Indigenous women learn about their rights in the Philippines


Author: Nuntana Tangwinit

The Dibabawon indigenous people live in the remote Calinogan community of Compostela Valley Province, Mindanao. I travelled for seven hours from Manila, by plane, car, and finally on a local ‘skylab’ motorbike along unpaved roads through lush forests, to reach this community of 256 people.

I was there to participate in a training aimed at raising awareness among indigenous women and men on gender equality, in particular, strengthening their knowledge on the protection of women and children. The training contributes to ‘The Global Leadership School for Indigenous Women in Nepal and the Philippines’, a two-year programme funded by UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality (FGE ). The FGE programme – by increasing the knowledge and skills of indigenous women and men on human rights standards and mechanisms – will boost their confidence in asserting their rights and support them in playing a more effective role in decision-making at community and national level, including through .overcoming discrimination and marginalization.

The Philippines endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP ) in 2007, which prohibits discrimination, and sets out the rights of indigenous peoples, including in relation to employment, education, health, culture, language and self-determination. The Philippines has also ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Ratification of CEDAW obliges states to implement policies, programmes and plans of actions towards the realization of women's rights and gender equality. However, many indigenous women in particular, in the Philippines still experience discrimination, are marginalized, and are vulnerable to becoming victims of violence and trafficking.

There were 57 training participants on the day, acquiring vital knowledge on their rights, and practical guidance on how to demand and access their rights. It was a unique opportunity for women and men from all walks of life to share experiences of their roles in family and community life, in terms of gender equality. The training was organized by Silingang Dapit sa Habagatang Sidlakang Mindanao (SILDAP-SE), an NGO based at Tagum City, Davao. SILDAP has worked with indigenous peoples of the southern Philippines since 1982, in partnership with Baguio-based NGO, Indigenous People’s International Centre for Policy Research and Education (Tebtebba).

After the training I had a chance to speak with some of the participants and hear their stories and thoughts on the knowledge they gained, and how it linked to their own life experience.


Photo: UN Women/ Nuntana Tangwinit
I did not know about the rights I am entitled to and had no idea about who and where to ask help when my rights are violated. Now I know and I will share this with other women in the community.

-- Ms. Rebecca Tompong. 40 years-old, from Dibabawon tribe.


Photo: UN Women/ Nuntana Tangwinit
The training on violence against women and children has made me understand the rights of children. I will apply it to my children. Whenever my son throws a tantrum, I will not respond by hitting or hurting him, but instead talk and correct my child in the proper way.

-- Ms. Mary Jane Sagubay, 30 years old from Dibabawon tribe.


Photo: UN Women/ Nuntana Tangwinit
I learned that there are already laws implemented by the government protecting women’s rights. For me it means our government has now armed the women in society through these laws they implemented.

-- Ms. Lolita Bundan, 51 years old, Bisaya .


The Dibabawon women from Calinogan community are just some of the almost 600 indigenous women who have been trained in gender equality and women’s rights across Nepal and the Philippines since the FGE programme began in 2013.

The programme also has an advocacy component focused on how indigenous women leaders and their organizations and communities can be more proactive and strategic in holding their governments accountable, through their international commitments and obligations. As such, the FGE grantee Tebtebba is also advocating for indigenous women’s rights in international fora, for example, they have just actively participated in the first ever World Conference on Indigenous People on September 22-23rd 2014. During this event Tebtebba Executive Director, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples earlier in the year, announced that she will be making the issue of violence against indigenous women, youth and children of a focus of her mandate. Regarding the integration of gender within the World Conference’s Outcome document Ms. Eleanor Dictaan-Bang-oa, Tebtebba Coordinator of the Gender Program and the manager of the FGE programme, said “(…) indigenous women look forward to strengthened engagement in the development of the system-wide action plan called for by the WCIP vis-a-vis its operationalization and coherence with other programmes especially at the local and national level (…) we can use the outcome document as an additional basis for pushing dialogue in defining the kind of development that we want as women and as indigenous peoples especially in the light of the current negotiations on the Post 2015 SDGs and Beijing +20”.

The work that indigenous women’s advocates like Eleanor are doing at the global level to demand state accountability for indigenous women is commendable.

Similarly, what the indigenous women and men present in that training room on a hot and humid day in Calinogan is just as admirable. For me, it was an eye-opener to be able to participate and hear their experiences first hand. As a member of the UN Women team based in the Regional Office in Bangkok, and supporting FGE partners to implement and manage their projects, I was already familiar with project intricacies. However, I realized from this visit that meeting project partners and participants to discuss the gender inequalities that they face and the strategies they have to use to overcome them, is crucial in understanding them and developing the programme in the future. It is also a reminder of how important it is, to not lose sight of the women on the ground, in their communities, when we work to strengthen their rights. Advocacy and macro-level changes are key, but they should go hand in hand with making real changes the lives of women like Lolita, Mary-Jane and their peers.

About the author

Nuntana Tangwinit is a Programme Officer working for FGE at UN Women Regional Office in Bangkok. She reported from Mindanao, Philiipines.

More information about this story

[1] The programme is being implemented by the Baguio-based NGO, Indigenous People’s International Centre for Policy Research and Education (Tebtebba), the lead FGE Grantee, in partnership with the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network (AIWN). Partner indigenous women’s organizations in programme areas play a central role in project implementation from planning to evaluation.

[2] The Fund for Gender Equality is a UN Women grant-making mechanism dedicated exclusively to the economic and political empowerment of women worldwide. Since its launch in 2009, the Fund has delivered grants of USD 56.5 million to 96 grantee programmes in 72 countries. Each programme supports women, especially those who are marginalised, to regain control over their lives, whether they are trying to start a business or initiate a grassroots movement. Guided by UN Women’s mandate, the Fund supports women-led civil society organizations’ (CSOs) and governments’ proposals based on strategic priorities to advance women’s rights in their countries.

[3] The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during its 61st session at UN Headquarters in New York on 13 September 2007. Article 2 of the Declaration states that “[i]ndigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity.”

[4] Outcome document of the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples