December 16, 2020 by Queenie Pearl V. Tomaro and Mallika Iyer
In 2014, the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a peace agreement to bring 40 years of armed conflict to an end and establish the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The peace agreement made history as the first in the world to have been signed by a woman chief negotiator, Miriam Coronel Ferrer. The recent adoption of a Regional Action Plan (RAP) on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) for the BARMM is yet another step towards achieving sustainable peace and gender equality in a region heavily impacted by armed conflict, violent extremism, rido (clan warfare), and natural disasters. The RAP is a tremendous success, not just for the Bangsamoro Transition Government but for the women and girls of the BARMM.
In a region considered to be a hotbed for armed conflict and violent extremism conducive to terrorism with a significant number of internally displaced persons, it is of utmost importance that women, young women, and girls, who are often disproportionately impacted, are protected. Equally important is the recognition that women and young peoples’ needs and experiences are unique as the impacts of recurring armed conflict are varied across age and gender differentiation. In order to ensure that conflict resolution strategies respond to their needs, women must meaningfully participate in decision-making at all levels on peace and security.
These recognized realities underscore the importance of the BARMM’s RAP on WPS, which is primarily crafted to ensure that “women and young people’s needs during emergencies are taken into consideration”. Mirroring the Philippine government’s National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the four pillars of the RAP are as follows: Protection and Prevention, Empowerment and Participation, Promotion and Mainstreaming, and lastly, Monitoring and Evaluation.
The RAP calls for an investment in women’s rights and sustainable, inclusive peacebuilding in partnership with women’s civil society and gender equality allies across the region. In line with the gender-sensitive provisions of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), the RAP commits to increase women’s meaningful participation in the transition to the BARMM and the implementation of the peace agreement. It also commits to mainstream WPS commitments into the Bangsamoro Development Plan.
Grassroots women peacebuilders are expected to lead and be included in local Peace and Order Councils in conflict-affected communities. It is now time to translate these commitments into action, and employing an intersectional lens is crucial. In particular, the RAP draws attention to the intersectionality between WPS and humanitarian action, a nexus that is garnering growing attention amongst the global policymaking community following the recommendations of the Grand Bargain. The RAP includes specific provisions on ensuring gender-sensitive humanitarian emergency response for displaced women and girls and direct humanitarian aid to local women’s rights organizations. With a little under 15,000 people displaced due to the armed conflict, these provisions could not be more in line with the urgent, intersecting needs of women, young women, and girls in the region.
To avoid the pitfalls of the first RAP of the now-defunct Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) adopted in 2017, the BARMM’s RAP emphasizes the need for localization. Localizing the RAP will entail integrating its provisions into Municipal Gender and Development (GAD) Codes and developing Provincial Action Plans (or Local Action Plans as they are more commonly known). To truly bridge commitments, priorities, and resources into efforts to build peace and promote gender equality in communities affected by conflict, the RAP must be localized and owned by key stakeholders. Unless reflected in local action plans and GAD codes, the RAP will simply become a check-the-box exercise.
For effective localization, the RAP outlines provisions to “ensure and sustain awareness, understanding, and appreciation of duty-bearers on WPS”. Specifically, the RAP commits to capacitate local actors by providing awareness-raising training on WPS and gender-responsive budgeting in communities. This is vital to cultivate ownership and support for the effective implementation of the WPS resolutions amongst key stakeholders including BARMM agencies, its local governments, traditional, and religious structures (with due consideration to varying rigidity of gender norms across the region). For example, the RAP requires the orientation of traditional local mechanisms such as the Sultanates and Council of Elders on WPS and women’s rights. A lack of understanding of the gendered impacts of armed conflict will perpetuate structural gender inequalities and women’s exclusion from political decision-making.
Without adequate, dedicated, reliable, and sustainable funding, an effective, fully implemented, and localized RAP is unlikely. As highlighted by a study conducted by Inclusive Security, the potential challenges for localization are the lack of capacity, knowledge, and financial resources. Hence, gender-responsive budgeting for the RAP and corresponding Provincial Action Plans is crucial. It remains to be seen how budgets for GAD Codes will be utilized to implement provisions of the RAP.
While the RAP makes strides in addressing key challenges to gender equality and sustainable peace in the BARMM, it fails to refer to disarmament and non-proliferation. This omission follows a similar trend of 70% NAPs on UNSCR 1325 across the world which lack language on disarmament. As an agenda for the prevention of conflict, the Women, Peace, and Security resolutions cannot be implemented in isolation to UNSCR 2117 on Small Arms and Light Weapons. These two resolutions are interlinked over their concern with the gendered impacts of violence caused by small arms. However, policy forums on disarmament remain to be men-dominated, with only 30% participation of women. In the Philippines, women must meaningfully participate in disarmament, decommissioning, demobilization, and reintegration processes. The specific needs of former women combatants must also be prioritized. Disarmament is an important element of sustainable peace. Since peace is only sustainable if women are involved, disarmament and WPS should not be viewed in separate lenses. Hence, effective implementation of the RAP will require the recognition of women as equal partners in a gender-responsive disarmament processes.
Regarding missing elements in the RAP, is the important acknowledgement that climate change and armed conflict are closely interlinked. The Philippines is prone to natural disasters, including floods and typhoons, which exacerbate armed conflict, forced displacement, and insecurity for women and girls. Climate change has gendered impacts which cannot be analyzed in isolation from women’s experiences in conflict. The intersections of climate change and armed conflict result in compounding, multi-dimensional challenges for the achievement of gender equality and sustainable peace. By employing an intersectional approach to implementation of the RAP, the BARMM will be able to better respond to the needs of women, young women, and girls in the region.
In conclusion, it is important to reflect on the question: “For whom is the RAP on WPS?”. If it truly is for the women, young women, and girls in the BARMM, then they must lead implementation of the RAP in partnership with the government, traditional and religious leaders, and gender equality allies. Localization efforts must be taken seriously, resulting in corresponding Provincial Action Plans as well as greater awareness and ownership amongst key stakeholders. Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration processes, which are vital to sustainable peace in the BARMM, must meaningfully engage women and respond to their specific needs. Additionally, the gendered impacts of climate change as they intersect with and fuel armed conflict should be adequately addressed. Employing an intersectional, localized approach to implementation of the RAP will lead to more comprehensive efforts to improve all aspects of women, young women, and girls’ lives in conflict affected communities in the BARMM.