Zahria hails from the Maranao Tribe, a tribe that belongs to the Bangsamoro identity that has been fighting for autonomy and self-determination for several decades already. Her tribe, according to her, is perhaps one of the most conservative ones in the Philippines. Their tradition and culture is heavily peppered with very conservative interpretations of our religion.
As a child, Zahria’s parents would tell her that she was lucky to be born a Maranao woman. According to their elders, Maranao women in their community are treasured. They are protected. They are the jewels of the family. They are well-provided for. They symbolize honor and wealth to their clan. An insult to a Maranao woman is considered an insult to her entire clan.
As she grew up, she heard of women’s stories that contradicted her childhood conditioning. Some stories were of women who consider household work as a burden but believe that they could not complain as it is their sole duty, their major role in life. Complaining makes them bad. Many stories were of women who have the skill or capacity to help their husband support the family but they cannot because they are not allowed to work. Some stories were of women farmers who contribute to the work of their husband farmers but their contributions are not valued or recognized, therefore their needs and potential to become better farmers are neglected and invisible to the community.
As she listens to these stories, Zahria realizes that the lived realities of their men and women are different. Her eyes and heart open and the world assumes different hues for her that she strongly felt she needs to get involved and do something.
Hence, while she started her career in the academe, it was not for long that she became very active in social issues of gender, development and peace. She got inspired by her aunt who is a non-traditional Muslim woman and who initiated to question the practices in their communities that place women as subordinate to men. They studied the Qou’ran to see from their faith lens if indeed women are supposed to be lower than men, and in their research and consultations to enlightened imams, they found the contrary to the accepted beliefs and practices.
Zahria took over the directorship of the AMDFI in 2009 as she firmly believes in its vision of establishing a society characterized by enduring peace and balanced human development for all regardless of creed, ethnicity and gender. She and the rest of the members of the organization dedicated their time and resources in promoting gender justice in the personal, economic, and political well-being of women so that they can participate, benefit and take the lead in the development of their community particularly in addressing poverty, non-violent peace building and good governance. They focus to work with Muslim women and their communities in the southern part of the Philippines.
She is very active in engaging with projects that enhance the role of women in peace-building and poverty-reduction; that integrates of gender and women’s rights in the curriculum of high school students; that empower the women leaders in Mindanao. She was in the forefront of popularization of anti-violence against women act as well as the UNSCR 1325 on women, peace and security.
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