From GNWP member in the Philippines: Women count for peace

From GNWP member in the Philippines: Women count for peace

The call to replace Teresita Quintos Deles and Miriam Coronel Ferrer as government peace negotiators because they are supposedly taking the side of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Mamasapano discourse is distressing.

Those making the call intimate a divide: The government versus the MILF. Christians versus Muslims. Those who mourn the Fallen 44 versus those who mourn all who died in

Mamasapano. Us versus them.

The narratives prevailing in the mainstream and social media are narratives of division,

hatred and mistrust for those who are different from the majority. The voices prevailing are those who claim that war is the answer to the problem in Mindanao.

Fifteen years ago, the United Nations Security Council saw what the framers of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action had seen years back—that women are left out in decision-making on matters that relate to peace and security. Hence, it adopted UN Security Council Resolution No. 1325 that “urges member-states to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict.”

Having endured two of the longest-running armed conflicts in the world, the Philippines adopted a National Action Plan (NAP) on Resolution 1325 in 2010. The NAP was aimed at increasing women’s voices on peace and security matters and protecting them from violence in situations of armed conflict.

Why women? The answer is simple. They have historically been left out. It’s time they counted. They make up half of the population, after all. We cannot forever ignore what 50 percent of the world’s people have to say, especially in matters that concern peace and security in the public space.

Women have unique perspectives and skills honed in their lived realities, whether in the home where they prevent conflicts from erupting, or in communities where they help resolve differences. They know how it is to fear for loved ones caught in the battlefields. They know how it is to shield their children from guns and bombs or to search for food for loved ones in evacuation camps. Their experiences have helped many of them to see that there are many perspectives, not just one; that there is a center, not just left and right; and that there are shades of gray, not just black and white.

When the peace negotiations between the government and the MILF commenced,

women began conversing with other women on what they thought the resulting agreement should be. Normally in the margins, women’s voices were brought to the fore. They celebrated the adoption of a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which reflected their right to meaningful participation and development as well as their right to protection from all forms of violence.

With hopes up, the women continued to engage the peace process, offering their vision of a peaceful Bangsamoro and how to achieve it. They submitted proposals to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law. They offered their perspectives on arms control and decommissioning, policing, conflict resolution, human rights, and transitional justice. And they celebrated the submission to President Aquino of the draft BBL, which carries provisions on women’s participation, representation, protection and development.

The women went on to lobby lawmakers to pass the BBL. Hopeful that a Bangsamoro Transition Authority and eventually a Bangsamoro government would be formed, they started weaving their aspirations and dreams: We will have our own Bangsamoro Airlines. We will be able to travel the country and even the world because we will have gainful employment. Our children will have uninterrupted education. There will be no more bombs, no more war, no need to seek shelter in evacuation camps.

Their hopes were high, their dreams lofty. After all, a Bangsamoro government can spell the end of the decades-long conflict that has claimed more than 150,000 lives. It will hold the promise of development for the country’s poorest region that has the highest unemployment and illiteracy rates.

Hence, the women went on full gear. They talked peace and how they would meaningfully contribute to peace-building in public actions, school forums, and meetings with other women in community media and lawmaking. They conducted action research in crucial areas of postconflict reconstruction, such as community policing and transitional justice, and how they, as women, can meaningfully take part in these. They trained in political participation, aware of and ready to challenge cultural, economic, social and cultural constraints.

We will take part in the building of a Bangsamoro, they said. We will meaningfully participate in mechanisms and programs that will lead to peace and development.

Then Mamasapano happened, threatening to crush their dreams of a better future.

What if women had been part of the operation intended to get Marwan? Wouldn’t they have coordinated with the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group and the Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities, the functioning mechanisms of the peace process? Wouldn’t they have informed the MILF of the plan and devised a way other than an armed operation?

What if the men counted on decisions as important as these? Alas, they didn’t. And now they want the two women who are trying to save the peace out.

By Jasmin Nario-Galace

Jasmin Nario-Galace is executive director of the Center for Peace Education in Miriam College. She is also national coordinator of the Women Engaged in Action on 1325 that works closely with other partners of the Conciliation Resources—Nisa ul haqq fi Bangsamoro, Unyphilwomen and

Teduray Lambangian Women’s Organization—in operationalizing women’s meaningful participation in the Bangsamoro.