Marawi teen escapes war only to find another form of violence in evacuation camp

Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 27 2019 05:30 AM | Updated as of Mar 27 2019 06:52 AM

16-year-old Fatima (not her real name) is seen standing in a dim walkway in an evacuation center in Saguiaran. During the siege in May 2017, a village hall in Saguiaran was turned into a temporary shelter for IDPs from Marawi. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

Noraidah, Fatima’s widowed mother, raises her children all by herself. She remarried after her first husband died but her second husband went missing following the Marawi siege. She planned to work abroad as a domestic helper to support her children but odds are stacked against her. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

Not too long ago, a teenage boy entered Fatima’s cubicle and allegedly made advances at her. She told the boy that she was not interested and asked him to leave. The boy left but went into her room again days after. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

Fatima applies makeup before leaving for school. Despite the tough conditions in the evacuation center, she and her family try to live a normal life. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

Fatima’s school uniform hanging on the plywood wall of her cubicle. Each family was assigned to a cubicle made of tarpaulins, blankets, and flimsy plywoods. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

The walls of each cubicle in the living quarters and bathrooms are about 5 to 6 feet tall. There have been instances where men or boys were caught peeping between blankets when a woman changes clothes in her room or in the bathroom area. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

Noraidah wears a T-shirt with a hole that she received from donations during the siege. Their situation as displaced persons is aggravated by the lack of access to social service and gender insensitive temporary shelters. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

A woman does her laundry in an exposed area near the bathroom stalls inside the evacuation center in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur. Women IDPs are at risk of gender-based violence because toilets and bath areas are not gender-segregated. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

The shower area in the evacuation center is not segregated by gender. There have been instances where women would catch a boy or a man peeking through the gaps between the door and the ceiling while they are showering. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

Noraidah stands on a chair to see if the alleged bully is in the corridor or standing by the entrance. Both Noraidah and Fatima’s cubicles are located near the front entrance of the building where the boy’s mother would hang out with her friends. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

Fatima checks if the people who allegedly bullies them are in the corridor of the evacuation center. She suspected that these kids are friends of the boy who allegedly came into her room. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

Fatima is with her mother and other friends in the evacuation center. Living for two years together in the same evacuation, she and her family made friends with other IDPs from Marawi. This "sense of belongingness" somehow make them feel protected and relieved despite the challenges, according to her. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Marawi City are seen outside of the evacuation center in Saguiaran in this photograph taken in February 2019. Although they came from the same city, many of them have only become friends in the evacuation center. Through these friendships, IDPs were able to cope with the stress and trauma caused by the conflict. Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

 

SAGUIARAN, Lanao del Sur - When a local terror group took over Marawi City on May 23, 2017, 16-year-old Fatima (not her real name) and her family fled their hometown to escape the violence of war only to face another conflict in the evacuation center.

Fatima and her family relocated in an evacuation center in Saguiaran town, province of Lanao del Sur.

In the same cubicle where they have been living for 2 Ramadans now, a teenage boy entered Fatima’s room while her mother Noraidah was away.

The boy allegedly made advances at her. He left when Fatima struggled, but came back again a few days later to try again.

This time, Noraidah and Fatima decide to escalate the incident and spoke to the boy and his mother. Instead of resolving the matter, the boy and his mother started bullying Fatima and Noraidah.

A group of kids whom Fatima suspected were the boy’s friends came and beat her up. They reported it to the authorities, but no one was punished, leaving the boy’s mother free to verbally harass Fatima and Noraidah.

The local government of Saguiaran accommodated several internally displaced persons.

During the siege, the town’s function hall was converted into an evacuation center. Malongs (tube skirts), blankets, tarpaulins, and slabs of plywoods were used to build cubicles, where each family would stay.

At the back of the building were makeshift bathrooms and toilets that were not segregated by gender.

The condition in the evacuation center exposes internally displaced women to harassment, voyeurism, and violence.

For Noraidah, gender-based violence is nothing new. Noraidah married her first husband when she was a teenager. She remarried when her first husband died. Her second husband, who has gone missing during the Marawi siege, used to beat her up whenever they had a fight.

Having this experience, she knew that the only way for her daughter to escape such violence is through education.

STRUCTURAL VIOLENCE

Gender inequality and violence have denied many women the life that they could have had.

Violence against women appears as one of the pervasive social problems in the Philippines, where women are also put to blame as the cause of their own misery.

The 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey of the National Statistics Office (NSO) reported that 1 in 5 Filipino women, age 15 to 49, has experienced physical violence.

United Nations (UN) Women estimated that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced “either physical and/or sexual by a non-partner” at some point in their lives.

It also revealed that there are 650 million women and girls in the world “who were married before age 18.”

Lawyer Patricia Miranda, policy advisor of OXFAM in the Philippines, said “structural violence deepens the system of violence against women and children.”

Miranda refers to the form of violence “wherein some social structure or social institution, including the community, harm women by preventing them from meeting basic needs and rights.”

"It becomes a cycle. A girl might have escaped violence at home but she would still experience violence in some other form because of gender stereotypes,” she said.

“How would a woman defend her rights if she did not experience the full range of economic, social, and cultural opportunities?” she added. 

SOCIAL NORMS

Violence on women manifests in different ways, including early marriage, lack of access to education, and reproductive health, and “disproportionate burdens on women around unpaid and domestic care work.”

Groups in the Philippines have been advocating a safe and just world, where women and girls are “able to live free from all forms of violence.”

Sister Mary John Mananzan said the Office of Women and Gender Concerns of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines “aims to reach all women and make them aware of their rights.”

The Benedictine nun stressed that women’s movement in the Philippines is "strong” and “the country’s laws to protect the rights of women are the best in the world.”

Mananzan, however, said the “problem is in the implementation of the laws and the culture or norms that dictate people that women only take subordinate roles in society.”

She said violence against women becomes normal in the eyes of the public because “even the highest public official is an oppressor and exploiter of women.”

“People laugh to rape jokes or tolerate the misogynist attacks on women. And because a lot of women are not aware of their rights, it becomes a societal norm,” she added.

She urged Filipinos to look beyond violence against women as a domestic problem only, but rather “a systemic and societal problem that has to be addressed.”

Miranda expressed that the public must recognize that changes in laws, infrastructure, and institutions “are not enough without addressing the harmful individual and collective beliefs that create and intensify power inequality."

She said it is time to tackle gender-based violence, stereotyping, and arbitrary assignments of characteristics and roles according to sex or gender identity in every community.

Fatima, in her own way, stood up against violence not only in the evacuation center. She did not accept an offer of early marriage and instead decided to continue with her studies. -- Mark Z. Saludes contributed to this report.