Ending gender-based violence in disasters (2)

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As chairperson Bainon Karon has noted in her fourth State of Bangsamoro Women Address, women have traditionally been regarded more as “commodities” to be sold or bought especially during times of strife and heavy social disruptions that happen during armed conflict and natural disasters. In several pieces of research that I have conducted on gender and conflict in various parts of the Bangsamoro, several informants have shared with me narratives of how girls or the young female members of their families become part of a flawed way of adaptation to survive during extremely challenging situations after natural and human-induced disasters. The saddest part of the stories shared with me is that in some cases, those who enticed families to give up their girls or female members of the family to be recruited for human trafficking (as they discovered later) are their own male relatives.

Way back as the first female Muslim editor of a Catholic-owned community paper in Cotabato City, The Mindanao Cross, I was introduced to a lady who came from a prominent family in one municipality in Cotabato province. She was victimized several times by a distant relative, a paternal second cousin, who became a local government official then. While studying in Metro Manila, she was visited several times by this cousin she called “Kaka” (elder brother/sister) only to realize later that this relative had sexual intentions during his visits. He then forced himself on her several times, causing an unwanted pregnancy. When she complained about this to her male relatives, she was told to marry the perpetrator as his fourth wife. She was so devastated by this pressure from her own male siblings, who she thought would redress this injustice by standing up against this violator and filing a case against him in the local court. Instead, she was told repeatedly that to refrain from being shamed in the community, she should marry the one who violated her.

This has also happened more recently in the Marawi siege context (May to October 2017). Several cases of sexual molestation were reported by female members of the displaced population. And in these cases, the women victims were advised by male members of their families to consent to be married to their violators.

Currently, I am part of a series of discussions on the women, peace, and security (WPS) theme here in General Santos City. Conducted through the auspices of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation based in Tokyo, Japan, and the Institute of WPS in Georgetown University in Washington DC, USA, it is carried out locally by the staff of the Mindanao State University-General Santos City Research and Development. In the first part of the series that happened yesterday, the WPS theme was discussed as part of a global initiative that started with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 passed on Oct. 31, 2000. However, it seems that the implementation of this resolution two decades after when it was passed leaves much to be desired. In many countries, especially the Philippines and in the Bangsamoro, there are policies to ensure that the gender agenda, especially that espoused by WPS, will be mainstreamed in all government offices and agencies. It still needs to see traction, especially in a fledgling region like the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

One of the limitations of the WPS agenda is the omission of the roles of men to promote it.

In a way, women can also be partly responsible for excluding men from talking about their welfare since for quite some time, some women advocates become uncomfortable when men are involved in the discussions. Discourses on gender and development had been propelled by languages emphasizing “women empowerment” and “making change work for women.”

Gender-based violent acts are known to have occurred in situations of extreme challenges like what happened in the Marawi siege, and in several climate-change-induced disasters. These persist because of a lopsided way of looking at the gender agenda, that it is supposed to include both women and men, and not isolate one group of human beings from another.

(To be continued)

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