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More support needed for decommissioned Bangsamoro women combatants — Oxfam

Illustrated by Irish Flores
Illustrated by Irish Flores

Oxfam Pilipinas and partner organizations on Wednesday released a new report revealing that while former BIWAB members and civilian Bangsamoro women have received support and opportunities from the government and civil society organizations, gender inequalities limit their ability to earn a living and have economic empowerment.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Women Auxiliary Brigade (BIWAB) was an all-female supplementary force of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s armed wing Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). They are among the groups decommissioned as part of the peace process that resulted in the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) region.

“The narratives of BIWAB members and civilian Bangsamoro women point to glaring realities in post-conflict Mindanao. They shine the light on the intricate links between the capacity of women to participate in economic activities and their ability to contribute meaningfully to rebuilding a war-torn community. Their stories tell us there is much left to be done if peace and development are to truly benefit Bangsamoro women,” said United Youth of the Philippines-Women (UnYPhil-Women) Executive Director Noraida Abo of the report, which was supported by the Australian government.

The qualitative study, which involved focus group discussions with 58 Bangsamoro women — mostly BIWAB members, aims to draw insights from their experiences as part of the normalization process in BARMM.

It was jointly conducted by Oxfam Pilipinas, Al-Mujadilah Women’s Association, Inc. (AMWA), Tarbilang Foundation, Inc., United Youth of the Philippines (UnYPhil)-Women, Women Engaged in Action on UNSCR 1325 (WE Act 1325), and Community Organizers Multiversity (COM).

The report titled “Women Journeying Towards Peace: Ensuring Meaningful Participation and Economic Empowerment of the Bangsamoro Islamic Women Auxiliary Brigade (BIWAB) and Bangsamoro Women” showed that traditional gender expectations still prevail in the region, resulting for example in women bearing the brunt of care work responsibilities at home on top of earning a living and serving as BIWAB members.

The study was released to the public during an event in Cotabato City on Wednesday attended by BARMM Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Minister Abdulraof Macacua, Ministry of the Interior and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo, Ministry of Basic, Higher, and Technical Education Minister Mohaqer Iqbal, and Bangsamoro Commission on Women Chairperson Bainon Karon. Australian Ambassador Steven J. Robinson also attended virtually via video call.

According to the research, many of the respondents who earn from farming also face the compounding effects of climate change and conflict, which force them to abandon their farms or businesses.

Abo also pointed out that the support provided for decommissioned combatants and civilians in the region do not distinguish between the needs of women and men.

“Women have distinct needs, especially since they play multiple roles at home and in their community. Many lack time to undergo trainings or pursue work and some do not even have control over their income because of their responsibility to their family,” Abo said.

A former combatant and now head of a local Foundation pointed out that there is a gendered division of labor in their community especially after the peace process. “There are no women farmers in our communities and having them might be an insult to the men. Men are recognized as heads of the family and women play a supportive role. In fishing…nets are given to men, and rejected fish are given to women to process or dry… BIWAB played a very significant role before the signing of the peace agreement,” she was quoted saying in the study.

Some participants said that aside from skills training, there are no other opportunities specifically made available for BIWAB members.

“Ever since, BIAF and BIWAB have been working together already. But with BARMM, we feel like we are being left behind in terms of opportunities,” one respondent said.

Many of the study participants said they lacked access to capital and resources such as equipment. A respondent said that while they were trained to do agri-farming, not all of the graduates had access to equipment and tools to actually pursue farming. In one instance, the participants were taught how to make bread and pastries and were given electric ovens. However, many of them lived in areas without electricity.

Some complained about corruption in the barangay or municipality level while others lamented the slow and tedious process of accessing support from national agencies.

“The sense of mistrust towards the government is more evident among BIWAB officers and can hinder them from engaging with the State for possible economic development and women’s empowerment programs,” said Oxfam Pilipinas Gender Justice Advisor Jeanette Dulawan.

Dulawan said that the way forward now is for BARMM policy makers to reaffirm the importance of women leaders and their equal participation in the peace process, including humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction.

She pointed out that there should be more dialogue between program planners and Bangsamoro women to ensure that their specific and practical needs are met. “Such consultations will help identify skills they want to improve on rather than providing skills training that are irrelevant or that perpetuate gender stereotypes,” she added.

Oxfam Pilipinas and partner organizations also recommend a more in-depth study on motivations, diverse backgrounds, contexts and intersecting needs of Bangsamoro women. Further studies may help better address causes of inequality and strengthen women’s influence and leadership as part of long-term and sustainable peace efforts.

“The Bangsamoro women are effective agents for change so they really should be encouraged to have active involvement and leadership in their communities,” Dulawan said. \\

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Kristine Sabillo Guerrero

Senior Officer for Media and Digital Influencing, Oxfam Pilipinas