Preserving Peace in the Pandemic: Young Women Leaders and Gender Equality Allies Mobilize in the Philippines
December 14, 2020 by Mallika Iyer and Heela Yoon
“We want peace! We’re ready to work for it!” – declared members of the Young Women Leaders for Peace (YWL) in the Philippines during an online capacity-building training organized by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), with support from Channel Foundation in August 2020. YWL in the Philippines is a network of young women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) youth, and gender equality allies. Since its establishment in February 2018, the network has mobilized to build and sustain peace in the Philippines, and prevent further outbreaks of conflict in their communities. The virtual training was organized to support their work towards sustainable and inclusive peace, by enhancing their knowledge and capacities on the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda, the Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS) agenda, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPFA). Between August 26-28, the youth leaders analyzed challenges and opportunities to accelerate the implementation of the WPS and YPS resolutions in the Philippines.
YWL members believe that the implementation of these resolutions is necessary to ensure that the hard-won peace is not lost. On March 27th, 2014, people across the country rejoiced as the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a historic peace agreement, which brought 40 years of armed conflict to an end. The Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro is celebrated internationally for its gender-sensitive provisions and inclusive drafting process spearheaded by the world’s first woman chief negotiator. One of the key provisions of the peace agreement was the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Six years after the signing of the agreement, the region is gradually transitioning from rebellion to governance. The provisions of the peace agreement were enshrined into the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and ratified in February 2019 through plebiscites, which institutionalized the establishment of the BARMM. Additionally, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) approved a transition plan and passed codes creating Bangsamoro Commissions on Youth, Women, and Human Rights. The parliament, for which an administrative code is being deliberated, is scheduled to begin regular sessions in 2022. To ensure a peaceful transition to the BARMM, it is critical to protect these achievements as well as build local ownership and support for the effective implementation of the peace agreement.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant delays in the development of government structures and processes, including the electoral code for the region, which is crucial for the effective implementation of the peace agreement. While Members of Parliament struggled to meet over Zoom, violent extremist groups wasted no time in sowing insecurity. In April, a clash between the Abu Sayaff Group, a well-known violent extremist group that operates in the BARMM, and the Armed Forces of the Patikul, Sulu resulted in the death of 11 soldiers. Shortly after, two soldiers were reportedly killed in an attack by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) at a COVID-19 lockdown checkpoint. Violence perpetrated by extremist groups and clan feuds jeopardizes the building of peaceful institutions in the BARMM and the implementation of the peace agreement.
“I have heard kids say that they want to join Abu Sayaff when they grow up. We need to counter violent narratives promoted by extremist groups. Instead, we need to build support for peace in the BARMM,” a young woman from Sulu shared. Violent extremist groups have exploited the limited collective understanding of the BOL, and have utilized the resulting misinformation and disinformation to radicalize and recruit in conflict-affected areas. In response, during the virtual training organized by GNWP, the young women leaders and gender equality allies designed community peacebuilding dialogues and social media campaigns, which will raise awareness and build ownership of the BOL, particularly including its gender-responsive provisions. Keynote speakers, Ana Tarhata Basman and Maisara Damdamun-Latiph, who are both Members of Parliament of the BTA, highlighted the critical importance of the participation of young women in political decision-making to ensure a sustainable and inclusive transition to peaceful governance. They highlighted that the BTA currently does not have enough women members to meet the required 30% participation quota stipulated under the BOL. In preparation for the upcoming elections in the BARMM in 2022, YWL members committed to leading advocacy campaigns to encourage and inspire their peers to join political parties and work for the BTA. “We don’t have a lot of time before 2022. We all need to work together to actualize this peaceful transition. There is too much at stake if we fail,” emphasized Ana Tarhata Basman.
As part of the August 2020 training, the YWL members also enhanced their capacities to advocate for a human-rights based peace process between the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) and the Philippine government. The conflict between the CPP-NPA-NDF and the government has devastated rural areas across the country and has resulted in large-scale internal displacement, loss of lives, damage to property, and widespread insecurity. It has also led to the implementation of martial law and multiple grave human rights violations. Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated insecurity experienced by communities as a result of the conflict. Although the warring parties were quick to declare ceasefires in March 2020, the failure to uphold them ultimately worsened prospects of peace negotiations, increased the incidence of violent clashes, and disrupted the delivery of essential relief goods to women and youth peacebuilders on the frontlines of the pandemic.
“We need to dispel the perception that peacebuilding and negotiations aren’t going anywhere. Militarized responses to the pandemic and armed conflict shouldn’t be the only action the government takes. We need to spread hope, advocate for change, and meet the immediate needs of vulnerable groups,” Bianca Pabotoy, a young woman from Buhol, stressed. During the online training, the young women leaders and gender equality allies designed initiatives to empower and increase opportunities for internally displaced and indigenous young women in conflict-affected communities to protect their rights and participate in peacebuilding. The YWL members in the Philippines emphasized “Peace isn’t just for Mindanao!” Implementing an inclusive peace will help build a better, more equitable future for all Filipinos. The young peacebuilders are working steadily towards building a national movement for sustainable peace and gender equality.