CEDAW and Lived Realities of Moro Women

(Feature Story of CEDAW-Southeast Asia)

An empowered woman, a Muslim, a lawyer best describe Raissa Jajurie, the Coordinator of the Mindanao branch of theSentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN) or Center for Alternative Legal Services. She is small, standing five feet. She does not wear tudung (the head scarf worn by traditional Muslim women). She is soft spoken and her usual attire consists of t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.

As a developmental lawyer, she has helped women claim their rights under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  While still based in Manila, she used to travel eight hours by land to Aurora Province across the Sierra Madre Mountains for a rape case and a case of a battered woman seeking to dissolve her marriage.

Jajurie, through SALIGAN, has also spearheaded gender and paralegal trainings and organized women paralegals in their area of operation. The fruits of their labor can be seen through these women who have not only helped themselves but others as well to claim their rights.

She also expressed optimism that their advocacy work for national laws and local policies somehow paved the way for women to claim their rights.  SALIGAN worked on such legislations as the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act (VAWC), the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law and the Anti-Trafficking Law.  They are also heavily involved with the Reproductive Health Bill pending before the congress. While these are landmark legislations for women, Jajurie is realistic about their effect, Although these legal instruments are far from perfect and do not always translate into de facto rights for women, we still see them as milestones in the women’s rights advocacy.

Throughout these advocacy activities, specifically in their legal literacy program, CEDAW has always been an important component. For example, the education materials for the trainings for their partner women’s organizations carried CEDAW. In their advocacy work, they use CEDAW to illustrate gender equality and non-discrimination as international standards recognized worldwide.

Recently, in 2006, they were reoriented on CEDAW when the Philippines had to submit its fifth and sixth country report to the CEDAW Committee. Jajurie was invited in the CEDAW training conducted by the Women’s Legal Bureau (WLB), particularly because of her work with Muslim Women.  As part of its preparation for the submission of an NGO shadow report to the CEDAW Committee, WLB facilitated a workshop for women advocates in Mindanao and a slot was given for Muslim women.

Aside from this, her other organization, Nisa Ul-Haqq fi Bangsamoro (Women for justice in Bangsamoro) or Nisa for short, also participated in the preparation for the presentation of the report in front the CEDAW Committee members in NY. These were the key points that made her more involved in the campaign to bring CEDAW closer to Muslim women.

Jajurie’s is also a member of the CEDAW-Watch and as such became active in the information dissemination on CEDAW, particularly in the Mindanao areas. During the 25th anniversary of CEDAW in 2006 SALIGAN-Mindanaw took an active role in the Davao Commemorative activities.

Jajurie sees the importance of CEDAW to Muslim Moro Women because it can help them look at their realities and see how they can improve their lives and those of their sisters towards the aspiration for gender equality and non-discrimination.

And she perceives no contradiction of CEDAW to the teachings of Islam. I believe Islam was given to us by Allah because the Almighty wanted us to live in a just, peaceful and compassionate world, she says. I believe Allah created human beings in equal dignity and worth so whatever prejudice and injustice committed against any of His creations is not a part of His plan. It is a fitna or trial for us.  In the same manner, discrimination against women is un-Islamic.

Islamic texts teach the values of justice, peace and respect for mutual dignity, however many Muslims have a limited understanding of these values. This leads to the injustice and discrimination committed against Muslim women and Jajurie sees this as a reason to make use of CEDAW in enlightening her fellow Muslims. She reasons out, If CEDAW will help us widen our own understanding and facilitate our struggle for these Islamic values, then I hope we see this value in the instrument and make full use of it.

In the pursuit of widening the perception of Islamic values, she made mention of a recent seven-day training in which Nisa gathered about 20 Muslim women to study gender and Islam. With the help of an Ustadz and Ustadza (religious teachers) from Indonesia, the participants read Quranic verses, theahadith (written traditions of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.) and tafsir (exegesis) and discussed these amongst themselves. During this training, the women were glad to learn that contrary to popular notion, Islam does not actually teach discrimination against women as a doctrine.

Still, many Muslims, even women themselves, would not be ready to accept this view. Thus, the fight to stop injustice and discrimination against women still has a long way to go. I know that the years of practice of culturally accepted but discriminatory practices are very hard to apeel off,  Jajurie admits. And this is true not just for Muslim communities but in other societies as well.

In the local consultations that they have conducted with Moro women, the women themselves raised questions on the standards set by CEDAW which are contradictory to their culture and to Islamic(Sharia) Law, a sensitive issue among Muslims. But Jajurie takes these concerns as a challenge for Moro women to become more introspective and see some of the cultural practices which are perpetrating discrimination against them.

CEDAW can help in this process because it provides us with standards against which we can make a comparison with our lived realities, she explained. We should see CEDAW as a tool for this process of analysis and in looking at our own values.

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