The Women of Sulu

Posted on Saturday, January 19th, 2013 and is filed under Feature, PhilSouth Multi-Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

During my travel to Sulu, I had the chance to speak with some of the active officers of the Sulu Provincial Women’s Council, which has proven to be a significant role-player during relief operations, clan feuds, livelihood programs, disaster preparedness, tourism, and cultural growth.  The creation of the Sulu Provincial Women’s Council, or Sahaya sin Kababaihan, and the subsequent inauguration of the Sulu Women’s Center in Jolo on 13 January  this year, have inspired the women in the province to take a stand and value their role in a Muslim-Christian society.  The involvement of women leaders in the multifarious activities that the Sulu Area Coordination Center is engaged with has further inspired women from across communities, both from the middle and the low income classes in Sulu.

The Sulu Provincial Women’s Council (SPWC) is chaired by the province’s First Lady, Hja. Nurunisah Tan, and Sec. Teresita Deles came as its guest of honor during the inauguration of its Sulu Women’s Center.  While the SWC is a physical structure, it is the spirit and dynamism of the SPWC and all its affiliate community women’s organizations that keeps it strong, as it caters to all services.  Created under the Gender and Advocacy (GAD) Code of Sulu, it has become a one-stop center engaged purposely for concerns of women, children, and even to the elderly (men and women alike). A special space is provided for victims and those who would seek consultation as probable victims of violence against women and children within the edifice, and this the Violence Against Women and Children Center (VAWCC). In my interviews I was told the SWPC holds regular counseling activities sometimes including the male elderly in their program for senior citizens.

“The women of Sulu are very much empowered.  We have worked for the past years for the formal organization of 18 Municipal Women’s Councils, and the women in each of these municipalities have been engaged in capacity-building programs, especially for livelihood and self-reliance, into social welfare, health and medical services,” said Interior and Local Government Provincial Director Sitti Kausar Sahijuan.

The SPWC, Director Sahijuan stated, is focused on four areas of concern:  health and medical services, social welfare, protection of rights and security, and legal issues and concerns.  Sulu women and children have thus a venue for counseling, case management, legal assistance, and this is seen as a positive measure and intervention for the documentation of existing and future VAWC cases.

The SPWC seeks out support from the SACC as the latter’s vast network links the SPWC within and beyond Sulu.  In early December 2012, Typhoon Pablo (International Code:  Bopha) ravished the Davao Region, causing loss of thousands of lives and displacement of several families.  The SPWC members agreed to help raise funds, old clothing, old tarpaulins, food and water to be sent out to eastern Mindanao.  For the first time in its history as a province, Sulu sent through Philippine Navy ship BRP Tagbanua its humanitarian relief assistance.

But SPWC members said that with the opening of the Sulu Women’s Center, they now have more opportunities to serve and empower the Tausug womenfolk, providing them with health and medical services, legal services, while enlightening them further on women’s rights and responsibilities and other concerns on culture-sensitive gender development.

The most recent priority focus area is on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC), where many cases have been unreported due to the protective nature of families as typified of Tausug culture, SPWC Information Officer Dr. Charisma Ututalum said.  “But we hope to inform women that they have a home to go so they won’t be afraid, since we also understand the concept of hiya, which is near to ‘disgrace’ in Tausug culture.”

The Sulu Women’s Center presently is the end-point of cases on violence against women and children—to include physical abuse, emotional battery, psychological battery, child abuse, rape and other forms of sexual abuse.  The points of complaint may either be at the community (barangay) level, or the Women’s Desk of the local police (which is the most common), the hospital, rural health center, or the social welfare office.  (Frencie Carreon, The PhilSouth Angle)

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