‘Nothing about us, without us!’ | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

‘Nothing about us, without us!’

The slogan “nihil de nobis, sine nobis” (Latin for “nothing about us, without us”) has been used by many marginalized groups in various parts of the world to push for their rights to self-determination, and for their inclusion at the discussion table right from the start of any program or project that benefits them. The slogan evokes a powerful message that no policy or development intervention should be conceptualized and decided without the full and direct participation of members of the group that would be affected by such policy.

It is also a powerful motto for the principle and practice of social inclusion.


James I. Charlton, an American author and the executive vice president of Access Living based in Chicago, is a disability rights activist. In January 1998, he published the book “Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment.”

From the title, readers can already glean the book’s main point. First, it conveys the strong conviction of people with disabilities that they know what is appropriate — and even best — for them. The book strongly condemns the prevailing perception and practice of oppressing people with disabilities, and argues that these are firmly rooted in “degradation, dependency, and powerlessness” among people manifesting physical, sensory, cognitive, and developmental disabilities.


But beyond being a battle cry among persons with disabilities, the slogan has also been “owned” by various groups experiencing discrimination and exclusion, including women, especially those from ethnic and religious minorities and indigenous groups.

However, after more than two decades, the slogan has so far remained such — with all its localized versions emblazoned on tarpaulins and streamers during the commemoration of the annual International Women’s Day (every March 8).

This year, UN Women announced the theme for International Women’s Day as “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” The UN Women webpage rationalizes that the theme “celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A UN Women’s flagship program, the Generation Equality campaign, calls for “women’s rights to decision-making in all areas of life, equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, and end all forms of violence against women and girls, and health care services that respond to their needs.” Like all other international development agencies focusing on women’s rights, UN Women believes that women bring to the table “irreplaceable contributions to decisions, policies and law” that are inclusive and beneficial to all, and this can pave the way for a better, more peaceful world for all. UN Women cited that several countries run by women as presidents or prime ministers have successfully lowered or even controlled COVID-19 contamination among their constituents. Among them are Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, and Slovakia. The women leaders of these countries initiated rapid, decisive, and effective national responses to the pandemic.

But many women here in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao have suffered inordinately as a consequence of more than four decades of violent conflict. As the ones left behind during episodes of conflict, the women also bear the burden of providing for their children in the absence of their husbands, on top of their never-ending domestic chores. Such tasks require them to navigate through public spaces formerly dominated by their husbands, as the prime breadwinners of their families.

Some war widows in Patikul, Sulu, have recently been arrested on suspicion that they have become “potential” suicide bombers. Even the potential of becoming a criminal can now be a ground for incarceration!

Yet, women were not part of the decision to wage the decades-old war that has devastated their communities. They were also not the key decision-makers in the process of forging peace. Women became actively involved in decision-making of the two peace panels only in the few years prior to the signing of peace agreements, especially those signed between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

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TAGS: Kriss-Crossing Mindanao, Persons with disabilities, Rufa Cagoco-Guiam
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