Women empowerment in BARMM


This volunteer wants to be a public servant

In what is perceived as a highly patriarchal society, a woman tops the list of top performing solons. The RP-Mission and Development Foundation Inc. (RPMD), in its latest study dubbed as “Boses ng Bayan” has named Maguindanao and Cotabato City’s 1st District Representative in the Lower House, Congresswoman Bai Dimple Mastura, as the most effective solon in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Garnering a 70.2 percent job performance rating, Mastura leads the list of other BARMM representatives. What is more remarkable is how she is the only female in the roster.

In the crucial assessment of the solons’ performance in BARMM, Mastura was followed by Mujiv Hatama of Basilan with 70 percent, though statistically tied at the top position. Yasser Alonto Balindong of Lanao del Sur 2nd District follows, while Zia Adiong of Lanao del Sur 1st District, Tong Paglas of Maguindanao and Cotabato City 2nd District, Munir Arbison Jr. of Sulu 2nd District, Samier Tan of Sulu 1st District, and Dimszar Sali of Tawi-Tawi complete the list.

The fact is women comprise 51 percent of the BARMM population. With this figure, it is impossible to discuss the societal issues of the region without meaningfully integrating and involving women in building the Bangsamoro. The history of the Bangsamoro peace process is replete with stories of women playing important roles as advocates, mediators, and peacemakers. For instance, in 2018, thousands of Bangsamoro women walked barefoot under the scorching sun to lobby and rally for the passage and ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law. These women have yearned for peace and actively asserted their status as peace actors and state builders.

Despite societal narratives placing the women in BARMM at a mere second to men or having been “helpless victims” to the armed conflicts in the region, the reality is, women in BARMM have played a crucial role as agents of change for peace and development in their communities. While violence, poverty, and underdevelopment have disproportionately affected Bangsamoro women throughout history, the recent years have seen a transformation. Women have provided significant contributions to implementing the peace agreement, leading to more women gaining power to play significant roles in governance and peacebuilding in Muslim Mindanao.

The establishment of a Bangsamoro Women Commission to oversee gender and development (GAD) in the region has legitimized efforts to bring the plight of women to the forefront. In its recent report, it has ensured that part of The Bangsamoro Transition Authority’s priorities is the meaningful participation of women in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro's implementation and conflict transformation, and reiterates the goal to “support women and their communities as they peacefully transition from conflict to peace.”

A project participated in by mostly Muslim men, “Promoting Conflict Prevention, Social Cohesion and Community Resilience in the BARMM,” revealed that women have broken glass ceilings and men recognize the important roles women have played in resolving conflict. Gone are the days when women were seen as passive observers of conflicts. As I have seen first-hand in my personal socio-economic programs in Muslim communities here in Metro Manila, Muslim women do serve as catalysts in mediation processes, as well as being the backbone of decision-making whether it’s in their homes or in society at large.

Beyond politics, women in BARMM must be equipped with opportunities to elevate their economic status. The region is one of the poorest areas in the country from decades-long war between the government and Muslim rebels. The government needs to invest in providing Bangsamoro women with opportunities to be active participants in economic development from training to an educational system tailored to meet their needs.

There is so much untapped economic potential in the region where women can take the lead. From being a potential Halal center in the country given its high concentration of Muslims as well as being nearby other predominantly Muslim nations, to the health and social work sector, which has actually seen the highest growth the past couple of years. Training and education for Bangsamoro girls must be a priority so they can be a part of the region’s anticipated growth in the coming years.

Mastura, being regarded as the top performing BARMM solon, is significant as this represents the triumph of Filipino Muslim women in the southern Philippines. She is a living symbol of hope that women in BARMM can finally catapult themselves to positions they have already proven themselves and not merely to be regarded in administrative positions.