The decades-old armed conflict in Maguindanao has not only displaced families. It also shattered homes, livelihoods, education, and hopes for a better future.
This is life as Guiamelan Sayutin knows it.
“Every day, we live in fear in the evacuation centers. My parents, a farmer and a mat weaver, lost their livelihoods from the armed conflict. I stopped going to school.”
Now with three children, Guiamelan, 39, and her family continue to face challenges brought by the armed conflict. Things achanged with the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in 2018. Viewed as a key foundation for lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao, Guiamelan sees hope.
Recognizing the role of women in the peace process, Australia, and its partners the United Youth of the Philippines-Women and Oxfam, organized women, including Guiamelan, in conflict areas to participate in the peace and development process. This project directly contributes to Australia’s commitment in promoting long-term stability and development in conflict-affected areas of Muslim Mindanao.
“In the past, the majority of women only stay at home and take care of their children. Now, we have learned that women also have the right to speak and be heard, and that we also have a big role to play in the peace process,” Guiamelan says.
Guiamelan is a member of the group Ummahat, an Arabic term for “group of mothers”. Composed of 110 women members in the community, the group meets at least three times a week to raise awareness about the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
“We start with our families. We spread awareness about the law and its impacts. We discuss how important it is to participate in the peace process and the important role of women in shaping a women’s agenda that specifically addresses our issues and concerns.”
The weekly meetings also became an avenue for the women to discuss issues often not discussed in public.
“During armed conflict, children as young as 13 and 14 years old are getting married because of hardships faced in evacuation centers. Early marriage is seen as a possible escape from poverty. However, in reality, it brings more hardships. During meetings, we encourage other mothers to protect their children and prevent this from happening,” shares Guiamelan.
The group was able to develop a ‘Women’s Agenda’, which they presented to the local government of Datu Saudi Ampatuan. Agenda priorities include the importance of education for children and sustainable livelihoods for women.
“I told the municipal agriculture office that I can share my skills and what I have learned cultivating mushrooms. The office appreciated my proposal and provided me with mushroom inputs. From there, I was able to train the presidents of ten other women’s groups.”
Guiamelan says three of the women she trained are now earning income from mushroom cultivation. These ten presidents also cascaded their learnings to other members of their group.
“It makes me happy to be able to help others. My dream is for all the women in our town to claim their rights and be empowered members of our community. Gone are those days that women have no right to speak. We need to reclaim our voice.”