The Office of the Minority Floor Leader MP Atty. Laisa Alamia takes part in the National Women’s Month annually by celebrating and honoring the women of the Bangsamoro for their contribution to the struggle for change and development in the region. This year, on March 21, the Office of MP Alamia organized and facilitated a local forum on RA No. 11596 or An Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage and Imposing Penalties for Violations Thereof among youth and women leaders, within the context of the Bangsamoro. 

The forum was mounted to initiate a safe and healthy discussion of RA No. 11596, and was done in partnership with Kalisa Action Network (KalisaAN), a network of women’s groups and advocates that advance the rights and welfare of women and children in the Bangsamoro and Zamboanga Peninsula.

This forum is just the beginning of efforts to support the passage and implementation of RA No. 11596, in recognition of the Bangsamoro Government’s mandate to protect women’s and children’s rights as enshrined in the Bangsamoro Organic Law.

A global fight to assert women’s, children’s rights

“The fight to end child marriage is part of a global fight to assert women’s and children’s rights. The practice of child marriage may be deeply rooted in our culture and tradition, but that does not mean that it cannot be changed,” said Dayang Karna M. Bahidjan, KalisaAN board member in her opening remarks for the event.

In her presentation, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” human rights lawyer and Commission of Human Rights IX Director Atty. Judelyn Macapili enumerated shared experiences among women that is brought about by the “generational gender concept that women are ‘merely’ positioned in the domestic sphere.”

She outlined the gains women have had in the years of fighting for equal rights, including better opportunities for education and employment. Women’s right to suffrage and political participation were also won through the persistence of women advocates, she said.  However, she also pointed out that “there is still underrepresentation in some fields.”

Full and active participation of stakeholders

Atty. Yildrim T. Amaraja of the Office of the Minority Floor Leader discussed the premise behind RA No. 11596, including state policies that support the said measure. The state, he said, given its mandate over the youth, must “abolish traditional and cultural practices and structures that perpetuate discrimination, abuse, and exploitation of children.” Given its mandate over women, the state must also “abolish the unequal structures and practices that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.” He also discussed the contents of the said law, including the unlawful acts it enumerates such as the facilitation of child marriage, solemnization of child marriage, and cohabitation of an adult with a child outside wedlock. 

However, the law, he said, has proven to be “quite controversial” in local communities. Therefore, there is a need to foster an “enabling social environment” that can aid in the discussion and implementation of the measure, especially in empowering children through provision of information, skills and support networks; enhancing children’s access to quality education; providing economic support and incentives to children and their families; and applying of strategic interventions to influence and empower parents and community leaders to discourage and eradicate the practice of child marriage.

“Our children is our future,” he said, “and any practice that presents danger or harm to the development and welfare of children must be reimagined or, if necessary, eradicated.”

Marriage, women’s rights under Islamic Law

Minority Floor Leader Atty. MP Laisa Alamia led a discussion of women’s rights under Shari’a or Islamic Law, focusing on the “essence of Islam” that is “revealed in the humanistic values it embodies,” and how “the complete expression of those values” is in “the recognition of the fundamental equality and unity of all humanity” and “that all human beings are considered equal because all are equally created by God.”

MP Alamia outlined the rights of women that must be upheld in accordance with Shari’a but are often compromised in the practice of child marriage. These are the right to life, right to equality and status, economic rights, right to education, right to public participation, right to receive support, and right to divorce.

“All of us have the same rights,” she said, “and all of us are equal in the eyes of God.”

She also led a discussion on women and marriage in Islam by outlining the contents of the Code of Muslim Personal Laws (CMPL), or Presidential Decree No. 1083 as it governs Muslims’ marital relations in the Philippines, and the provisions that need to be revisited, especially those that involve questions of critical gender issues regarding gender equality and equity for men and women.

“Gender equality benefits everyone,” MP Alamia emphasized.