IT IS an irony, a painful one, that peacemakers who seek to broker a swift end to conflict and a lasting and enduring peace are often at the receiving end of violence and threats.
When I asked, in the course of a “talk show-type” discussion on women and peace, if the discussants who are all involved in peace work were not themselves in danger, Irene Santiago of Davao prompted me to “ask R why she has four cell phones.” We had been kidding R about the four cell phones she was clutching, but her reason for having them on hand was sharp and succinct: “I need them so that I’m not so easily traced and I can be alerted should any threat develop.”
R is a human rights lawyer working in the ARMM, while Bet-ing Colmo is with the Coalition of Mindanao Indigenous Peoples for Peace. But in the years she has worked fighting for the rights of indigenous communities, says Bet-ing, she and her companions have come under fire from “the rebels, the military, the para-military, warlords, loggers, miners and landowners.” In short, all parties keeping a covetous eye on the resources found in tribal lands or on the strategic advantage to be gained by co-opting the communities.
The discussion was part of a forum called “Towards the Implementation of the National Action Plan—Ways Forward” that culminated in the launch of WE Act 1325, or Women Engaged in Action on 1325. WE Act is a coalition of groups dedicated to promote awareness and implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (and a related document, UNSCR 1820) that, 10 years ago, urged member-states to recognize both the special vulnerabilities of women in situations of armed conflict as well as their important role in preventing conflict and in peace-building.
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“WE ACT 1325 is claiming space for women’s vision, experiences and aspirations,” declared Teresita “Ging” Quintos Deles, head of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, and before she joined government, a leading personality in the civil society sector advocating for peace, justice, reconciliation and the recognition of the role of women in these endeavors.
Addressing the attendees at the forum, Deles mentioned her role in a “small footnote to history,” recalling how, when the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women or CEDAW was passed in 1979, “there was no reference at all to violence against women.” In 1992, when she represented the Philippines in the CEDAW experts group, Deles sponsored Resolution No. 19, which sought to include the situation of women in armed conflict as part of a broader proposal addressing violence against women. “This was the first direct reference to women in conflict in a UN document,” noted Deles. Six years later, the UN Security Council would issue Resolution 1325, an important albeit belated recognition of the role that women play in armed conflicts, whether as combatants, victims, peace advocates, mediators, or negotiators. A few years later, the UN-SC issued Resolution 1820, which declared rape and sexual exploitation as a war crime that should be sanctioned.
And with the completion of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, a document that was the fruit of national consultations spearheaded by NGO’s and government agencies, Deles said she was feeling that “the circle is closing.”
There is also strong support within the Aquino administration not just to a lasting peace process, but also to the implementation of the NAP and t o ending the fighting. “By 2016,” she stated, “President Aquino is determined that there would no longer be an armed conflict to be passed on to the next President.”
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SANTIAGO of Mindanao 1325 and the Mothers for Peace wanted to make one thing clear: that the work of women in peace and conflict resolution is part and parcel of the broader goal of eliminating gender inequality and challenging “patriarchy,” a word, she noted, that is getting mentioned less frequently these days but is still very much around in theory and practice.
Indeed, pointed out Karen Taņada of the Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute, violence and conflict are very much factors of the causes of inequality and poverty of women. “Women in situations of conflict are driven even deeper into poverty and insecurity because they lose their homes, their means of livelihood and even their sources of food. Their children’s education is interrupted, and when their husbands are killed or become combatants, they are left alone to fend for themselves and their children.”
Joeven Reyes of Sulong CARHRIHL spoke of the tremendous sense of apprehension and stress that women caught in the firestorm of war feel, making them more vulnerable to other forms of violence even within the household.
Fatmawati Salappudin of the Lupa Sug Bangsamoro Women acknowledged the need to work on cultural exchanges, since ignorance and prejudice fuel much of the suspicion, mistrust and misunderstanding between peoples. “I work to inform Filipino Christians about Moro culture,” she said, “while at the same time work with my own people to gain greater understanding of Christians.”