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Monday, June 1, 2009

Angela Gomez, founder Banchte Shekha; An Amazing Woman: from a report by Connie Sison

I watched the GMA-7 Documentary “Sulyap sa Likod ng Abaya,” a World View presentation last night. It was informative, inspiring but disturbing at the same time. It was a report about the real condition of Muslim women behind their traditional dress- the Abaya and Sheila.

According to the report, Islam began in the 7th century AD during the time of Mohammed. The word Islam meant “submission to God”. Islam came to the Philippines in the 13th century AD through Shariff Macdum. He traveled from Malaysia and Indonesia and came to the Philippines. The inhabitants of the archipelago embraced the new religion. For almost two hundred years, the new religion had spread not only in Mindanao but also in Visayas and Luzon. However, when the Spanish conquerors came to the island in the 16th century, they brought a new religion, the Roman Catholic faith and colonized the land for over 300 hundred years except for Mindanao, the land of the Moros.

The teachings of Allah are written in their holy book- the Koran, which includes even the manner of dressing especially of women. According to the Koran, women must cover their “aura” or beauty. Only the face and the hands could be exposed. Thus, Muslim women wear abaya (the long, black dress that covers the body) and sheila (the cloth that covers the head and neck).

However, stories of Muslim women seem to vary between Islamic cultures. In Dubai, the Muslim princess and the ordinary Muslim woman have equal opportunities to succeed in life. Both the law and their culture respect the rights of their Muslim women. In Mindanao, Philippines, there are Muslim women who joined the armed struggle for the liberation of the Bangsa Moro people. Although there are still pockets of discrimination, by and large, the Muslim women in the Philippines are now empowered women. In fact, there are many women Shariah lawyers and politicians in the Philippines.

The most disturbing for me is the report of Connie Sison about the Muslim women in Bangladesh who suffer from abuse and cruelty from their own men. Much like how Muslim women suffer in Afghanistan under the rule of Taliban. In Bangladesh, men burn their women and young girls with acid. All civilized people must condemn these acts of atrocities to the highest degree! In fairness, the government of Bangladesh does not consent to these inhumane behaviors and has enacted the Acid Control Act of 2002 to limit and control the use of acid in the country but since jewelers still use acid for their industry, acid getting into the wrong hands has remained inevitable. The Dakha Medical College hospital is the only hospital in Bangladesh that can handle acid burns.

Do you want to know why? One woman refused a marriage arrangement; the man whom she was supposed to marry took it grudgingly and threw acid on her face. One woman refused to give permission to her husband to take another wife; her husband threw acid on her face in anger. In another case, a father wanted a baby boy but his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The father poured acid on his poor baby girl. In another case, a child was forced to swallow acid. The child survived but her mouth was severely damaged. There were acid attacks that did not even have any apparent motive at all.

Angela Gomez, founder Banchte Shekha

Angela Gomez, ironically, a Christian, has founded the “Banchte Shekha”, a non-profit foundation that cares for these abused women. She is a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay award for community service in 1999. She admitted that at first, her religion was an obstacle for her desire to help these abused women because there were times that they would refuse her help. They would even stone her away but that did not prevent her from offering a helping hand. She is someone who is truly amazing. If you want to know more about her mission, visit this link- Banchte Shekha.

There are different stories behind the black dress and the shoal but the most important thing to remember is that in spite of differences in race, faith and culture, we need to treat one another with dignity and respect as human beings especially those who profess the Christian faith.


"Sulyap sa Likod ng Abaya"
Rhea Santos reported from Dubai;
Connie Sison reported from Dakha, Bangladesh;
Queenie Padilla reported from the Philippines

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