The passion of the women of 'desaparecidos'

Thousands of grieving women in Asia suffer from the pain of waiting without knowing how long they will do so.

By Mary Aileen Bacalso

The Lenten season brings to the fore the sorrow of the wives, mothers, daughters of victims of involuntary disappearances or desaparecidos, whose situation is reminiscent of the image of a grieving Mary who lost her son.

Breakthroughs in the world of womankind celebrated every March are visible in most countries, but the dream of women survivors of enforced disappearances is far from being realized.

During Argentina's dictatorship, many pregnant women were made to disappear and children born in captivity were sold for adoption. In Asia, women live in a perpetual trauma due to the disappearance of loved ones.

Asia has the highest number of enforced disappearance cases submitted to the United Nations in the past decade.

"Every single aspect of my life is damaged and hurt by the absence of Masood," said Amina, wife of a disappeared in Pakistan.

For nearly 12 years already, Amina single-handedly raised their children. After all these years, Amina still carries the same passion to search for her husband and bring him home.

"Enforced disappearance has no closure, only uncertainty and endless waiting," said Shui meng Ng, wife of Sombath Somphone, a Lao development worker who was believed taken away by state agents in his country.

Amina and Shui meng are among thousands of grieving women around Asia who suffer from the pain of waiting without knowing how long they will have to do so.

Both women have become sisters in the struggle, have relatively transcended the pain, and transformed themselves from victims to human rights defenders.

For many others, however, losing a spouse or a father renders them almost totally paralyzed.

In Asia, men are mostly the breadwinners. For women, whose social status remains low in some countries in the region, feeding the family, taking care of the children, and searching for the disappeared drain their physical and spiritual well-being.

In Jammu and Kashmir, a wife of a disappeared is called a half-widow. She is neither a widow nor a married woman because there is no certainty of death or existence of marriage because of the husband's indefinite absence. It is difficult to accept death without proof.

In Argentina, a "Declaration of Absence" due to enforced disappearance exists. It helps the women's legal status.

There is no such thing in Asia.

In Indonesia, some families are given certificates of disappearance, a result of the collective advocacy of the families of victims. In the rest of Asia, as in many countries around the world, the status of wives of the disappeared remains in limbo.

Exacerbated by the "stigmatization" of being a partner of an "enemy of the state," women feel the highest level of pressure and isolation beyond the human capacity to bear.

Many are confronted with threats and intimidation by perpetrators. There are some who have already attempted to commit or actually committed suicide for failing to cope with multiple responsibilities.

The pain of a loss so uncertain and without closure is immeasurable.

The 53,273 outstanding cases submitted before the United Nations, notwithstanding the under-reporting, multiplied by the number of women in a family would make the total number of women survivors of disappearances very high.

As the Christian world marks the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ during this Season of Lent, it is only relevant to feel the agony of the wives, mothers, daughters of desaparecidos, whose plight is best portrayed by the "Lady of Sorrows" with the seven daggers piercing her heart.

With the scourge of enforced disappearances, the much-needed transformation of women survivors from victims to human rights defenders manifests an empowerment that is integral in our hope for resurrection.

Mary Aileen Bacalso is secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. For her commitment to the cause of the disappeared, the government of Argentina awarded her the Emilio Mignone International Human Rights Prize in 2013.

Source: UCAN

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