Juanday and Farhana are childhood best friends who grew up in Guindulungan, Maguindanao. They were classmates from elementary until college, and both were student leaders. Since grade school, Juanday and Farhana witnessed early child and forced marriages and violence against women in their community.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in the Philippines, one in every six girls is married before the age of 18. According to the Bangsamoro Women Commission, there are around 88,600 child brides in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) as of 2021.
“Before, we did not care about these issues because we were not affected by them. They have their own lives. We have our own lives,” mentioned Juanday.
Nonetheless, when the Creating Spaces Project implemented trainings and awareness sessions on child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM) and violence against women, Juanday, Farhana, and their friends realized the concept of volunteerism and creating actions.
“We cannot deny that these issues are close to home, both in our communities and schools. Juanday and our friends shared ideas, and we asked ourselves why not create initiatives to address these issues. With this, my best friend Juanday and I, both student leaders, decided to start an organization against child, early, and forced marriages,” mentioned Farhana.
In November 2020, the two best friends and other youth leaders organized the Maguindanao Alliance of Youth Advocates (MAYA), a network of student leaders in the municipalities of Guindulungan, Mamasapano, and Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao. All three municipalities are conflict-affected areas and have high cases of early marriage.
Through the Creating Spaces Project, the United Youth of the Philippines-Women (UnYPhil-Women), with support of Global Affairs Canada and Oxfam, provided MAYA with trainings on coalition-building. These trainings helped them set the directions in the formation of an alliance and expand their youth membership. Juanday was elected president of MAYA, while Farhana was vice president.
According to Juanday, MAYA’s goal is to collaborate with the youth, teachers, agencies, and even legislators to address the pressing issues of CEFM. Another goal is to raise awareness of the rights of children.
“We started in 2020 as an organization, but we managed to spearhead advocacy and awareness-raising initiatives under the Creating Spaces project through various platforms. First is the power of social media – even if we are in our homes, we can still create content about our advocacy and share it on different platforms. Second is the opportunity to do radio broadcasting every Wednesday. And lastly, MAYA aims to visit each household, especially those in remote areas with no internet connection and radio access,” emphasized Farhana.
“The fight against child marriage is not an overnight success. Even if we do not see the end of child marriage in our lifetime, we know that we helped build its foundation. We are doing this for the next generation,” concluded Juanday.
The Creating Spaces Project is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada and implemented by Oxfam Pilipinas, United Youth of the Philippines-Women (UnYPhil-Women), Al-Mujadilah Women’s Association (AMWA) and other partner organizations.