article published in the UP Forum January-February 2010 issue
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