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Heart of darkness: searching for peace amidst domestic violence in the Cordilleras.

Gwen was someone who, like any other person, dreamt of a simple, happy, peaceful life. She lived quietly in a far-flung village deep in the heart of the Cordillera region with her family and friends, loved by a man, Dante, that she was going to marry soon. The time finally came for Dante to ask for Gwen's hand from her parents, a custom which they called "palanos". After the "palanos", both parties finally agreed on the dowry that Dante will present to Gwen (which, among other things, included rice fields, coffee plantations and money) and the pigs and rice that Gwen will give during the "sulwak" or traditional marriage.

When all arrangements had been finalized, the wedding ceremony went as planned. Gwen's happiness knew no bounds. For the first three months she dutifully fulfilled what was expected of her as a wife and tried as much as possible to make her husband happy.

However, on the fourth month of their marriage, her husband started to beat her for no apparent reason. The abuse began with verbal attacks, which were then followed by slaps. Later, as her husband grew bolder, the abuse escalated to punching and kicking then finally to severe beatings. Gwen resisted the abuse. She was also very vocal about it to her parents and had expressed a desire to leave her husband but they always sent her back to her husband with a reproach and a reminder that in their culture it was taboo for a woman to leave the husband. They told her to serve her husband better so she will not be beaten again.

The beatings grew worse as the days wore on. As the abuse continued, she became depressed and helpless. She began blaming herself, asking herself what she had done wrong to deserve all the pain and misery she was going through. Was she that evil a person that even her parents and friends, whom she expected to help her in her time of need, could not help her? Everybody seemed to think she was a bad wife, and as such believed that the abuse her husband inflicted on her was justified, they seemed to believe he had all the right to do whatever he wanted with her, for afterall, she was just his wife.

Deep inside, she longed for peace but even this was denied her. To keep herself from going insane, she turned all her attention to the needs of their two children. She tried to do what she could to avoid violence in the family.

Still, the beatings did not cease. In desperation, she sought help from their clan. She clung to the hope that the clan would solve her problem, as they had resolved countless disputes in the community. She bravely spoke infront of the elders, only to be met with their anger and threats and a stalwart refusal to help her. They told her, coldly, that in their culture a woman could not leave her husband and that if she did, she would have to pay the "multa"--she must return everything that was given to her during their "sunga" and to pay a fine for her "transgression". She could not comprehend why they could condone such an injustice.

So Gwen was forced to go back to her husband. She had no choice because she could not afford to return the dowry or pay the fine that would have been imposed on her. She suffered in silence and continued to dream of the peaceful life she aspired before her marriage. Her husband again repeatedly beat her and it got to the point that she almost died from the injuries she sustained from the beatings.

It was her near-death experience which convinced her to leave her husband. Sadly, she could not bring her children with her. The community elders and leaders still firmly stood by their belief that married couples should stay together through thick and thin. They refused to recognize the abuse and pain she went through. In fact, all they did to resolve the conflict was to have her husband conduct the "sunga" wherein he would butcher a pig for her quick recovery and give "butok" or beads for his wife so that she would be healed.

Gwen's case may seem unique in the Cordilleras. Still, the truth is that domestic violence is a reality in the region. Her story is not a critique of the culture. It merely points out that there are traditional practices in the Cordilleras that are detrimental to women.

Many women in the Cordilleras silently suffer from violence. Cases of abuse and violence are being resolved through traditional cultural practices that are not anymore applicable. Some clan members, who used to be involved only in the resolution of land disputes and other conflicts, are now involving themselves in politics and other matters, abusing traditional practices to suit their needs, such as in the resolution of abuse cases. They often try to pressure the aggrieved party to amicably settle the case since they all belong to one clan, afraid of the shame and criticism that a case of abuse will bring on their clan. Bringing out the abuse in the open according to them will show the inability of their elders to settle misunderstandings.

In the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Phil. Plan for Gender and Development PPGD, RA 7192 and in many laws and universal declarations, discrimination should be eliminated in our traditional practices and in our existing laws. However, this is easier said than done, especially since many government officials would rather badmouth or destroy each other rather than improve the status of men and women in society. It is time for men and women to make concerted efforts to transform our society and to push for the judicious implementation of laws that seek to achieve peace in the country. No matter how good the laws are if they are not implemented, peace will remain elusive. There will always be discord, and women and children will always be casualties in a domestic war not of their own making.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Voices
Author:Armas, Janet
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Previous Article:Gender inequality and patriarchy in the Cordilleras: a fact? Or a myth?
Next Article:Recipes for peace.

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