Changing the Narrative: Journalists as Allies for Peace in the Philippines

May 18, 2021

By John Rizle Saligumba, Communications Coordinator, Balay Mindanaw and Mallika Iyer, Asia Programs Coordinator and Humanitarian Action Specialist, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders 

In 2010, the Philippines was the first Asian country to adopt a National Action Plan (NAP) on United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 – a critical step towards addressing the situation of women in armed conflict and recognizing women’s contributions to conflict transformation. The NAP on UNSCR 1325 reinforced the Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act No. 9710), which was adopted in 2008 to enshrine the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Despite the adoption of these important national frameworks, genuine implementation has not yet been accomplished. 

Armed conflict and increased activity amongst violent extremist groups continue to disproportionately impact women, young women, and girls, particularly from religious or Lumad (indigenous) minority groups in the Philippines. Forced displacement, child marriage, sexual violence, trafficking, food and economic insecurity, limited access to health care and education, and recruitment and radicalization by armed groups are all realities experienced by women, young women, and girls in conflict and crisis-affected communities across the Philippines. 

The peace agreement signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), ratified as Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), addresses the gendered impacts of armed conflict and ensures women’s meaningful participation in post-conflict recovery and decision-making on peace and security. The recently adopted Bangsamoro Regional Action Plan (RAP) on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) furthers these objectives through a focus on leadership of women in local Peace and Order Councils and gender-responsive humanitarian emergency response for displaced women and girls. If implemented effectively, the BOL and RAP on WPS could transform gender inequalities and build inclusive, long-lasting peace in the Bangsamoro Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). 

Challenges to Implementation 

Disinformation, misinformation, and fake news have contributed to a lack of broad-based local ownership and support for the implementation of the BOL and a peaceful transition to the BARMM. Delays in the development of an electoral code, amongst other key frameworks in line with the BOL, have furthered distrust amongst the local population and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA). In the meantime, clashes continue between violent extremist groups, including Abu Sayaff, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and the Philippine Armed Forces. Violence committed by extremist groups and clan feuds, compounded by fake news, threaten the peaceful transition to the BARMM and could lead to a return to insecurity and armed conflict. 

The peace process between the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) and the Philippine government has deteriorated, following violent clashes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The conflict led to deliberate disruption and delays in the delivery of life-saving COVID-19 relief goods, leaving countless frontline women peacebuilders at risk. Misinformation disseminated by biased Filipino media agencies heavily contributed to false accusations and increased violence between the two warring parties. As a result, the ceasefires declared by the Philippine government and the CPP-NPA-NDF were short-lived, despite the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling for a global ceasefire during the COVID-19 crisis. The failure to uphold the ceasefires by the CPP-NPA-NDF and the government of the Philippines ultimately aggravated prospects of peace negotiations and increased the incidence of violent clashes between the two warring parties. 

The important role of journalists 

Journalism plays a critical role in countering misinformation, disinformation, and fake news. It can build broad-based support for sustainable and inclusive peacebuilding, promoting women’s meaningful participation and leadership in decision-making on peace and security. Mass media has the power to not only break the traditionally conservative stereotypes around gender and women portrayed as victims of conflict but also hold governments to account on issues of women, peace and security. Journalists in the Philippines have the power to share accurate information on the implementation of the BOL and generate support for women’s leadership in peacebuilding in the BARMM. They can also hold the Philippine government and the CPP-NPA-NDF accountable for the protection of women’s rights and human rights, in line with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, the only agreement signed by the warring parties. 

To generate and sustain interest amongst journalists around gender-sensitive reporting on the ongoing peace processes in the Philippines, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) and Balay Mindanaw, with support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), launched a national media competition on International Women’s Day in March 2020. The “Women, Peace, and Security Reporting Awards” was created to: 

  • Encourage journalists to  produce engaging stories to promote the implementation of the BOL;
  • Support the smooth transition to the BARMM;
  • Communicate the importance of inclusive and sustainable peace processes which address the root causes of conflict between the Government of the Philippines and the CPP-NPA-NDF; and
  • Shift the dominant perception of women as victims to agents of change.

GNWP and Balay Mindanaw received  68 entries from 38 authors. Many of the entries discussed the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities affected by the transition to the BARMM or the ongoing peace process with the CPP-NPA-NDF. They also highlighted the significant contributions of local women and youth peacebuilders in leading COVID-19 relief and recovery. 

On March 8, 2021, an online award ceremony was held to recognize the following winning submissions: 

Winning Submission for Photojournalism Category

Pandemic Worsens Situation of Young Mothers in Conflict Areas by Mark Saludes

A photo essay of women who are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. The essay’s subjects are also caught in the midst of an armed conflict and the underlying socio-economic, political, and cultural exclusion in Maida, Maguindanao province in the BARMM. The essay captures the gendered impacts of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing armed conflict. The story also highlights the efforts of some groups to include reproductive health products in COVID-19 relief packages in the absence of comprehensive healthcare. The author also artistically inserted photos of Lumad peoples in the province of Surigao Del Sur who were displaced in 2018 by the ongoing armed conflict between the Philippine government and the CPP-NPA. 

Watch the author’s award acceptance video here:

Winning Submission for Print Category

Rising from the Ruins, The Weavers of Marawi by Zea Correa-Capistrano

Correa-Capistrano recognizes the leadership and innovation of displaced Meranaw women following the 2018 Marawi Siege. Meranaw women revived their traditional weaving practices to address the economic and food insecurity they were experiencing. Traditional weaving has always been a part of Meranaw culture and tradition. These women transformed norms by leading the practice and selling their products. They were able to market their products and share their stories to consumers as far as the United States. Watch the author’s award acceptance video here:

Winning Submission for Online Category

Dolls for Peace Help Empower Women in Post-War Marawi by Antonio L. Colina IV

The story of a group of women who believe they are “warriors for peace”. They employ their skills to create iconic dolls that become symbolize women-led efforts to rebuild the war-torn city of Marawi. The women saw the selling of dolls as key to their empowerment and recovery. The dolls promote their culture and tradition of peace and remind consumers of Marawi City before it was destroyed by war and terrorism. Watch the author’s award acceptance video here:

Winning Submission for Best Report on Peace in the Pandemic

Women Survivors from Marawi Siege Produce Facemasks for Livelihood During Covid-19 Outbreak by Divina Suson

This report highlights the leadership of local women in displacement camps in Marawi City in the COVID-19 response. As survivors of the 2018 Marawi Siege, local women harnessed their power to identify livelihood opportunities. Although their dressmaking businesses were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, local women quickly mobilized to produce face masks as an alternative source of income. Watch the author’s award acceptance video here:

Winning Submission for Best Report By A Woman/Youth Journalist 

Women Commanders Speak: “How do you suppose the battle raged on for days and weeks if there was no Bangsamoro Islamic Women Auxiliary Brigade to support the men fighting?” by Amalia Bandiola-Cabusao

This article brought to the fore the seldom-heard perspectives of former women combatants of the MILF’s armed wing. It draws attention to their efforts to support the peace negotiations and struggle for the right to self-determination. The article emphasizes the need for gender-responsive disengagement, disarmament, and rehabilitation. 

Watch the author’s award acceptance video here:

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GNWP’s Nikou Salamat recognized for peace activism, receives Kim Phúc Youth Peace Leadership Award

The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) is thrilled to announce that our very own Research Officer, Nikou Salamat, has received the Kim Phúc Youth Peace Leadership Award. Launched in 2014, the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace’s (VOW) Peace Awards recognize outstanding contributions of Canadian women working towards a stronger, more peaceful world.

Nikou Salamat, who has been working with GNWP since April 2020, co-leads the COVID-19 and WPS Database and supports the implementation of women-led and youth-led peacebuilding initiatives in Central Africa, including most recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Nigeria.

GNWP extends its warmest congratulations to Nikou! We are proud to have Nikou as part of our team.

Learn more about Nikou’s journey and what inspires her activism:

Tell us a little bit about yourself, who is Nikou?

N: I am a young professional and passionate advocate for Women, Peace and Security (WPS) and Youth, Peace and Security (YPS). As an intersectional feminist, my advocacy is based on the notion that transformation of intersecting systems of oppression is essential to achieving full enjoyment of human rights for all.

I have recently completed my Bachelor of Social Sciences in Conflict Studies and Human Rights at the University of Ottawa, and look forward to pursuing graduate studies. My research interests include the role of grassroots women’s organizations in building peace in conflict-affected and post-conflict contexts, as well as advancing women’s rights in post-conflict reconstruction. Finally, I have a love for languages – I speak English, French, Farsi (Persian), and I am currently learning Spanish!

What brought you to peace activism?

N: As a first-generation immigrant to Canada with my parents, I became acutely aware of the inequities, ongoing injustices and egregious human rights violations occurring around the world. In parallel, my awareness of the privileges I enjoyed, including the protection of my human rights, was also heightened. I view peace activism as not only a professional endeavor, but a deeply personal one too. My experiences led to my passion for peace activism, as I believe that without gender justice and the fulfillment of human rights for all, there can be no sustainable peace.

What are you most proud of?

N: I am most proud of the initiatives that I contributed to at GNWP, including the policy advocacy, peacebuilding programming and research projects we have accomplished in collaboration with our partners over the past year. Specifically, our COVID-19 and WPS Database fills a key evidence gap on women’s leadership at the grassroots level during COVID-19. Our work to document women-led responses in peacebuilding and humanitarian action has proven essential to advocating for gender-responsive and conflict-sensitive COVID-19 recovery. I am also proud to have worked alongside the Young Women Leaders for Peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in mobilizing young women’s meaningful participation in peacebuilding and women’s rights advocacy.

Who inspires you?

N: I am profoundly inspired by the activism of women peacebuilders and human rights defenders around the world. Countless women’s rights and feminist activists are currently facing backlash, persecution and imprisonment under inhumane conditions for their work. It is their tireless activism for social justice in the face of repression and threats which inspires my work. My parents are also one of the main sources of inspiration. Without their immense sacrifice and support, I would not have the opportunities that I do today. Lastly, I am incredibly inspired by my team members at GNWP and our collective commitment to the feminist principles that drive our work!

If you had to give advice to your younger self, what would it be?

N: I would say get as involved as you can and seek to learn from those that are leading on the issues you care about! Building solidarity across feminist and social justice movements means connecting with young people and organizations around the world, listening to voices that are silenced and expanding your perspectives beyond your comfort zone. Also, read as much as you can – knowledge is power, and translating that knowledge into action is even more powerful.

Media as an Ally in Peacebuilding, Women’s Rights and Gender Equality

May 3, 2021

By Wevyn Muganda, GNWP’s Cora Weiss Peacebuilding Fellow and Michaela Zelenanska, GNWP’s Peacebuilding Program Intern for Eastern Europe and South Caucasus

The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) celebrates World Press Freedom Day by highlighting the importance of independent media in building peaceful, gender-equal, and inclusive societies. Journalists play a key role in spreading information about the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and in highlighting women’s roles as leaders, peacebuilders, and decision-makers. GNWP’s “Full-cycle Implementation” of WPS strategy incorporates the critical work of the media, taking a multidimensional approach across three main areas:

  1. Training of journalists and other media practitioners, to increase their understanding of their role in promoting the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the supporting WPS resolutions and encourage them to portray women in their diverse roles including as leaders, peacebuilders, and decision-makers;
  2. Development of Media and WPS strategies to guide stronger and more systematic collaboration between the media, women peacebuilders and national and local government actors; and
  3. Media and WPS (#MediaFor1325) competitions, to create incentives and recognize the gender-responsive coverage of issues related to peace and security.

The #MediaFor1325 competitions provide an incentive for journalists to integrate a gender lens into their reporting on peace and conflict issues, and raise awareness of the WPS agenda. As a result, they contribute to shifting the perception of women as passive victims to recognizing women as agents of peace. Since 2018, the GNWP in partnership with the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) held six media competitions in Colombia, Georgia, Moldova, Kenya, the Philippines, and Ukraine.

This year, we commemorate World Press Freedom Day with a throwback to some of the winning materials.

The work of women peacebuilders in Colombia has been indispensable to reaching and signing the peace agreement between the government and Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and remains critical in monitoring its implementation. It is important that the invaluable contribution of women peacebuilders in Colombia is recognized and made visible to change the public narrative on women’s role in peace processes and in leadership. GNWP, in partnership with Red Nacional de Mujeres (RNM) and with support from Norad, trained journalists on the WPS agenda and the role the media plays to promote effective implementation. The training was followed by a national #MediaFor1325 competition organized in August 2020, in partnership with Pacifista – a media collective dedicated to promoting journalism rooted in peace and human rights principles. The competition had two categories: professional journalists and journalism students. Additionally, a special prize was awarded for work that provided an original angle on women’s leadership in peacebuilding. The winning podcast, by Lidha Beltrán Valero, highlights women’s experiences in challenging patriarchy, preventing violence and sustaining peace in local communities. Jeimmy Lorena Gutiérrez Turmequé, with her piece about Indigenous leaders from Xuacha, was awarded the students category and the special prize.

With support from ADA, GNWP and its Georgian partner, Women’s Information Center (WIC), organized an online training series for journalists. The training aimed to increase the awareness of Georgian journalists on their roles in supporting gender equality, women’s meaningful participation in the implementation of Georgia’s National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325, and in promoting gender- and conflict-sensitive responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The journalists expressed appreciation for the knowledge and skills they acquired and committed to being more gender-sensitive in conflict reporting in order to influence the public narrative on women’s roles in peace processes. The training was accompanied by a national #MediaFor1325 competition. The winning article by Nino Chibchiuri discusses the lives of women on the occupation line and how the pandemics negatively affected them. Other awarded articles feature women entrepreneurs and the struggles of peace activists in Abkhazia. “During the pandemic, rural women showed solidarity with each other and helped others as much as they could,” Chibchiuri stressed.

“Rural women during the pandemic showed solidarity with each other and helped others as much as they could.” -Nino Chibchiuri, 2020 winning journalist in Georgia

In Ukraine, GNWP and Democracy Development Center have conducted a series of training with journalists since 2017. These trainings have been instrumental in raising the journalists’ awareness of their important role in shaping public opinions on women’s leadership in peace processes. It has also become pivotal in integrating the media in the implementation of the WPS agenda. The 2020 media competition was organized in partnership with Ukraine’s State Radio and Television Broadcasting Commission. Dmytro Semenyuk’s winning entry focuses on breaking stereotypes and highlighting the active role women play in patrol policing to prevent violence. “Women have become indispensable in resolving conflicts,” Semenyuk expressed.  Olga Chernykova, the author of another winning article describes an inspiring life story of a woman journalist who had to flee her home city due to the violent conflict.

These powerful stories show that women around the world share similar struggles and continue to work for the advancement of women’s rights, peace, and justice in their communities. On this World Press Freedom Day, GNWP commits to continue to work with journalists in amplifying the voices of women peacebuilders across the world!

Why Localized Feminist Humanitarian Action is Essential: Learnings from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

April 27, 2021 by Mallika Iyer

In August 2017, the southeastern Bangladesh coastal town of Cox’s Bazar was irreversibly changed when over 700,000 Rohingya refugees fled the Myanmar military’s genocidal campaign in the Rakhine State. The majority of Rohingya refugees live in 34 extremely congested camps with precarious access to food, health care, education, sanitation, livelihood, and shelter.

Rohingya refugee women and girls, most of whom are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, constitute 52 percent of the camp population. Living within these challenging camp conditions means Rohingya women refugees faced further marginalization due to their restricted mobility, access to information, basic services and limited decision-making power within camp management.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, further impacting on the lives of Rohingya refugees. Although humanitarian actors were able to successfully curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the pandemic intensified existing hardships for the refugees, along with the surrounding host communities in Cox’s Bazar. For example, food insecurity and levels of poverty soared dramatically, with poor food consumption scores rising from 5 to 15 percent in the refugee camps and 3 to 8 percent in host communities, meaning the prevalence of hunger increased significantly during this short period.

For the women of Cox’s Bazar, the pandemic exacerbated an already dire situation as the pervasiveness of sexual and gender-based violence and early, forced, and child marriage significantly increased within the refugee camps and host communities. This alarming uplift in gender-based violence followed a global trend coined by the United Nations as the ‘shadow pandemic’.

The lockdown measures imposed by the Bangladeshi government to mitigate the spread of the virus also disrupted critical gender equality programming in humanitarian interventions. Literacy and numeracy classes for women and girls, income generation activities, relief and recovery services for survivors of gender-based violence, psychosocial counselling, and family planning services have all been paused for over a year. Therefore, the pandemic threatened achievements that have been made in the protection of women’s rights and gender equality.

Conditions, particularly for women and girls, further deteriorated following a massive fire which broke out in Camps 8W, 8E and 9 on March 22, 2021, destroying countless homes, learning centers, women and child friendly spaces, and WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) facilities.

The pandemic also fueled tensions between Rohingya refugee and Bangladeshi host communities, exacerbated by long-existing poverty, and unequal access to – and competing demands for – resources and social services. Hate speech and anti-Rohingya rhetoric increased amongst host community members who accused Rohingya refugees of spreading the virus and humanitarian workers of unfairly prioritizing COVID-19 response and recovery operations within the camps.

Within the current context there is an urgent need for localized, feminist humanitarian action which moves beyond meeting basic needs to fostering social cohesion, community resilience, sustainable development, and gender equality. However, current humanitarian interventions do not invest in local women’s groups in Cox’s Bazar, including those led by Rohingya refugee women. Investment in women is essential to strengthen women’s roles as key actors on the frontlines of the crisis and foster a transition to self-reliance.

Most humanitarian decision-making structures remain dominated by international actors and exclusionary to Bangladeshi and Rohingya women and young women peacebuilders and activists. Without the meaningful participation and leadership of women, efforts to address humanitarian crises cannot lead to long-term peace, development and stability or adequately meet the needs of refugee and host community women and girls. Therefore, humanitarian interventions that promote gender equality and invest in the agency and needs of local women and girls are not only necessary—they are urgent and critical.

In 2018, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), in partnership with the local civil society group Jago Nari Unnayon Sangsta (JNUS), young Bangladeshi women from host communities in the Ramu and Ukhiya upazilas (districts) in Cox’s Bazar to advocate for sustainable peace, women’s rights, and gender equality. The young women have since organized themselves as Young Women Leaders for Peace (YWL) and have conducted peacebuilding and humanitarian activities in Cox’s Bazar. For example, they hold age-appropriate literacy and numeracy classes for 180 Rohingya refugee and host community women and girls, who have since been empowered to sign their names on legal documents, read important signs within the refugee camps, and access important information. Through these literacy and numeracy classes, the young women dispel anti-Rohingya rhetoric and create positive dialogues between the refugee and host communities.  In February 2021, following a year-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the YWL members were able to re-start these classes.

In December 2020, with support from Global Affairs Canada, GNWP and JNUS organized a semi-virtual (see endnote), five-day capacity building Training of Trainers to increase the YWL members’ understanding of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) and Youth, Peace, and Security agendas and enhance their peacebuilding and leadership skills. Covering sessions on areas such as leadership, peacebuilding and literacy and numeracy the workshop gave the Young Women Leaders the necessary knowledge and tools to effectively influence decision-making on peace, security, and humanitarian action and hold decision-makers accountable to their obligations under international law.

Shortly after the workshop several Young Women Leaders from the host communities and Cox’s Bazar refugee camps participated in a closed virtual briefing organized by GNWP on the Rohingya Crisis with policymakers from Bangladesh, Canada, Indonesia, and the Netherlands. The briefing created a space for young women peacebuilders from Bangladesh and Myanmar to present their seldom-heard perspectives including the challenges they confront, their priorities and recommendations, for gender-responsive and localized interventions to the Rohingya Crisis.

Notably, this briefing was one of the few spaces which represented all key stakeholder groups in the Rohingya Crisis. The briefing was created in attempt to solicit greater commitment from the international community to pursue accountability for the genocide as well as other atrocities against the Rohingya people including, sexual violence committed against women and girls.

In addition, GNWP has worked with these Young Women Leaders to help them amplify their voices in local, regional, and global humanitarian coordination mechanisms including the Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group in Cox’s Bazar, the Global Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action, and the Generation Equality Compact on WPS and Humanitarian Action.

The Young Women Leaders urged effective implementation of Bangladesh’s first National Action Plan (NAP) on United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, with a particularly focus on the Rohingya Refugee Crisis in Cox’s Bazar. The NAP serves as an important tool for responding to the gender dynamics of the refugee crisis; its ensures the meaningful participation of both Rohingya and host community women and young women in peace, security, and humanitarian action decision-making; and the investment in the economic security and relief and recovery services for refugee and host community women and girls.

To share their priorities for NAP implementation with a broader audience, the YWL members contributed recommendations to an advocacy brief published by UN Women, in coordination with GNWP, JNUS, and other civil society groups. Launched to coincide with the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, the policy brief was disseminated to local and national authorities, the Bangladeshi police, civil society, various UN entities, and the diplomatic community. The YWL members also plan to organize community dialogues with traditional and religious leaders and create media campaigns to raise awareness of the NAP and generate broad-based support for its effective implementation. 

The leadership and determination of Cox’s Bazar’s young women leaders serves as a shining example of the kind of localized, feminist humanitarian action that should be recognized, invested in, and amplified by Member States, UN entities, regional and international NGOs, civil society, academia, and private sector organizations. If we want to ensure that we are building back stronger communities and preventing further outbreaks of conflict, it is imperative that women’s voices are heard in conflict resolution. Without a more inclusive, gender-responsive approach to crisis recovery we risk not building a strong enough foundation for a stable and conflict-free future.

Endnote: Following government guidelines on social distancing, the participants, representatives from JNUS, and several Bangladeshi resource persons, convened in a training venue, wearing face masks and strictly observing proper hygiene. GNWP facilitated the workshop virtually.

The Work Must Go On! Reflection from the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico

April 12, 2021 by Wevyn Muganda, GNWP Cora Weiss Peacebuilding Fellow

Young women are the leaders of today! But we stand on the shoulders of the unrelenting, inspiring women activists that came before us. As a young woman peacebuilder, I am in awe of all of the work done by women’s movements over the decades. Women have been organizing, educating and advocating for their rights, with little recognition and support for their work, for generations. Women have been – and remain – underrepresented in every sphere of life. Their roles are appreciated only when it comes to manual labor and care work in homes and farms, despite our significant contributions in politics and development. Yet, the unyielding commitment and work of women activists achieved important gains. The continued advocacy on gender equality led by women’s movements and activists led to the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPFA) – a comprehensive blueprint on how to ensure women’s freedom and emancipation – at the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference.

The Generation Equality Forum (GEF) in Mexico, which concluded recently with reactivated commitments and a call to accelerate action on gender equality, was the first in a series of commemorations of this critical achievement. The Forum was co-organized by Mexico, France, UN Women, and representatives of civil society and youth. It brought together different actors including civil society organizations, private sector and representatives of Member States. Over three intense days of fully virtual discussions and organizing, we analyzed the progress and gaps in the implementation of BPFA. Since 1995, there have been concerted efforts to ensure that women in every part of the world are free to enjoy their rights and access equal opportunities. However, critical gaps remain, and our gains are fragile. Looking back to 1995, and the three days of the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico, there is so much to reflect on regarding the progress made in achieving gender equality.

To me, the GEF in Mexico was empowering and informative. What struck me first was the intergenerationality and intersectionality of the Forum. With the public, virtual platform for discussion available to everyone in multiple languages, more women groups could participate in the virtual interactions. The virtual convening has made it possible for thousands of young women and women who may not have had the resources or an opportunity to travel to Mexico to attend. This means that there were more diverse and authentic voices in the Forum. Young women and women of diverse identities and cultures gave accounts of their experience and perspectives on the BPFA, and the challenges they face in making it a reality. Critically, they made concrete recommendations to policy-makers and other actors, which was very inspiring. I particularly remember the remarks by Hajer Sharief, a young woman peacebuilder from Libya during the plenary session on Women’s Leadership. She reiterated the need to embrace intersectionality to ensure more feminist leadership.  However, the virtual space also left out many young women peacebuilders with limited to no access to the internet, highlighting the increasing digital divide and the obstacle it sets to women’s participation and gender equality.

At a time when women have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts, a feminist global COVID-19 recovery plan is needed to ensure that no more women are left behind. The GEF, through its 6 Action Coalitions and Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action, seeks to address the urgent areas of concern for women across six thematic areas. These are: Gender based violence, Economic Justice and Rights, Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Feminist Action for Climate Justice, Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality, Feminists Movement and Leadership and the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action. The impact of COVID-19 has been a recurring thread through all the discussions during the Forum. Realizing the priorities included in each of these critical areas is the necessary cornerstone of an effective, feminist and sustainable response to the pandemic. However, this requires stronger commitment to gender equality, inclusion, and truly transformative action.

One critical recommendations that came out from the discussions at the Mexico GEF included: meaningful inclusion of young girls, grassroots women, Indigenous people, Afro-descendants, women with HIV, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) persons in decision-making, including on COVID-19 response, humanitarian action, and the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. Another key issue raised was the need to transform the global economic system, so that women have equal opportunities at making income and sustaining their lives. Other recommendations included: soliciting support from male gender equality allies, especially those in positions of power, who can be champions of gender equality; financing women activists and movements and ensuring their protection; and investing in women’s leadership and participation in national COVID-19 recovery plans.

As a peace activist, I have followed in particular the discussions around the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA) – a multistakeholder entity designed to drive implementation of existing commitments by different stakeholders on gender equality. The Compact’s work is focused on delivering tangible results in the following five priority issues: 1) women’s meaningful participation in peace processes; 2) financing the WPS agenda and gender equality in humanitarian programming; 3) women’s economic security; 4) women’s leadership and agency across the peace, security and humanitarian sectors; and, 5) protection of women in conflict and crisis contexts including women human right defenders. During the GEF, Amani Aruri, a member of the Beijing+25 Youth Task Force expressed how pleased she was at the way young people have been involved in the Compact’s work so far, noting that young women are not merely beneficiaries, but are co-leading this global process. I am proud to be part of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, who – as a board member of the Compact – has contributed to its inclusivity, by holding consultative workshops with over 100 local women and youth peacebuilders on the concrete actions the Compact can take to achieve its objectives. Strong synergies and coordination between the 6 Action Coalitions and the Compact are necessary to the achievement of the 5-year global acceleration plan for gender equality, which was presented during the GEF in Mexico.

Another highlight of the GEF in Mexico, to me, was the adoption of the Young Feminist Manifesto. The engagement of young women in the GEF process so far has not been as productive as young women expect. Particularly, there has been a lack of understanding of what intergenerational and intersectional youth leadership should look like. The Young Feminist Manifesto seeks to address this gap to ensure more meaningful involvement of young women in the GEF moving forward. The manifesto includes recommendations to the GEF organizers on co-leadership and co-ownership, accountability, substantive and meaningful youth participation, funding and resourcing and capacity strengthening. It also makes recommendations to the leadership of the Action Coalitions and the GEF in Mexico and France on co-organizing and co-leading sessions to ensure young women are not tokenized, but rather included as equal partners in the process.

The GEF was another wake up call for leaders and an opportunity to amplify the voices and demands of women leaders. Various commitments and actions have been discussed. However, none of them can be implemented without adequate financing. Member States and donors need to be deliberate in their funding decisions to ensure that they are supporting initiatives and programmes that continue to move gender equality forward. The pandemic has proven that we are one crisis away from losing the gains women’s movements have made in their work towards gender equality. This calls for more sustainable approaches to addressing the challenges women experience. We all have a role to play in implementing these commitments, and an even bigger role in holding duty bearers accountable for the inadequate or lack of implementation of the BPFA, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and other international laws and policies related to women’s rights and gender equality.

Achieving gender equality requires changing our perceptions and cultural and social norms, and creating more opportunities for women’s freedom and emancipation. But it is possible. And so, the challenge is on all of us. Particularly to young women and women across the world, in the words of Hajer Sharief, I ask: “Why are we accepting decision-making processes that don’t look like us?”

Indeed, the work must go on. Freedom for women is freedom for all!

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