For 30 years, Irene Morada Santiago has been at the forefront of efforts to improve the status of women in the Philippines and the world. Starting as a grassroots organizer of minority Muslim women in southern Philippines, she has worked on issues of poverty, peace and conflict, politics and governance, empowering women so they are taken seriously and are placed in major decision-making positions. She was the executive director of the highly successful NGO Forum on Women 1995 in China, which will be remembered for its impact on the issues that confronted women at the end of the 20th century.
Irene Morada Santiago remembers the day two drunken soldiers broke into the seminar hall and opened fire with their M-16 rifles. In front of her, 20 women and 23 children cowered for safety, terrified. It was in the mid-1970s, at the height of the secessionist rebellion waged by the Moro National Liberation Front against the Philippine government. It was against this political landscape that Irene, a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, founded the Kahayag Foundation. The Davao City-based NGO brought her to dangerous places in Mindanao, organizing poor Muslim women. The experience with the soldiers left Irene a changed person. “Yes, I was scared,” she admits, “but I realized that I could be scared and still be brave. I was able to make those soldiers go away. So now being scared doesn’t stop me from doing anything.” Irene's education, training, experience, determination, courage and boundless energy has brought her to the forefront of national and international work for women, founding or cofounding many organizations and networks along the way. In 1988, she was appointed Chief of the Asia/Pacific Section of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem), based in New York. Irene focused on innovative ways to connect grassroots level needs of women to the macropolicy environment. Upon her return to Mindanao after more than a decade of international work, Irene engaged in peace advocacy. In 2001, she became a member of the government peace panel, negotiating a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. She formed the Mindanao Commission on Women, an NGO composed of Muslim, Christian and Lumad (indigenous) women to advocate for a gender perspective in the peace discourse. Currently, Irene Morada Santiago is chair and CEO of the Mindanao Commission on Women and convenor of the Mothers for Peace Movement.
Mindanao Commission on Women Mothers for Peace Movement Institute for Women’s Leadership