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'Safe spaces' set up for women, children who fled Marawi

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), together with humanitarian organizations, set up women- and child-friendly spaces in evacuation centers in Iligan City where those affected by the Marawi City crisis are staying.

In these special places, children are provided tools to draw and toys to play with as part of the psychosocial intervention to ease their trauma. Women, meanwhile, are able to breastfeed their babies in these areas. It also provides a space for them to meet, talk, and help each other.

The DSWD said both women and children can feel safe – free from violence, trauma, and threats.

"They (women) face greater risks as they try to keep their families together. It has also been documented by various humanitarian agencies that women tend to be less aware of how to protect themselves, and this is because they are often left out of the planning process when it comes to emergency preparedness," explained Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.

She noted that previous disasters have proven that "safe spaces" helped minimize risks faced by women in emergency situations. (READ: How disasters make women and children vulnerable to abuse)

"Because of this, there is a need to involve more women in disaster preparedness efforts and to put together information and education campaigns wherein women and their safety are given focus and priority," Taguiwalo added.

As of Tuesday, June 19, the DSWD has recorded a total of 338,538 persons or 69,296 families displaced. Some 83 evacuation centers across Northern Mindanao are currently servicing 17,724 persons or 3,747 families. Most of the Marawi City residents who fled their homes are staying with their relatives in nearby areas.

Child's rights group Save the Children put the total number of affected children from Marawi City at 80,000 as of June 16.

A total of P74.33 million worth of food and non-food items such as family food packs, snacks, hygiene kits, beddings, blankets, water, and kitchen utensils have been provided by the DSWD since the crisis started on May 23. (READ: Australia gives P34-M aid for Marawi clash victims)

The military continues to battle terrorists in Marawi City. So far, the month-long clashes have left 65 soldiers and policemen dead. The military also said 258 terrorists have been killed, while 26 civilians were killed by terrorists. (READ: Marawi battle zone: Urban warfare challenges PH military)

The clashes in Marawi City prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in the entire Mindanao, also on May 23. Martial law remains in effect for a maximum of 60 days unless Duterte seeks an extension and gets congressional approval. – Rappler.com