YESTERDAY I was asked to give the Welcome Message to participants in the National Validation Workshop of a project called “Responding to Women Survivors of Armed Conflict: Research and Advocacy to Enhance Support to Women in Conflict Situations” organized by Pilipina with the support of the Office of the Presidential Adviser in the Peace Process (OPAPP).
The workshop sought to gather “stories” compiled by researchers in different areas of the country, on the experiences of women who had lived through situations of armed conflict, including their own assessment of how their local governments responded or did not respond to their needs for alternative housing, food, health care, safety and justice.
Present at the workshop were the women respondents and researchers from Negros Occidental, Maguindanao, Compostela Valley and Albay to discuss the situation in their areas, particularly the status of women survivors of armed conflict. Survivors will also share personal stories, enriching these with insights on their feelings, their fears and aspirations, and how they coped with their troubled situations.
Also part of the research project was an assessment of the awareness of the women survivors about their rights and their ability to access these rights, particularly in dealing with the military and local government officials. Also included was an assessment of the capability and readiness of local governments to respond to the needs of a community beset by armed conflict. Shockingly, many of the local governments, particularly the local social welfare units, were unable to recognize the emergency, or to respond to the needs of evacuee families.
IT is thus important to “surface” the voices of women caught in armed conflict today, particularly at this time when peace negotiations are underway. There is a good chance, better than in previous administrations, at least, that these talks will lead to meaningful and workable agreements, something we have all dreamed of for decades.
Below, I share excerpts from my talk, translated from the Taglish original, and embellished for style. I hope to come up in the future with a report embellished not with flourishes but with the experiences and feelings of women who lived the issues and continue to dream of a better future.
ABOUT two weeks from now, I will be leaving for Bogota in Colombia for a 10-day study tour/dialogue with counterparts in civil society, the academe, the government, indigenous communities, the legal profession and the media on the issue of “Women and Peace-building.”
As you may know, both the Philippines and Colombia share common experiences of armed conflict, and our people share common hopes of finding a lasting and just peace that will not just “silence the guns,” but also address the conditions that led to conflict in the first place, including justice and human rights for all, economic aspirations, and the quest for individual and communal dignity and identity.
This is why I am very grateful for this opportunity to meet with Filipinas who have personal, first-hand knowledge of the issues and most important, to listen to you tell your stories of risk, anxiety, hardship and insecurity but also of hope and survival.
I must confess that on the issue of peace, especially the role that women play as victims, mediators, peace builders and policy makers, my knowledge has been mainly based on theory, and on my exposure as a journalist covering issues like politics and peace negotiations, and on interviews with persons enmeshed in the issue.
This is vastly different from learning about peace—and conflict—from women like you. And so I thank you for giving me the chance to hear about your lives and your experiences. For no matter how long and hard you study the issue from a philosophical or ideological viewpoint, there is no denying the value of “living” the issue, to know of it literally in your guts, to feel its impact on your days and nights, and to worry constantly about where your next meal may come from or if you would even survive the night.
IT'S important to remember that the stories you share today are not yet history. For they took place only recently, in the midst of the P-Noy administration, and perhaps even more similar stories are playing out even as we speak.
What messages, what learnings shall we take from this afternoon's session? The first I can think of is that “you are not alone.” Every day, everywhere in the world, huge numbers of men, women and children must cope with armed conflict, with violence on the streets, with abuse in their households.
Second, by coming to take part in this consultation, you have shown that women like you are not just fighting to survive but also to live meaningful lives in the face of the difficulties you have been subjected to. Even more women are speaking out and acting on the need to end all forms of violence against women, especially armed conflict.
And third, you hold out hope that women can and will take part in the difficult process of building peace, and of building the society that will emerge from the ashes and the rubble. While women have an equal, or greater, share of the suffering from armed conflict, their presence and voices disappear once formal talks and negotiations commence.
I hope you have a fruitful discussion, one rich in insights, and enriched with your deeply personal feelings and brave honesty. There is a pressing need to gather stories like yours, to thread them together in a narrative that not only tells a cogent story, but also makes others feel as you do, understand your plight and aspirations, and inform policy that will lead to a just and lasting peace in our land.