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SHARIFF AGUAK, MAGUNDANAO, THE PHILIPPINES — By daybreak, Bailan Salik, a 26-year old social worker, rushes to the kitchen to prepare the best breakfast meal for her family. "This is my labor of love for my husband and son before heading to my day work away from home," she describes.

Bailan and her family live in a semi-wooden house in the heart of Shariff Aguak, the capital of Maguindanao. Her husband, Romy, is a 27-year-old  freelance construction worker in the town center. Her son is 4 years old.

After styling her veil, she hurriedly hails a motorcycle to meet fellow Muslim women in the community.

"My life is here”

For forty years, the people of Maguindanao experienced the armed conflict that claimed the lives of more than 150,000 of its citizens. Bailan herself was getting used to the sound of gunfire and artillery shell explosions from this war.  But despite having to endure conflicts and multiple evacuations in her lifetime, Bailan never left her hometown. 

After getting a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Social Work, she landed a job at United Youth of the Philippines (UNYPHIL) - Women Incorporated, a partner non-government organization of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund in the Philippines. Bailan became a Women-Friendly Space (WFS) facilitator in her province. WFS is one of the flagship projects of UNFPA Philippines in the region.

"We gather members of the community together. I talk to the women of my town on a day-to-day basis to discuss health and human rights issues, and find collective solutions to our problems," Bailan shares.

A difficult job 

“We found out that people in the community lack interest in the sessions because they have work or chores to do and they don’t want to be disturbed,” Bailan says. “You need to show your sincerity to the community members. I am helping the women understand their rights and how they can defend it.”

When COVID-19 happened and the rest of the country was placed under strict quarantine lockdown, the government shut down businesses, main roads, buses, and other public vehicles, especially following the surge in virus cases. People were instructed to stay home; mass gatherings were prohibited. The strict quarantine lockdown affected millions.

According to UNFPA in the Philippines and the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI), intimate partner violence is expected to increase by 16 percent in 2020, because for instance women and girls are more likely to be stuck with the abusers at home.

Determined to change lives

These challenges from the pandemic do not prevent the women volunteers of UNFPA like Bailan from continuing their work on the ground.  To keep their advocacy amid the crisis, Bailan and her colleagues handle a four-hour radio program to widen the reach of their campaign.  They provide information important to women’s rights and ways to prevent the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s the only way we saw to continue our work,” she says.

Undeterred, Bailan and her colleagues found an alternative way to continue giving hope to their fellow women. |
Photo by Jeof Maitem (c) UNFPA Philippines

“There are a lot of women out there who don't know their rights and have no idea how to defend their rights. They are trapped into the belief that women should only be in homes taking care of their children, without any right to make their own decision,” she underscores. “But of course, women can do more.”

In the community radio program, some of Bailan’s colleagues, like Noraisa Abdulla,  also announce that they are using the two-way radio to continue communicating the advocacy to her target group of women in the town’s remote communities. “The majority of people in the town’s remote areas were only using radio as means of communication. Partly, our operation was affected, but it did not prevent us,” Noraisa shares.

Despite the risks of contracting COVID19 for themselves and their families, Bailan and her colleagues never declined to continue the work they had signed up for. And they have tirelessly sought ways to promote the rights of women and young people.

“It can feel like we can’t stop gender-based violence or harmful practices like early or forced marriage --  which is why our job is to give women hope,” Bailan explains. “That one day, the violence will stop and we can get them to safety.” 

“I am doing this kind of job because it’s my passion to help other people. I love our community. This is where I will spend the rest of my life, and I will continue to work hard to serve our community, sharing my best to all the women who cannot defend their rights," she says, proudly sharing their labor of love for the community.  

-- Angeli "Ann" Regala, UNFPA Philippines Media and Communications Officer