Home Opinion Columns Women's Front: Violence against indigenous women (1)

Women's Front: Violence against indigenous women (1)



Editor’s note: The following is Part 1 of an abridged version of a paper on violence against women and indigenous women, presented by Vernie Yocogan-Diano to the Asia Consultation with the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. The consultation was held in Manila from September 10 to 14. Ms. Diano is acting chairperson of Innabuyog (an alliance of indigenous women’s organizations in the Cordillera), national coordinator of BAI (national network of indigneous women’s organizations in the country), and convenor of Task Force Women and Environment (TFWEN). Part 2 will be published next week.

Land is life!

Indigenous women, like other women in the Cordillera, Philippines and in Asia, suffer from different forms of violence, in the homes, farms, shops, and public places. These maybe physical, emotional and psychological violence. The violence can also be economic and political.

Innabuyog’s long experience in pursuing women’s rights and welfare affirms that violence happens to women because of existing power structures led by the state, corporations, and other forces of globalization, which create injustices and biases against women and the various oppressed classes they belong to.

It is also these structures which perpetuate feudal-patriarchal and commercial worldviews about women – being seen as private property of their husbands or partners, as subordinate to men, as confined to the home and care of the children, and as a mere extension to men’s work – which make them vulnerable to abuse and violence. Indigenous women are turned into commodities, making them an attraction for tourists and as dollar earners when they work overseas for their families to survive.

What makes violence against women (VAW) distinct for indigenous women is the violation of our ancestral land rights, since these land rights are the central basis for asserting our right to self-determination as distinct peoples. Our ancestral land rights are the basis of our economic, political and socio-cultural survival. Our ways of life are very much interconnected with the land; hence our survival motto, “Land is Life.”

Right to self-determination for us indigenous peoples is having control over our ancestral territories and all resoures therein and defining our own path of development. It encompasses our rights and welfare in the social, economic, political and cultural fields of life.

Our indigenous systems continue to exist because we have asserted our rights to ancestral land and self-determination. On the other hand, disintegration is happening because of impositions made by states and of imperialist structures wanting to grab our land and resources and integrate us to the whole system of imperialist globalization.

What alienates us from our ancestral land rights?

In the Philippines, the legal concept used by the state to alienate us from our ancestral land is the Regalian Doctrine, which was first imposed by Spanish colonizers. The Regalian Doctrine gave the state ownership and control of land and natural resources. National laws and policies were crafted based on this concept, and deviated and contradicted indigenous concepts wherein land ownership, control, use and development are never a monopoly but are communal and meant for the common good.

We Kankanaeys of Mountain Province say, “Adi tako bukudan di gawis.” Don’t monopolize the good. Concepts of sharing the common good are also seen in the practice of innabuyog, ub-ubbo, alluyon and binnadang. These are practices among Cordillera indigenous peoples of cooperation, labor exchange and mutual support especially in times of crisis. These practices are stronger even among indigenous women. Such practices and concepts are common not just among Cordillera peoples but also among other IPs in Asia.

In this era of imperialist globalization, indigenous women in the Cordillera and in the Philippines face two attacks on our rights to ancestral land and to self-determination. One is the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (PMA 1995), and the other is the Human Security Act (HSA) or anti-terror law. The government is aggressively implementing both laws.

PMA 1995 is a product of the World Bank’s call in the early 90s for mining liberalization. Some 72 countries – almost all mineral rich-countries from the Third World including the Philippines – responded immediately by enacting national mining laws and policies, and harmonized their national laws and policies to get rid of legal hindrances to enable full implementation of mining laws and policies.

The mining liberalization program is one arena of development aggression that is leading the country’s indigenous communities to ethnocide. Of the country’s land area, 66 percent is covered by existing mining operations and new applications, mostly located in IP territories. Of the 24 mining priority projects of the Arroyo government, 16 are located in IP territories.

This mode of development aggression definitely brings different levels and forms of violence to bear against indigenous women. Foremost affected are the indigenous peasant women who face displacement from their lands and communities which are covered by mining operations and applications. Our farm production is destroyed by toxic chemicals from mines. Destruction caused by mining is far-reaching; it does not only affect immediate surrounding communities but pollution is immense specially if mining firms dump their toxic mine wastes on the rivers or water systems.

Our experience with the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corporation (LCMC) located in Mankayan, Benguet tells of wide-ranging impacts from physical, psychological to economic – from the villages of Mankayan to the communities along the Abra river until its exit to the South China Sea. The Abra River has long been Lepanto’s dump area of its mine tailings.

The violence against indigenous and peasant women along the Abra River and Mankayan, including the mining expansion areas in Mountain Province and Ilocos, is indeed enormous. In terms of farm production, the pollution of Lepanto Mining has caused a 30-percent reduction in rice production in Cervantes and Quirino areas, which are rice-growing communities.

For an area previously known to be the rice granary for a much larger sub-region, the yield drops are attributed to several reasons: siltation of the rivers, deterioration of soil quality, stunted growth, diseased plant varieties. All these come as a result of pollution from Lepanto mine tailings.

The cropping area has been reduced by as much as 50 percent, as the sediment of thick, black or cement-like soil continuously piles up in the middle of riverways, thus forcing the water to flow into the cropped sections of the flatlands. The growth of rice stalks became stunted: those grown in heavily polluted ricefields don’t grow at all or they turn yellow instead of getting robust. The local womenfolk also say that vegetables and fruits no longer prosper. Many of these get diseased and don’t bear fruit anymore.

Mine pollution is indeed a big threat on the communities’ food security, and hunger is expected to intensify. Its impact is also seen in public health. Some pregnant women underwent abortion. There were also suspected cases of birth defects like celebral palsy, dwarfism and development delay. Since women commonly spend longer time in ricefields irrigated by polluted water from the mines, they suffer more from skin diseases and irritations.

Children are prevented from taking their baths in the river. Respiratory diseases are common due to the inhalation of fumes from the polluted Abra River and from the tailings pond. Animal lives are endangered when they drink from the river. Aquatic life and resources have dwindled a lot. For the local people, these are additional food resources that support their food security and sustenance.

These difficult conditions also force women to migrate even overseas for economic reasons, a condition that makes them vulnerable to different forms of abuse and exploitation.#


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