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Women’s group braves chaos to help civilians displaced from Marawi

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Womenâs group braves chaos to help civilians displaced from Marawi

Al-Mujadilah Development Foundation members brave chaos to help civilians affected by Marawi crisis. Oxfam / Genevieve Estacaan

 

MANILA, Philippines — A Marawi-based non-governmental organization composed of Muslim women is at the frontlines of giving life-saving aid to civilians affected by conflict in the city.

Al-Mujadilah Development Foundation (AMDF) is one of the local NGOs tapped by the Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC), Oxfam’s partner in the Marawi disaster response. These women lead the delivery of live-saving aid to an estimated 220,000 civilians affected by the clashes that have devastated Marawi City for almost three weeks now.

According to Cathy Gordo, currently response manager of Oxfam, AMDF's members themselves were displaced by the clashes. However, they still expressed willingness to help HRC by providing life-saving information and mobilizing volunteers.

AMDF took its name from a chapter of the Qur’an, “Al-Mujadilah (Al-Mujadalah)" which means "The Woman Who Seeketh (Justice)."  They also work on peace-building initiatives and on empowering the women of Muslim Mindanao.

“During conflict, the population of women in evacuation centers is bigger than men. Women affected by conflict are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence. Thus, it is crucial to have women at the frontlines of giving humanitarian aid. We understand women’s needs better,” said Sakina*, a young Moro woman from the AMDF , said. She works at an evacuation center in Balo-i, Lanao del Norte, north of Marawi City. 

“It is a challenge to work during the Ramadan period. As an aid worker, most of my work involves talking to affected civilians and translating for non-Maranao-speaking aid workers. My energy easily gets depleted,” Sakina shared.

Sakina said that “more than fasting, Ramadan is about patience and sacrifice.” “At the end of the day, it is a very rewarding feeling, knowing that I’ve helped people,” the young woman added.

Money, bathing facilities needed

Among the urgent needs of women, children, and senior citizens in evacuation centers are cash and bathing facilities.

Gordo said the sectors mentioned need money to address the other needs of their families that cannot be addressed by distributed food packs and caregivers.

Nurhaina*, a wife and a mother of four, currently cramped with seven other displaced families in a classroom in Balo-I, said they are in need of money since they fled Marawi City empty-handed.

“At this point, we are more than grateful having survived the conflict, and being supported by the government and by NGOs,” Nurhaina said.

“The challenge for us now is where to find money. My husband has been struggling to find odd jobs so we can buy basic needs like firewood that we use for cooking. This costs us P30-P50 per day, which is too much for us at this point,” she added. 

The response manager also cited that the evacuees around Iligan City take a bath in the same area since there is no gender segregation in the bathing facilities. She said this places women and children at risk.

“We have seen in previous conflicts that women and children were prone to harassment and violence in evacuation centers,” Gordo said.

Aside from local NGOs, HRC and Oxfam continue to work side by side with government agencies in delivering assistance to those affected by the crisis. 

“It is important that issues that came up during the response in previous conflicts will no longer arise in the Marawi response. We cannot emphasize enough how women and children are differently affected by conflict. Thus, it’s important for the government to listen to their voices,” Cathy concluded.

Days ahead of Ramadan, the ISIS-linked Maute group launched attacks in Marawi City. President Rodrigo Duterte subsequently placed Mindanao under martial law to contain the violence and to neutralize the local terror group. —Rosette Adel

 *Names have been changed to protect them and their families.

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