Mindanao, the third major island group in the Philippines, strikes most of us as a culturally diverse region—along with many Muslims and Christians, its population is also made up of many local ethnic groups. This cultural diversity, in as much as it accounts for Mindanao’s uniqueness, has also been the root of the ongoing war which is taking its toll mostly in the regions of Sulu, Jolo, and some parts of Cotabato.
The fighting in Mindanao has stunted the development of several regions in the area, and has had a huge impact on its people. Women have been affected the most, especially since Mindanao in general, and the women of Mindanao in particular, have been greatly under-represented in politics.
The Philippines is currently gearing up for the 2010 national elections—and so are the women in Mindanao. They have begun to realize how important it is to have more women in government in order to uplift the condition of women and uphold their rights not just in Mindanao but in the rest of the Philippines as well.
Why the emphasis on Mindanao though? Primarily because gender inequalities in the Philippines are most prevalent in this region, given that it is very much culturally-rooted to begin with. Many of the women in Sulu and Jolo are not given the opportunity to escape poverty because they are denied the right to education. And for those who do have access, the quality of education is often extremely low. One of our major dailies recently reported that in the most depressed regions, some teachers only have the proficiency of a third grader in basic subjects like English, science, and mathematics.
Politics is the realm of collective decision making wherein so much can be accomplished. Mobilizing and empowering women in Mindanao can greatly aid in the region’s development. If more women are able to call the shots in Mindanao, there is a great possibility that they will have more opportunities to become better educated, to be trained even in vocational skills, and to generally improve their living conditions.
More opportunities spell out a brighter future and a fresher start for the women in Mindanao. This could also mean that they will soon be able to contribute to Mindanao economically, perhaps improving the state of the region.
The war in Mindanao may still be at its peak and so much still needs to be accomplished. Women need to have their voices heard this 2010.