Women’s Month: Life outside the battlefield

Since November last year, the Bangsamoro Islamic Women Auxiliary Brigade (BIWAB) members Almairah, 33 and Norinsa, 55 have spent most of their time monitoring gender-based violence (GBV) cases in their communities, empowering women of their rights and the reproductive health services available for them.

BIWAB is the all-women support group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Force. Through the peace agreement and the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, years of armed conflict between the government and the MILF came to an end and signaled the start of the reintegration process for its members.

 

Cash-for-work

Both Almairah and Norinsa are part of the Capacity Building of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority for Supporting Social Reintegration of Former Female Soldiers Project in Lanao del Sur, an initiative funded by the Government of Japan and implemented by the United Nations Population Fund in the Philippines, in partnership with World Vision and Nonviolent Peace Force.

One of the components of the project is the cash-for-work program where members of BIWAB are trained and engaged as para-social workers and women-friendly space (WFS) facilitators. WFS is a safe space for women, including gender-based violence survivors, to receive psychosocial counseling service, access information about their rights and the services available for them. In return of the BIWAB members’ services, they receive around P4800 each month to help them with their basic needs.

“I am a para-social worker. Part of my job is to ensure that women-friendly spaces in our communities are functional. I also help with the profiling of residents in my community. I had an experience where one of the physically-challenged community members received aid as a result of being included in the list of people needing support. The person kept thanking me and I was glad to be of help,” Almairah says.

Almairah shares that her experience in the program has piqued her interest on the rights of women and children and she’s been contemplating on how she can contribute to her community, even after the cash-for-work project is done. The money that she receives from the project every month, which amounts to P4800, is also one thing that she’s grateful for.

“With the meager income of my family, the money that I get from the cash-for-work is helping us with the basic needs of our family,” she says.

Meanwhile, 55-year old Norinsa, a BIWAB member since 2009, is grateful for the opportunity to give and also receive help.

“There is still a lot of work to be done around GBV because women in our communities are used to keeping things within themselves. They fear that they will bring shame to their families if they speak up. I am thankful because I get to contribute to empowering them to exercise their rights, but I am also grateful because this project also helping me and my family,” says Norinsa.

Norinsa has become the breadwinner of her family after her husband got sick.

 

Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

While the cash-for-work program started as a means of livelihood for Norinsa and Almairah, their work led them to their new-found calling, especially amid the pandemic.

“I have a 3-year old and a 9-month old baby. My work requires me to talk to different people, exposing me to the threat of the virus. As a mother, I fear for the safety of my children, but I make sure that I do all precautionary measures to keep us all safe. I remind myself that this is something I need to do and I am excited to do it everyday,” shares Almairah.

Norinsa echoes the excitement of Almairah. While being advocates for women’s protection and reproductive health entails hard work, her passion for her new-found calling enables her to report to work. Both of them also now recognize that COVID-19 is not only affecting livelihoods or the health of millions. It is also affecting women who are affected by community lockdowns and are probably helpless while living with their abusers.

“Especially during lockdowns when we cannot do house-to-house awareness-raising activities, we do text blast. The text contains reminders on how they can protect themselves against abuse and contact numbers that they can call should they need to report a case. They need to know that help is available,” says Norinsa, adding that she’d also receive responses saying that they are grateful for the reminders.

Hope for tomorrow

Women like Almairah and Norinsa, whose lives have been shaped on the battlefield, continue to cope and move forward to better days, as they actively build a better community for this generation and the next.