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Women and peace in the Cordilleras.

Peace is usually understood as a state of quietness or tranquility. It is said to be the freedom from agitation or violence.

That said, one may safely say that the women of the Cordillera are lovers of peace. This has been demonstrated throughout Cordillera history (and herstory)--in the stories of resistance against colonial aggressors and vested interests that look on the Cordillera as a resource.

There are plenty of stories that speak about the heroism and bravery of women in the Cordilleras.

There is one the story about the women of Talubin, Mt. Province at the beginning of the 20th century. The Talubin women formed a human barricade to protest a cadastral survey the Americans were planning to conduct. When the surveyors insisted on conducting it, these same women confiscated the equipments that the surveyors were using. In retaliation, the surveyors detained the women's husbands, who had also refused to assist them in the survey. The women, together with their children, then marched to the barracks and conducted a noise barrage which forced the soldiers to release the men.

The women of Sagada and Besao used the same strategies to successfully prevent the mining and logging ventures of the Americans.

And of course, there is the story of the Kalinga women who united for the protection of their land during the Chico Dam struggle.

In the traditional practices of the tribes in the Cordilleras, though the men were the warriors and thus can decide whether to go to war or not, women, who were the main food producers, could prevent the men from going to war by refusing to prepare food.

In these stories one can see that the women of the Cordilleras have, time and time again, ensured every means to ensure that peace prevails.

This reflects the fact that the women in the Cordilleras play a very crucial role in the safeguarding of peace. It stems from the reality that, as women, we have been given the task of ensuring that the race lives on. But can the race live on if there are threats to peace--such as wars and the loss of land (an important resource that they could not afford to lose)--threats that will endanger the lives of a younger generation? As such, we are also given the function of safeguarding peace so that the younger generations grow into a stronger, firmer community. Thus, the women have struggled to secure peace in the land.

These roles as peacemakers and food producers have given the women of the Cordilleras a high status in pre-colonial society, one wherein the women can participate in decision-making processes.

However, we, unfortunately, do not live in those times anymore. Various events, colonial masters, different governmental regimes, have changed and continue to change society. Many of us live under conditions brought about by poverty that continue to sustain a social conflict that bred and continue to breed violence in varying degrees.

There is, first and foremost, violence brought about by the discrimination of a dominant culture. Women face unintentional problems because they are indigenous. Furthermore, this same distinction, of being indigenous has been and is being used to justify policies of assimilation, integration, transmigration or at times, militarization. Violence is also present when the same programs and policies deprive women (and men) of their rich ancestral lands which is the basis lot culture and survival.

Land has always been and always will be the source of life. To possess land is to possess peace. Indigenous peoples nowadays however, have to contend with loosing land for development purposes.

The loss of land, due to insidious development projects, such as the Bingo and Ambuclao dams, has led to the displacement of women (and men) from their ancestral territories and their production base. Consequently, the women have lost control over the natural resources which have been the source of their survival. Furthermore, indigenous women have been and are still being, marginalized from their integral role in the agricultural process. Agricultural production was traditionally placed in the hands of women who spent most of their time working in the fields. The additional impact of the loss of land, marginalization and destruction of the environment is a heavy workload that has been placed squarely on the shoulders of individual women.

The indigenous agricultural system which recognized the vital roles of women was replaced by the present economic system which measures productivity in terms of cash, which in turn renders women's work invisible. Furthermore, the Cordillera women now found themselves living with largely patriarchal and traditional societies that dictate women as subordinate to men.

Aside from all these, individual women have to contend with other issues and problems as well, such as the following: inadequate health and medical services, the disappearance of indigenous medicine because of the promotion of expensive drugs which becomes an additional burden for the family, rise in the mortality rate of women due to hard physical labor even in times of pregnancy and the rising mortality rate of children due to malnutrition and other health-rated problems. Women also have to deal with health problems related to the use of toxic agro-chemicals used in the commercial gardens.

Thus, we can see that though war does not exist in apparent forms, war is being waged in other ways everyday: the fight to protect land, culture, peace, health and most especially--a vanishing way of life.

Peace can only be attained when the conditions discussed above are addressed. There is peace when there is economic security and when basic services can reach the people. For this, women will and should also be in the center of efforts to ensure that not only peace reigns, but that the community survives.

Arsenia Addon is one of IFI's community organizers. She has worked as a researcher for the University of the Philippines Baguio. She is currently based in Buguias.
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Author:Addon, Arsenia
Publication:Igorota
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Words:979
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