Long-term conflict or crisis can cause women to fall below the human security threshold in many key domains and not recover as quickly as men. Unequal recovery negatively impacts women’s opportunities to develop their capability domains compared to the opportunities of men. The Mindanao conflict is a story of conflict with disproportionate affects on women. The history of the Mindanao conflict is a reminder that conflict can increase male privilege and lead to unequal access to women’s capabilities development. The conflict in Mindanao intensified and solidified women’s experience of having fewer opportunities to develop their capability domains.
In the past forty years, more than 120,000 people have died in the conflict in Mindanao, Philippines. Many of these deaths have been civilians. Women and men interviewed for this research lived in Basilan, Mindanao, Philippines. The women and men in this article were above fifty years old. They had lived with an ebb and flow of conflict their entire lives. This article reflects emergent themes from discussions about living ‘the good life’ in an environment of conflict. The original question in the research asked women and men to discuss their best moments in life.
Men’s history was difficult; however, they reflected an understanding of themselves as revolutionaries for their people. Women, on the other hand, had difficulty recalling any positive moments in their lives. The research showed the gendered affects of living in a conflict environment on people’s capability domains. This article reviews the affects on women’s ability to gain education and have choice to work compared to men’s.
Men’s Experience of History. The men talked of a generation that changed the view of the Yakan people as “rebels” to “revolutionaries” or “heroes.” Their history was of people who fought to gain recognition. One male farmer (above 50 years old) discussed the contrast,
“Before, we had been seen as rebels, but we were not seen that way anymore.”
The study found men in this generation believed they not only fought for themselves, but for the Yakan. Showing their success through great loss, one man stated,
“We reached college, but we had spent our whole life just to have it.”
The ability to govern also took center of much of the discussion. “Before,” said one man in the 50 and above age group,
“There wasn’t even a governor who is Yakan. This is unlike today. We are being recognized. That is one of the best events we had.”
Women’s Experience of History. Women took equal part in the struggle. However, they did not share equally in the benefit. The women’s story is in stark contrast to the men’s. Women described life as being “hell”. They told of homes burned, families forced to evacuate, and husbands killed during fighting. Unlike the men, the women had trouble finding examples of positive events that had occurred in their lives. One woman (over 50 years old) who lived in an area that had seen an ebb and flow of conflict throughout her life summed, up her experience. She stated,
“There is no positive events, because we always experienced war. We live in hell.”
To contribute to this discussion another woman in her mid-fifties stated, “I started suffering when I got married.” She went onto say her husband had died in battle and, so, her oldest children had been unable to finish school. For most of her life, she struggled to support herself and her family financially.
Conflict and developing women’s and men’s domains. In group discussions women had difficulty expressing anything positive about their lives. Further the conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s had a disproportionate, negative affect on women domains compared with men’s. Women’s roles – which were influenced during conflict- were reinforced during and shortly after this period. Key informants expressed how women’s ability to work and gain education was affected by the conflict.
Women, men, and the ability to gain education. People identified reasons women had fewer opportunities to be educated than men. During the fighting, women and men segregated their roles. The men would stay outside the home to protect the family, and the women remained to do chores. One man in the 30–49 age group noted that
“men are ensuring the safety of the family, so most of the women are already obliged to fetch water and do the other chores.”
After the fighting had stopped, the women still feared leaving the house. Women were not convinced it was safe to walk about freely. As one woman in the 50 and above age group said, “We were no longer interested to study, because they were already afraid that there might be another war.” She noted most women remained at home out of fear. Further, they had feared leaving the home for so long that it was difficult to overcome this fear.
The men, on the other hand, had received scholarships to support their education. Unlike women it also was common for them to travel outside their home. A former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) member reported, “The MNLF who had surrendered were granted a scholarship.” Further, the conflicts reinforced a strongly held belief that women might convert to Christianity if they studied. One man in the 15–29 age group shared that his mother had told him that if women aimed for an education, “you will be married to a soldier—you will become Christian.” The reference to being married to a soldier shows becoming a Christian is representative of leaving Islam and going against their ethnic identity.
Current gender education and gender gap.
A large gap exists between men and women about their ability to gain the education they want. Participants were asked how much of their life they felt the freedom to continue education. Just under half of the men said they have the highest freedom possible to achieve the education they want compared with only about 18% of the women saying the same (see diagram 1).
Conflict affects women’s ability to work. As discussed earlier, women remained at home and did chores as men went to fight. Eventually remaining at home led them to “specialize” in working at home. Work they had done during conflicts was important after the conflict had ended, whereas, once the fighting had ended, the men’s job of protecting the family was no longer critical. As a result, the women stayed home. Men became educated. In the long term, a husband’s education early on led to his ability to work and become a professional, a wife’s lack of education early on led to a disadvantage –with limited work choice- later in life.
Early vulnerability lead to long-term disadvantage. One woman in the 30–49 age group reflected on how such advantages to one sex led to a long-term and unequal strengthening of the work domain. She told a story of family members, the female family member had specialized in house work during the war. After the fighting the husband had been given a scholarship to gain education while the wife still tended to the house. She mentioned her uncle, who is a government employee, and her aunt, who she described as “a plain housewife”. She described how her aunt does all the household chores and cannot hire a helper—because the uncle’s salary is just enough to cover basic needs—which could allow the aunt the opportunity to get education. As the woman put it,
“There is no chance for her [my aunt] to be at ease in work until she gets old.”
The situation, she stressed, is dire for women who cannot gain education. She stated they remain “stuck” working at home their entire lives, unable to aim for an education which leads them to have no choice to work inside or outside the house. The husband’s education early on led to his ability to work and become a professional, the wife’s lack of education early on –because of specializing in housework and fear of continued conflict- lead to not having a chose about work.
A work and gender gap exists.
Two main statistics of note, as shown in diagram 2, relate to the ability to work all the time and rarely to not at all. Nearly one third of men say they experience the ability to work all of the time compared to about 18% of women. At the bottom end of the scale, close to a quarter of the women say they have the ability to work “rarely to not at all” compared to just a handful of the men.
Women are revolutionaries. Much of the history discussed in this article took place (1970’s- 1980’s) during the same time period as the EDSA 1 revolution. The entire country was going through revolution. Those who marched in Manila and lead the peaceful revolution (1,300 km from Basilan) are now considered heroes. In Mindanao a struggle was also taking place. Both women and men should be remembered as hero’s -by their people- for helping their them gain education, work, recognition, and governance. This history should stand as a guide for development planning in post conflict areas. Women should be given equal access to being remembered as heroes. Development organizations and policy should create equal opportunity for women to develop their capabilities. The two histories -of women and men- should also point to the lesson that without intention conflict and pre-established male privilege leads to unequal access to women’s capabilities development.
Note: Statistical data is not generalizable. We used light random sampling (compared with random sampling) because of various concerns during the time of the data collection. Although not generalizable, triangulated the rich qualitative data it is usable. The larger project used that this research was a part of used Grounded Theory analysis and includes substantial rich qualitative data. THE MODEL FLOURISHING was used to develop this project. The project was done in partnership with Sirat and the University of the Philippines.
Dr. Matthew S. Will has over a decade of experience living and working in South East Asia and the Pacific. Other articles on Mindanao include Mistaken Identity and the Discourse of Terror, A Tipping Point in Terror: “Those Who Tell the Stories Rule Society”, The Respect Principle –Fertile or Corrosive- Key to Peace in Mindanao, “If Peace is Missing we Can’t Do Anything but Hide.” Peace a Priority in Mindanao.