Group says women are not participating in local affairs because bills are in English, a language they do not understand
Muslim women look for their names at a voting precinct in Maguindanao, on the southern island of Mindanao on Jan 21, 2019, for a plebiscite to ratify the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). A decades-long push to halt violence that claimed some 150,000 lives in the southern Philippines culminated with a vote on giving the nation's Muslim minority greater control over the region. (Photo: AFP)
Women in the Philippines' autonomous Muslim majority region urged its lawmakers on Feb. 6 to translate bills and laws from English into local languages so that they can be understood better.
Many women see crafting local laws in English, as is the norm, as a form of discrimination since many women in the southern region have not been to college and learned English, a women's group said.
“We would appreciate it if members of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao have a translation of the bills that they sponsor. This will help us in consultations with our people, especially women,” Faija Taalil of the Bangsamoro Women's Commission told reporters.
The 80-member local legislative body is mandated to legislate laws that are “culturally” sensitive to Islam under the peace agreement.
“Sad to say many women cannot understand English, the language used during consultations, and because of that, they are not interested,” Taalil said.
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was established in 2014 following the end of a long-running conflict between Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels and the Philippine government.
Under the peace deal, the BARMM was created comprising five provinces in the southern Philippines. Its population is 4,404,288, based on a 2020 census, and accounts for about 4.04 percent of the Philippines’ 110.2 million population.
The Mindanao region is known for a low literacy rate among women compared with men, according to a 2011 report by the Philippine Statistics Authority. The literacy rate among Muslim women is 80.3 percent compared with 82.8 for men, according to the authority.
Few Muslim women attend consultation meetings regarding laws because of the language barrier, Taalil said.
The women’s commission said untranslated pieces of legislation, together with the non-use of the vernacular, do not empower Muslim women.
“We have to admit there exists a communication gap.… There is a difference between what’s written and what’s explained and understood,” Taalil added.
“Legislators use technical terms and ordinary folks in the countryside do not understand … if these are translated, people will surely show interest and will participate in governance,” Ranisa Salahuddin of Tawi-Tawi province told reporters.
Taalil and Salahudin were referring to laws and bills which are gender sensitive.
Archbishop Martin Jumoad of Ozamiz, a local prelate has asked lawmakers to agree to the women's request to make democracy “more alive” in the region.
“By translating laws and bills into vernacular languages, we are empowering those who are directly affected by them. Language also bridges the gap in a diverse region that practices the same faith [Islam],” the archbishop told reporters.
BARMM lawmaker, Lausa Alamia, however, was skeptical about translating bills due to the large number of dialects and local languages in the region.
“Mindanao is composed of seven regions with many linguistic groups, like Danao, Manobo, and Subanon languages. Besides, there are several dialects. This is the real challenge,” Alamia told reporters.
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