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Oxfam calls for continued gov’t support for women in conflict areas in Mindanao

Oxfam projects have helped women from Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, and Lanao del Sur gain a voice in local councils and in their households

Aid agency Oxfam Pilipinas called for more support and opportunities for women in conflict-affected towns in Mindanao.

“Decades-long conflict in the [Bangsamoro region] has displaced families, destroyed homes, and disrupted livelihoods and education,” said Oxfam Pilipinas country director Maria Rosario Felizco.

She said her organization aims “to contribute to strengthening women’s and marginalized groups’ participation and leadership in governance, peace and development processes.”

Felizco made the comment after Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven J. Robinson visited Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, last week to hear about how women there have been able to turn their lives around after receiving training and representation in their local councils.

The women were project participants of the Women’s Empowerment for Leadership in Development and Peace in the Bangsamoro (WELD-Peace) Project, an initiative supported by the Australian government and implemented by Oxfam Pilipinas.

“This visit is very important for Australia not only to understand the situation in Tawi-Tawi, but also to affirm our steadfast support to peace and development in Mindanao,” said the Australian ambassador in a statement.

He said “a peaceful Mindanao is fundamental to the Philippines and the entire Indo-Pacific.”

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“We came here particularly during women’s month to emphasize the vital role of women and girls in furthering the stability of the region,” said Ambassador Robinson.

The WELD-Peace project and other Oxfam projects that came before have helped women from Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, and Lanao del Sur gain a voice in local councils and in their households.

What started out as an initiative to push for peace and the formation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao — with the women being tapped to help raise awareness about BARMM, and later about health protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic — has now become a campaign for women in the area to also gain economic independence and equality at home as they help in community decision-making.

“I got used to seeing women relying on their husbands and having suppressed voices,” said Aliya Pailan during the visit.

“When we started attending WELD-peace lectures, I was enlightened about the important role I and other women have,” she said.

Other women, who first joined the WELD-Peace project in 2019, recalled how they were assisted in starting small-income generating projects related to food or fishing through government financing.

Although they held the misconception that women are only for household work, they are now empowered individuals and are able to help support their families.

Ambassador Robinson said what WELD-Peace has achieved — through capacity-building, networking and providing guidance — is impressive and inspiring.

“The involvement of women in all these is a critical element,” he said.

Women—as part of the family and community—have a significant impact on influencing the attitudes and perspectives of men and their families and communities. If we can empower women, and look after their rights, then we can do a lot more to improve the peace and security situation in the South,” said the ambassador.

Oxfam’s Felizco said they are hopeful that their continued interaction with the women participants would further result in positive changes in their communities.

“By having women representation in local councils and in the local economy, hopefully the concerns of women will be better addressed,” she said.

Last year, a gender snapshot survey conducted by Oxfam Pilipinas and partner organizations among 279 respondents in selected areas in Eastern Visayas, Bicol Region, National Capital Region and the Bangsamoro region showed decreased access to gender-based violence desks and support services in their communities.

While nine percent of the respondents said they had access to these reporting desks before the pandemic and a series of typhoons that hit their communities in 2020, only three percent said they still had access to the gender-based violence desks during and after the typhoons and the COVID-19 lockdowns. Only four respondents said there was no change in the level of access.

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