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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Addressing gender-based violence (1)

COTABATO CITY — Here in the seat of the three-year-old Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), some milestones have marked this year’s celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8) and of the entire “women’s month.” In a region popularly perceived to have rigid religious rulings on gender issues and women’s rights, including a pervasive patriarchal orientation, these milestones were quite unexpected, especially among the region’s gender justice advocates. Among this group of feisty Bangsamoro women is no less than the chair of the Bangsamoro Women Commission (BWC), Hadja Bainon Karon.

The BWC (formerly the Regional Commission on Bangsamoro Women or RCBW) was formally created through a regional law, the Bangsamoro Autonomy Act (BAA) No. 8, passed and signed on Feb. 13, 2020. This law mandates that the BWC leads the region in promoting gender justice in the BARMM. It shall promote, protect, and uphold women’s rights as human rights, work for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, ensure that legal measures are taken to promote gender justice, women’s rights and welfare, and promote gender and development, including the meaningful participation of women in all levels of governance, policy, and decision-making.

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Last March 8, 2022, a fatwa on addressing five forms of gender-based violence was launched formally in simple but meaningful ceremonies commemorating this year’s International Women’s Day in the BARMM. A fatwa is a religious ruling given by a recognized authority in Islam. Here in the BARMM, the Bureau of the Darul Ifta (BDI) is the recognized body to release fatwa on any issue or controversy, to provide overall religious guidance or ruling among the members of the ummah (community of believers in Islam). The Grand Mufti, Abu Hurairah Udasan, is the executive director of the BDI.

The milestones include Islamic rulings on addressing five forms of gender-based violence considered to be among the many sources of both social and communal tensions in the fledgling region. These are the following: any form of violence against women, rape, wife desertion/abandonment by the husband, human (women/sex) trafficking, and forcing sex on the wife by her husband.

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For a long time, issues related to gender justice, or gender equality, were always brushed aside, not only among the predominantly male composition of the former leaders of the autonomous region but also among many Muslim women, especially the elite and professionals among them. There was, then, a prevailing perception that since women in Islam are highly regarded and protected by their male relatives, rape, women trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence are unheard of among Muslim communities. But popular perception is not always the daily reality of many marginalized women in this region.

For instance, Bangsamoro women go abroad in droves to work (to be enslaved is the more appropriate term). They travel alone and make themselves strong emotionally and psychologically, so they are able to fend for themselves in countries that mostly look down on Filipinas as among the “maids of the world.” Remember the meaning of Filipina in a dictionary from years back? It meant “maid,” a lowly servant of rich Arab, European, Chinese (especially Hong Kong), and Malaysian households. They leave behind husbands and children and bear the pangs of loneliness and endure long years of menial work just so they earn enough money to uplift their families’ lives.

If Bangsamoro men and society, in general, cherish their women as treasures, why are they allowed to go abroad only to be abused by foreigners in places where Moro women have no source of social or personal protection?

For BWC chairperson Hadja Bainon Karon, convincing the Grand Mufti and different groups of ulama (learned men in Islam) in the region to issue a fatwa to several forms of gender-based violence is definitely an important milestone. It is only this time that the male leadership of the BDI and of the entire BARMM bureaucracy have taken serious notice about the protection of women and their rights, and of recognizing their valuable contributions to what the region now enjoys.

(To be continued)

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TAGS: gender-based violence, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Rufa Cagoco-Guiam
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