Many of them are victims of poverty and conflict   But the women also hold the key to peace and development in Mindanao.The Mindanao Commission on Women presented the first annual State of the Women of Mindanao Report recently at the Batasang Pambansa.  The report, supposed to have been presented to coincide with the President’s State of the Nation Address, highlighted the condition and contributions of women in Mindanao.
In introducing the report, Irene M. Santiago, chair of the Mindanao Commission on Women, said that there are three Mindanaos:  the first, that of the fast developing and urbanizing cities like Davao and Cagayan de Oro; the second, that of the provinces at the bottom of the ranking among the 77 provinces in the country, namely, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Basilan; and the third, that of the women on whom families and communities depend for survival but who rarely get support or recognition for their many responsibilities and contributions.
Among the highlights of the report:
1.      Young and fast growing. Mindanao’s population has two characteristics:  it is fast growing and it is young. As of 2000, the total population was 18 million, accounting for almost 24 percent of the country’s 76 million population.  More than half of this population is
below 19 years old.
2.      High dependency ratio. The combined numbers of the young and the elderly add up to a 75 percent dependency ratio.  This means that only 25 percent of the population are economically productive.
3.      Women half the population. As of 2000, women made up 49.9 percent of the total Mindanao population. Fifty-two percent were of reproductive age, between 15-49 years old.  On the average, a woman had five children.  As in the rest of the country, women lived longer and tended to make up the majority of the elderly population.
4.      Highest poverty incidence. Among families, poverty incidence was highest in Mindanao compared to Luzon and the Visayas. While only 24 percent of the country’s population resided in Mindanao, its contribution to national poverty was approximately 31 percent.
5.      Muslims and Lumads among poorest. Poverty was deepest and most severe in ARMM and some parts of Western and Central Mindanao, regions with the largest proportion of Muslims and Lumads.  Within Mindanao, the highest poverty incidence was in ARMM at 74 percent, followed by Region XII at 58 percent and Region IX at 53 percent.
6.      Lowest enrollment, highest drop out rate. Mindanao is lowest in participation rate, both in elementary and secondary education.  Only three or four out of 10 pupils who entered grade one finished 4th year high school.  It has the highest drop out rate and its average functional literacy rate was 75 percent compared to the national average of 84 percent.
7.      Girls in school longer. Girls dominate early childhood education (pre-school to kindergarten), but are surpassed by boys in the elementary level who then drop out when they reach high school.  Because there is less pressure on girls to earn a living and there are fewer jobs available for them, they stay longer in school.  This observation holds true for all
areas in Mindanao.
 8.   Cultural bias in the curriculum. Moro and Lumad children in school go through the same curriculum as other children.  Where the worldview and cultural values are different from their own, Moro and Lumad parents have become increasingly suspicious of the perspectives and values imbibed by their children.
9.   Highest infant and child mortality. Among the country’s Bottom 5 regions with the highest number of deaths among infants, children under five, and children age one to four, three were in Mindanao, namely, Region IX, CARAGA and ARMM.
10.   Maternal mortality rates just as dismal.  In ARMM only 16 out of 100 women had births attended by health professionals. This was not surprising considering that Mindanao LGUs have the lowest number of employed doctors. 
11.  Inadequate knowledge of reproductive issues among youth. Young adults have little knowledge about reproductive issues.  For example, they believed that teen-age marriages worked in our society because in-laws were ready to help. Thus trial arrangements were becoming acceptable.  Young adults wanted to get sex education from their family but rarely got it there.
12.  Violence against women unabated.   The most common form of violence against women is physical abuse.  Rape is second, followed by incest, illegal recruitment, and involuntary prostitution.  Women are also victims of violence in situations of armed conflict and detention.
13.  Low health budget. Mindanao’s health budget remains dismally low.  Over the period 2000-2003, Luzon, with seven regions, received the biggest chunk of the DOH budget.  In 2003, Luzon’s budget allocation for health increased from 43.3 percent to 47.0 percent.  On the other hand, Mindanao’s budget share was stagnant at 14.3 percent for the past two years.  The disparity does not end there. 
14.  Fewer and fewer women in the workforce.  From 2.7 million in 1999 their number decreased by 15 percent to 2.3 million in 2002.  It is the opposite for the men. Their number increased from 4.7 million in 1999 to 5 million in 2002.  Men comprised 62 percent while the women 38 percent of the employed in 2002.
15.  Urban and rural employment. In the urban areas, the employment rate between men and women was almost the same. However, in the rural areas, men had more employment opportunities compared to rural women.  Rural women had low education and skills, leaving them with extremely limited employment opportunities.
19.  Backbone of rural economy. There are approximately five million women in the rural areas in the farming and fishery sectors, commercial plantations, manufacturing, and the informal sector. Much of the work of women is non-monetized.

The data presented shows the existence of a Third Mindanao, where women in particular suffer from misguided or insufficient programs and policies because of their gender.  Ethnicity and class were also factors in determining their condition and status. However, even under severe circumstances, women have organized their meager resources to ensure the
survival of their family. Many of them are providing inspiring leadership in the creation of new structures for sustainable peace and development in Mindanao