Asnairah Tahir has been a bakwit (internally displaced person) all her life. She is a resident of Mamasapano, Maguindanao, one of the battlegrounds in the Philippines between government forces and armed groups, and even for rivalry among family clans called rido.
“When I was little, I experienced leaving the house and evacuating with my parents and siblings. I saw my parents pack our clothes in a dirty old sack. Now that I already have a husband and children, it is the same. We still evacuate.”
Asnairah and her husband’s journey of providing for their six children have been difficult. She used to sell food within their community, but it was abruptly stopped when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Now, we cannot sell food because gatherings are prohibited. We cannot save enough because we use our extra money to purchase face masks, alcohol, and face shields. Tricycle fare also doubled.”
The community of Asnairah is in the middle of two devastating crises – the pandemic and armed conflict. Both crises have catastrophic impacts on the lives of the people in the community, including limited livelihood opportunities and security threats.
“These two crises drive us further into poverty. We have no stable income, and our community, including our homes, were destroyed by bombs like the F-105 or bazookas forcing us to move again.”
Asnairah knows that resolving armed conflict is not an overnight process. She also knows that women must be genuinely part of the peace dialogues in the community. When United Youth of the Philippines-Women (UnYPhil-Women) and Oxfam implemented the Women’s Empowerment in Leadership and Development (WELD-Peace) Project in Mamasapano, she did not hesitate to participate. She became one of the facilitators of the peace dialogues and human rights discussions in her community. Through the support of the WELD-Peace project, Asnairah, alongside other women in their community, are now confident to share their personal experience and the importance of peace dialogues.
“I grew up in a conflict zone, and I never knew that talking about our experiences is part of our rights. I took the chance to be part of the peace and development conversation with the Bangsamoro Parliament. Maybe, one day, my fellow women and I will be the bridge towards peace.”
Since then, Asnairah has dreamed of peace and security for her community and the rest of the Bangsamoro region. She also hopes that children can go to school safely, and everyone can work or put up livelihoods that will provide for the needs of their families.
“Every day, I think of our survival. Now that the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is here, I get a glance of hope for the future. I hope my children won’t experience what we’ve been through when they grow old,” concluded Asnairah.