Women in PH peace process: participation from the ground up
MANILA, Philippines – When the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a final peace pact on March 27, the occasion not only marked the "crowning glory" of the former rebel group's long struggle, it also produced the first accord across the globe to be signed by a woman as chief negotiator.
In the Philippines, two women are at the helm of carrying the peace talks to fruition – Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Secretary Teresita "Ging" Deles, and government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.
But the participation of women in the peace process in southern Philippines goes beyond the top tiers of the bureaucracy and the negotiating table. From the ground up, women play an active role in finding a solution to conflict.
The story of the women in the Philippine peace process will be thrust in the spotlight when a delegation of Filipino women – led by Deles and Ferrer – who have played crucial roles in the peace process troop to London as part of the Philippine delegation for the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict from June 10 to June 13.
British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad and Australian Ambassador Bill Tweddell hosted a send off for the group on Tuesday, June 3, at the British ambassador's residence in Makati.
"The Philippines has provided a shining example not just to your people but all around the world. Ging Deles and the delegation will talk about what they have achieved and the inclusiveness of women in the peace process is a really great example," Ahmad said.
"If you look at conflict around the world, women and others become victims. They become victims because they are disempowered. They do not have a voice in the conflict itself and its resolution and they simply become quiet victims. That should end. And by giving women a platform, as we will do in London, this will be a message to everybody that the eyes of the world are on them and the force of the law will be behind them," he added.
Beyond Philippine borders, sexual violence, especially of women, as a tool of war remains to be a grim reality. In Nigeria, at least 200 young girls remain missing after they were abducted by militants known as the Boko Haram group.
Meanwhile, at least 100,000 women who were raped in the Guatemalan civil war, 50,000 women who were raped in Bosnia, and over 200,000 women raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to live with the horror of their past.
The Philippine delegation to the London summit represents the spectrum of women's participation in the peace process in Mindanao.
As women were at the forefront of the peace table, they also played key roles in keeping peace on the ground.
For instance, mothers and daughters who are under the network of the United Youth of the Philippines-Women (UnYPhil-Women) organization in Mindanao serve as point persons for early warning systems during conflict. They are the ones in charge of reporting and coordinating the possible outbreak of violence in their communities with peace monitors.
"Since they are the ones left at home and they are the ones who are in the community, they know what's happening on the ground and it was natural for them to play this role," said UnYPhil-Women executive director Noraida Abo.
Abo is one of the trailblazers of women-oriented civil society organizations in Mindanao who will be part of the London delegation. She will also be joined by Fatima Pir Allian of the Nisa Ul-Haqq Fi Bangsamoro (Women for Justice in the Bangsamoro), and Carmen Lauzon Gatmaytan of the Women Engaged in Action on UNSCR 1325.
Three members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission – the body that crafted the initial draft of the law for the envisioned new autonomous entity in the South – will be participating. They are lawyers Raissa Jajurie and Johaira Wahab, and Froilyn Mendoza.
Jajurie served as an alternate panel member for the MILF, as well as the technical working group on wealth-sharing head, during the peace negotiations in Kuala Lumpur, while Wahab was the head of the governmental legal team until her appointment as BTC commissioner.
Mendoza, meanwhile, is one of the founding members of the indigenous women's group Teduray Lambangian Women's Organization based in South Upi, Maguindanao.
A former member of the government peace panel in talks with the MILF, Irene Santiago, CEO and chair of the Mindanao Commission on Women, will also join the group.
Two winners of the essay competition sponsored by the British embassy and the Australian embassy in Manila were also given the chance to participate in the summit. They are Jill Angeli Bacasmas and Reinna Bermudez, who bested over 200 entries in the contest.
Twedell said the world can learn a lot from the Filipino experience.
"I would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to the efforts of so many Filipino women in the peace process – as negotiators, mediators, peacekeepers, relief workers and more. Your contribution is inspiration; it has set the bar high around the world," Twedell said.
As a clear indication of the strides that women have made in the peace process, women's rights are entrenched in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
The CAB expressly upholds the right of women to “meaningful political participation and protection from all forms of violence.”
"The inclusion of these provisions was made possible by the participation of women on the Bangsamoro peace table, from both the side of the government and of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front," Deles said.
But Deles admits the struggle is not over, whether within the country or around the world.
"What we have achieved is merely the beginning. We have yet to start the more important task of bringing the agreements to a reality. But a good start it is already with the significant participation of women to accompany the process to completion," Deles said. – Rappler.com