Bangsamoro women: No more consultations in English, please

Ferdinandh Cabrera
Bangsamoro women: No more consultations in English, please

CONSULTATION. A group, mostly women, waits to take part in a public consultation in Basilan province.

Mindanao Organization for Social and Economic Progress

'Sad to say, many of our women could not understand English, and because of that, they are not as interested,' says Faija Taalil, a commissioner of the Bangsamoro Women Commission

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Women’s groups in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) called on their legislators to hold non-English public consultations and use technical terms sparingly as they draft a new electoral law for the special region in the Southern Philippines, noting the high illiteracy rates in the Muslim-majority territory. 

The groups said their active participation in legislation and governance can contribute to creating quality codes that are acceptable to all and that it is best understood if the draft legislation is translated into the vernacular.

The women’s groups have presented their observations during a series of consultations conducted by the regional government on the draft legislation.

The organized Bangsamoro women said their inclusion in moral governance and peace and development programs is crucial, but communication barriers have made it difficult for many women to understand and participate in the legislative process.

“We have to admit there exists a communication gap,” said Faija Taalil, a commissioner of the Bangsamoro Women Commission (BWC) in Basilan. 

“Sad to say, many of our women could not understand English, and because of that, they are not as interested,” she added.

The Philippines has a relatively high illiteracy rate, particularly among women in rural areas, and the situation is severe in the Bangsamoro region, one of the poorest and least developed areas of the country. 

Factors such as lack of access to education, cultural attitudes toward women’s education, poverty, and years of armed conflict all contributed to the high rates of illiteracy among women in the region. 

Bangsamoro Deputy Speaker Omar Yasser Sema acknowledged the problem and said the region’s officials would work with local governments to bridge the gap and ensure effective communication with women in remote communities.

Ranisa Salahuddin, a BWC commissioner in Tawi-Tawi, said, “Legislators use technical terms that ordinary folks in the countryside do not understand. If these are in the vernacular, people will surely show interest and will actively participate in moral governance.”

Organizations such as the Mindanao Mindanao Organization for Social and Economic Progress (MOSEP) and the Asia Foundation have collaborated with the BWC to help develop a communication plan to involve women in legislation using workable communication channels. 

Their goal is to ensure active participation from women’s sectors and to promote their interests and rights.

Rahima Silongan, BWC’s executive assistant, said the commission’s programs include community gender awareness, giving every Bangsamoro woman a platform where they can express their views and take on issues that will, in the end, affect them.

“Letting them know their roles – the women and the men – is empowering them and giving them roles to play in achieving genuine peace and development in their communities,” Silangan said.

Hadja Samaona Una of the BWC in Lanao del Sur said the program is aimed at raising awareness among people at the grassroots level, especially the wives and families of former secessionist combatants in the communities. 

The Bangsamoro Parliament’s Rules Committee has been holding consultations to draft the proposed electoral code for the region, with a focus on ensuring fair representation for the people. 

Sema has presided over public consultations in Maguindanao del Sur and Maguindanao del Norte, where local governments, academic institutions, civil society groups, NGOs, and the women and youth sector expressed strong support for the proposed code.

All inputs and position papers would be compiled and submitted to the committee in February.

Since 2022, public consultations have also taken place in Manila, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Cotabato City. 

The proposed Bangsamoro Electoral Code outlines the principles for the scheduled 2025 regional elections, which will have 80 members – 50% from party representatives, 40% from district representatives, and 10% from sectoral representatives.

Based on the proposal, one seat each has been reserved for the women, youth, traditional leaders, and ulama sectors, while two seats are for non-Moro indigenous and settler communities. –

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