Category Archives: Women PeaceMakers

Building Connections and Inspiring Hope: Women PeaceMakers in Cambodia

In early December 2011, IPJ Deputy Director Dee Aker and Program Officer Zahra Ismail were in Cambodia for the third Women PeaceMakers Asia Regional Network summit. The seven-day gathering, organized by IPJ Woman PeaceMaker Thavory Huot, provided opportunities to meet with youth, women farmers, Buddhist and Islamic community groups, as well as NGOs and women in political posts locally and nationally. The gathering was supported with funds from UN Women.

 

“We’re here to connect with each other’s efforts, so let’s get started!” This was the invitation from one of the IPJ Women PeaceMakers (WPMs) as we introduced ourselves during our very first roundtable dinner with a group of women activist leaders in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh.

 

As we went around the table listening to the experiences and key challenges facing Cambodian civil society, one that continued to come up both during dinner and in the days that followed was a lack of connectedness, especially among women in civil society. As one young activist put it, “We are still so far away from an us in civil society. We’re very fragmented, there is no collective we.”

 

WPM meeting with Cambodian women farmers

The next morning as the sun spilled out across the sky, our team of Asian Women PeaceMakers gathered with 30 women farmers representing three districts around Phnom Penh. Along with fresh coconut juice, the women shared openly and passionately the challenges they are facing: lack of education, ongoing situations of abuse and resistance to their attempts to strengthen their voices and those of other women in the political sphere. The number of women who are active in local or national government positions is very small, and the particular trials women face are for the most part overlooked. Again the question echoed: How can we better connect with one another and encourage women’s active participation in peacebuilding in our communities?

 

WPM Thavory Huot discussing justice challenges in Cambodia

WPM Mary Ann Arnado of the Philippines, speaking with compassion and humility, told of her experience bringing together more than 10,000 internally displaced persons to demand a ceasefire in Mindanao. As she spoke of their success, images of the thousands of people lining the roadway with their signs demanding the ceasefire appeared in the background. Then Cambodian WPM Thavory Huot shared her personal, painful efforts in the enormous task of disarmament in Cambodia following the Khmer Rouge. She too had witnessed success because of her struggles, and she urged the women gathered not to give up.

 

This exchange of stories and strategies filled the room with hope, and began to plant the seeds of connection between the women from different districts who were present. This continued throughout the seven-day summit. The WPMs shared their stories and exchanged ideas and strategies with civil society leaders, women’s groups, political leaders, local NGO staff and a group of young Buddhist women who are students and tailors, as well as a Muslim women’s cooperative in Battambang Province in northwestern Cambodia.

 

Throughout our meetings with local organizations and groups, the topic of the challenges and action needed to ensure implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 in Asia surfaced. In both formal and informal conversations, the WPMs discovered a common necessity and desire to monitor and work together to operationalize Resolution 1325 throughout Asia.

 

Understanding that Resolution 1325 requires parties in conflict to respect women’s rights, the women wanted to learn how to call on it to support women’s participation in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction. The women felt they could play a significant role in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, and saw their participation as vital in the process of maintaining peace and security. However, despite the resolution’s passing more than 10 years ago, Cambodia and many other countries in Asia and around the world have yet to develop national action plans as a first step in its implementation. The United States only recently – in December 2011 – began exploring how it will launch its own.

 

Asian Women PeaceMakers (l-r) Manjula Pradeep, Thavory Huot, Bae Liza Saway, Mary Ann Arnado, Shobha Shrestha and Zarina Salamat

Sitting together on the last day of the summit, the Women PeaceMakers explored options and made plans for their Asia Regional Network’s development and growth in 2012. Ideas for approaches, activities and strategies around their common 1325 goal emerged, and a newfound sense of motivation planted itself in the group. With strengthened relations and partnerships, new insights and tools to use in their own work, and an agenda for collective action for the new year, the final strategy session came to a close.

 

“I feel rejuvenated and confident that I can continue to do this work, and that I am not, ever, alone,” reflected one PeaceMaker, capturing the essence of the summit. All of us left Cambodia looking forward to the next Asia Regional Network summit to be held in 2012 – and ready for the work ahead.

 

Click here for the first post about the summit, describing the current situation in Cambodia.

Setting the Stage: Women PeaceMakers in Cambodia

In early December 2011, IPJ Deputy Director Dee Aker and Program Officer Zahra Ismail were in Cambodia for the third Women PeaceMakers Asia Regional Network summit. The seven-day gathering, organized by IPJ Woman PeaceMaker Thavory Huot, provided opportunities to meet with youth, women farmers, Buddhist and Islamic community groups, as well as NGOs and women in political posts locally and nationally. The gathering was supported with funds from UN Women.

 

Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, Zahra and I quickly dropped our bags at a small hotel and headed out to the “Women’s Hearings: True Voices of Women during the Khmer Rouge Regime on Sexual Violence.” Theresa de Langis, a former Peace Writer (2007) who subsequently worked for UNIFEM/UN Women in Afghanistan, was facilitating these shadow hearings in Cambodia. Theresa also visited the IPJ in October, as the rapporteur for one of the U.S. civil society consultations on the formulation of a U.S. National Action Plan to implement U.N. Security Resolution 1325.

 

Temple devoted to the bones found in the Killing Fields

Here in Cambodia’s capital, the testimonies of survivors and witnesses of sexual violence under the Khmer Rouge Regime, along with statements from legal experts, were profoundly moving. These crimes have been rejected by the formal tribunals that are currently underway, and the Women’s Hearings are an informal effort at validation and redress for the atrocities women suffered. The call for an official tribunal was a key topic in the IPJ’s Global Women’s Court of Accountability back in 2005, but no one intended or expected that testimonies about the crimes against women would not be included in the tribunal for the mass murderers.

 

There were many young Cambodians in the hearing’s audience who were just discovering the true and vast horrors from the time of the Killing Fields. Fear, trauma and simply regaining a life had been the priorities for more than 20 years, so many parents had repressed, moved on from or even denied the terrors they saw and suffered. The loss of so many intellectuals, teachers and leaders, and the brainwashing and forced labor camps had a stifling impact on both truth and its recovery.

 

After the hearings, Wenny Kusuma, who heads the UN Women Cambodia office and has worked on women, peace and security issues for a number of years, joined us for updates and discussion. This intense first day of feeling, seeing and discussing the profound abuse of women’s rights set a very real stage for engagement with the IPJ Women PeaceMakers (WPM) of Asia arriving in the home of Cambodian WPM Thavory Huot.

 

Skulls that now rest in the temple

By December 9, Zarina Salamat of Pakistan, Manjula Pradeep of India, and Mary Ann Arnado and Bae Liza Saway of the Philippines joined us as Thavory gave a first orientation to Cambodia with a visit to the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Prison (S-21), now the Cambodian Genocide Museum. It is estimated that one-third of the population were killed or died of starvation and disease during the 1975-1979 reign of the Khmer Rouge. Dith Pran’s story in the film “The Killing Fields” is devastatingly palpable here, as you walk quietly from mass grave to mass grave and to the tree where babies’ little bodies were smashed, all the while imagining the “patriotic music” that covered the sounds of dying. After this awakening to one of the most horrific crimes of the last century, the beautiful glass spiral of the pagoda-like structure where the skulls and bones are now honored, layer upon layer, cannot leave your thoughts or prayers.

 

One of the victims of the Khmer Rouge

This week “Brother Number 2” Nuon Chea, the chief ideologue of the Khmer Rouge, admitted vaguely that “perhaps” he had committed war crimes against humanity after hearing the Khmer Rouge tribunal presiding judge list some of the crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enslavement, forced transfer, imprisonment, torture, persecution on political grounds and genocide. As we walked in humility and tears through the prison where thousands of photos of children, women and men stared back at us, and past the rooms where they were tortured, it seemed odd that there is so little awareness of the tribunal or its shadow hearing for women. Like the Hiroshima and Holocaust museums illustrating the human capacity for unimaginable abuse, people should reflect here on what happened and how it must be prevented from happening again. There are lessons here – for Cambodians and the world.

 

By the evening we were joined by our sixth member, Shobha Shesthra from Nepal, who hosted the first Asian Women PeaceMakers Regional Network meeting early in 2011. This was the opening to a very interesting week of discovering more needs and discussing how the Asian Women PeaceMakers might work together on their common issues and challenges.

 

Click here for the second post about the summit, detailing the rest of the Women PeaceMakers Cambodian summit.

 

 

Women, Media, Revolution: Closing

As Day Three of the forum began, IPJ staff and forum participants cheered the winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize: Leymah Gbowee and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Tawakul Karman of Yemen. Gbowee spoke at a previous IPJ conference after a screening of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a documentary about how women forced combatants to go to the peace table and end the war in Liberia. Her colleague, Vaiba Kebeh Flomo, was an IPJ Woman PeaceMaker last year and had her story of working with Gbowee and other Liberian women documented. Deputy Director Dee Aker reminded those gathered that without “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” Gbowee and Flomo’s stories, as well as women’s side of the history of the war and peace process in Liberia, would never have been told.

Unfortunately, journalist Prue Clarke, who runs the New Narratives project in Liberia, had to leave for New York upon the announcement. Her rather critical piece on Sirleaf appeared in last week’s Newsweek, so her perspective on what the award means for Liberia and its upcoming elections was missed at the forum.

Mimi Chakarova responding to questions about her film, "The Price of Sex"

Day Three closed on a more somber note than how it began. Mimi Chakarova’s startling and overwhelming documentary “The Price of Sex” was the last film to be screened. Chakarova spent a decade making the film, following survivors of sex trafficking and investigating the trade in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East.

After a Q&A session with Chakarova in which she explained the daunting tasks of changing perceptions about the issue and of helping victims of the trade, Professor Necla Tschirgi, who teaches human security in the Kroc School of Peace Studies at USD, opened the final panel nearly speechless. A native of Istanbul, a major destination city for sex trafficking, Tschirgi was at a loss to explain her initial feelings after viewing the film, but applauded Chakarova and the rest of the filmmakers and journalists: “I think knowledge is power, and without the work that you do, I couldn’t do the work I do.”

The 2011 Women PeaceMakers and their Peace Writers closed the forum with reflections on the previous three days. Kenyan Wahu Kaara began, “In this conference and all that we have experienced, concluding with this film, I feel bitter but I want to rise up. Get out of the box of the media that lets us accept news of war, rape, trafficking as acceptable. It is not acceptable. It is you in the media that must affirm the stories of life.” Claudette Werleigh, the first female prime minister of Haiti, warned of the danger of new media and technology increasing the gap between people.

Peace Writer Bijoyeta Das (left) and PeaceMaker Claudette Werleigh responding to the forum

For the Peace Writers, three of whom are freelance journalists, the forum was reinvigorating. “I have a renewed sense of commitment and responsibility as a seeker, shaper and custodian of stories,” stated Amy S. Choi, who is documenting the story of Manjula Pradeep of India. Nikki Lyn Pugh, writer for Rashad Zaydan of Iraq, closed the panel and forum with a message of hope: “Where is the hope in these situations? The hope is in the telling of them, the bravery of the people who have allowed themselves to be filmed, the journalists. Those single acts of courage give me hope.”

Thank you to all the speakers and participants for a meaningful and thought-provoking three days. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a final report and photos from the forum.

Women, Media, Revolution: Panels with Journalists and Social Media Activists

Does gender-inclusive reporting exist, and if so, should we look at it in those terms? Can journalism be a catalyst for social change? Does exposing the activism and human rights work of women put them in danger?

The opening panel of Day Two addressed “Pride and Prejudice in Gender-Inclusive Reporting,” though the term “gender-inclusive reporting” was challenged by the panelists. “I’m looking for stories. Maybe I look for different stories because I am a woman, but I don’t set out with that agenda. That language is not helpful in my job.”

Across the panel, the speakers stressed that objectivity in journalism does not equate to telling all sides of a story equally, but it does mean verifiable, fact-based reporting and adhering to basic journalistic standards. “It doesn’t exclude passion,” affirmed Sharon Moshavi of the International Center for Journalists.

Sharon Moshavi (left) with fellow panelists Farah Abushwesha (center) and Prue Clarke (right)

Speakers on the second panel of the day examined “Integrity and Responsibility in New Global Networks,” and focused primarily on the challenges to new media platforms, namely, the need for structural change in the contemporary media landscape and the potential end of net neutrality, or the equal accessing of all websites on the Internet. Additionally, award-winning reporter and the founder of New Narratives, a project training women journalists in Liberia, Prue Clarke discussed at length the obstacles of working with media in the post-conflict West African country: Media outlets often require bribes to get stories placed, and there is no space or incentive for telling truthful stories.

In Day Three’s opening panel on “Digital Bridges and Crucial Social Media,” Sapna Shahani of WAVE India (Women Aloud Videoblogging for Empowerment) showed how her organization is facilitating social change by training women – even illiterate women – from every region in India to use cameras, record stories and then post online. Heather Ford of Ushahidi shared the story of the founding of her organization during the media blackout in Kenya following the elections in 2007. Citizen journalists who were witnessing violence could send a text message about what they were seeing, which then appeared on an interactive website. And Jade Frank of WorldPulse related success stories from her outlet’s PulseWire Community, which is connecting 11,000 women from 185 countries.

Friday afternoon’s virtual dialogue, “Global Exchange: Voices from the Ground,” allowed participants in San Diego to interact with journalists Yasmine Ryan, based in Tunisia for al-Jazeera, Mandira Raut of Today’s Youth Asia (TYA) in Nepal, and Zelie Pollon, a freelance journalist based in New Mexico. Ryan explained the successes of social media tools during the Arab Spring, particularly by Tunisian women. Pollon focused on the difficulty of reducing necessary context in stories to 140 characters on Twitter and the fear that journalistic standards are not being upheld in social media platforms.

Due to technical difficulties with the connection to Nepal, Santosh Shah, founder of TYA who was in the audience, was able to introduce the 25-year-old Raut and her women-produced television programs. TYA shows – written, produced and hosted almost entirely by women – are now aired on Nepali national television, including one program which is on primetime at 8 p.m. every evening. Raut is now working with a young woman in New Delhi to expand TYA to India.

Shah closed his remarks with the affirmation, “We never say, ‘Let’s give women space.’ We just give women the space.”

Women, Media, Revolution: On the Screen

Both films shown on Day Two of “Women, Media, Revolution” profile several women, but in two very different countries and two very different moments in their histories. “The Sari Soldiers,” directed by Julie Bridgham, follows six prominent Nepali women from various backgrounds as they navigate the political and social landscape after the Nepali king virtually closes the country and shuts down the government, nearly a decade into the civil war with the Maoists.

“Peace Unveiled,” the third episode in the five-part series Women, War & Peace, trails several women in Kabul and Kandahar, Afghanistan, during a time of heightened violence from fundamentalist groups including the Taliban. Director Gini Reticker shows their struggle for political inclusion in national politics and the peace negotiations between the government and the Taliban in 2010 and 2011. The danger for the women is palpable throughout the documentary: “I never know if I’ll be coming home or not.” The film was finalized a mere three weeks ago and ends on an ominous statement from the narrator, Tilda Swinton: “For women, peace has never looked so threatening.”

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Post-viewing discussions with the filmmakers focused largely on how the films are being used internationally, but more importantly, on the local level in both countries. In the case of Nepal, Bridgham sought and secured the final permission from all six women before finalizing the film. In a meeting in Kathmandu, the women came together to meet one another and view it as a group. Since then, the women travel in pairs or as a group to sites around the country – it has been shown in 25 districts so far – to share their insights and how, despite their sometimes clashing views on politics and the direction of their country, they have developed new respect for one another’s viewpoints through the making of this film.

Reticker related that the day after the premiere of “Peace Unveiled” on PBS, the featured Afghan women will host an online interactive discussion from Kabul to offer feedback on the film and answer viewers’ questions. The documentary will be shown locally in San Diego on KPBS on October 28 at 11 p.m.

Women, Media, Revolution: Weapon of War

It is always a thrill to have former Women PeaceMakers return to the IPJ for events and conferences. It was no different yesterday evening to see Sylvie Maunga Mbanga, a 2008 Woman PeaceMaker, on stage. The subject matter she was addressing, however, was devastating – what Program Officer Jennifer Freeman described in the introduction as the “horrific and endemic sexual violence in the Congo,” Mbanga’s home country.

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Mbanga joined the stage with filmmakers Ilse and Femke van Velzen after the screening of the van Velzen’s film “Weapon of War.” The second documentary in a trilogy on the Democratic Republic of Congo, “Weapon of War” boldly addresses the neglected subject of the guilt and trauma experienced by perpetrators of rape, used as a deliberate weapon of war for years in the Congo. With over 30,000 soldiers in the national army and 50,000 rebels divided into more than 60 armed groups, perpetrators of rape are plentiful, but the film focuses primarily on the story of an ex-rebel, Alain Kasharu, and his attempt to seek forgiveness from a young girl he and three fellow rebels raped.

The van Velzens let the Congolese tell the story: There is no narration, only the voices of those they followed and interviewed, including a captain in the national army, himself a former rapist who is now educating soldiers and newly integrated ex-rebels about the consequences of sexual violence and how they can reform and move beyond the acts they committed.

“Weapon of War” brings up numerous issues and controversies: whether perpetrators’ suffering and isolation should be brought to light when victims themselves are still not heard, the potential for films like this to re-traumatize both victim and perpetrator, and even the very basic argument of whether such a culturally taboo subject should be raised in Congo.

In the Q&A following the screening, Mbanga affirmed that despite the controversies and very real questions the film raises, one of its strengths is its redemptive quality: that perpetrators and victims alike can and must become the actors of peace in Congo.

Women, Media, Revolution: Acting Together on the World Stage

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The IPJ kicked off its 2011 fall forum on “Women, Media, Revolution” with an homage to a previous IPJ event, the 2009 arts festival “Bearing Exquisite Witness.” Cynthia Cohen, co-producer of the film “Acting Together on the World Stage,” and playwright Catherine Filloux, featured in the film, first showed the trailer in 2009 and returned yesterday to screen the full-length documentary, six years in the making.

The documentary and accompanying anthology highlight cases of theater groups around the world that are “performing peace” and engaging conflict in productive, meaningful ways. Organized according to three Rs – Resistance, Rehumanization and Reconciliation – the film travels the world to explore how peacebuilding performances allow individuals and communities – both on stage and in the audience – to encounter the “other” and face their own experiences of conflict.

In interviews with artists in places as diverse as Peru, Serbia and Cambodia, the film articulates the necessity of counter-narratives. During conflict and its aftermath, governments and those in power often control the narrative – and the media by which it is spread – of what is taking place in a country: Argentine dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s claimed they were protecting civilians while at the same time disappearing them. Dijana Milosevic, founder of DAH Theatre in Belgrade, Serbia, relates in the film how Serb citizens felt almost “schizophrenic” as they heard stories of wars breaking down their Yugoslav federation while the government willfully denied it was at war with its neighboring republics. But courageous and unflinching artists, theater directors and actors forced these governments and their fellow citizens to confront the truth. Artist Charles Mulekwa of Uganda called it “reminding the population that power is with the people, not the people they put in power.”

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Some governments, in turn, have learned to recognize and harness the power of theater in their attempts to rebuild after war or as methods of reconciliation. Following the war in Peru, the official Truth and Reconciliation Commission traveled the country to collect testimonies of what took place during those years. It asked the Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani to precede the commission’s entry into communities to help prepare the people for what they would be asked to recall and share with the commission. The performances became moments of healing for rural communities that had yet to look deeply into what had taken place during the war. The group’s director, Augusto Casafranca, called the plays and the approach to the community “a more sensible angle which is more human” than the formal interviews the commission would be undertaking. The encounters between performers and audience members “were not things that we can understand rationally. … We were cleaning and healing each other.”

In Australia, years of localized performances and rituals in which white Australians learned the stories of the Aborigines and the “stolen generation” became the foundation for a national process of reconciliation, culminating in Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s state apology to the Aboriginal people in 2008 – for many, a long-delayed but cathartic moment of recognition and a step toward reconciliation.

In the spirit of the “Women, Media, Revolution” forum and the journalists and media professionals gathered here over the next two days, Filloux reminded viewers that this work – documenting and remembering – are revolutionary acts in our time.

Women on the Frontlines

 

In late May, IPJ Deputy Director Dee Aker and Program Officer Jennifer Freeman were in the Philippines for the second Women PeaceMakers Asia Regional Network summit. The 10-day gathering coincided with the international launch of the first All-Women Contingent in the International Monitoring Team, which monitors the cease-fire in Mindanao between the army and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The women peacekeeping force is organized by the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, headed by IPJ Woman PeaceMaker Mary Ann Arnado.

 

“Rose’s Pharmacy”

“One Love Bakery – always fresh!”

Boses Ng Barkada: Unlimited Calls and Texts p25 Only!”

Children in the Pagatin community of Mindanao

Large colorful billboards whizzed by in a blur amidst the lively streets and encroaching emerald backdrop of thick palm fronds and broad banana leaves. The main roads snaking through the mountains and valleys of Mindanao presented a typical Filipino scene: tropical island villages bustling with the eclectic daily weave of the intricate social fabric that holds communities together.

 

But as our car slowed entering the small community of Pagatin, the early morning light exposed Mindanao’s worn, war-torn edges. The concrete shells of homes stood jagged, tarps strung between rebar providing threadbare patches of shade. The charred remnants of window frames attested to the buildings’ fire-ravaged past – as did the voices of the families forced to flee. Our team of Asian Women PeaceMakers (WPM) Thavory Huot and Bae Liza Saway, local hosts from the Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC) and IPJ staff members Dee Aker and I sat under morning light slanting through the tarps and listened to their stories.

 

WPM Bae Liza Saway (right) listening to stories from the women of Pagatin

Thirty-five women from Pagatin had gathered to share their experiences of displacement and return. They began with stories of loss – of loved ones, their homes and their dignity. But mingled in the loss were examples of strength, unity and resilience. Counted among their greatest successes was filing an official complaint to the ombudsperson charging the Philippine Army with the razing of their village during the 2008 war. But ongoing challenges remained: How to leverage meager economic assistance to pay the coming year’s school fees? How to find justice and hope for a widow still grieving the murder of her husband and the destitution that she and her children now suffer without his wages?

 

For the Women PeaceMakers these stories echo with the familiarity of loss, recovery and resilience experienced by war-affected communities throughout Asia. Speaking with compassion and conviction, WPM Thavory Huot from Cambodia told the Pagatin women how women survivors of her country’s genocide began sewing pillows from spare scraps of cloth to sell at the market – and eventually lobbied the U.N. to sell them as a fundraising project for 10 times the profit. Her stories of community-led innovation and entrepreneurship created a fervor of ideas and inspiration in the small gathering of displaced women.

 

The power of exchanging experiences and successful strategies was demonstrated throughout the 10-day summit of the Women PeaceMakers Asia Regional Network. Women PeaceMakers shared their experiences with indigenous community members, Philippine Army commanders, civilian peacekeepers, representatives of the Presidential Advisor to the Peace Process and the International Monitoring Team. But one of the most profound exchanges was after the international launch of the all-women’s cease-fire monitoring unit (see previous blog post). Our WPM team, including WPM Milet Mendoza and Mary Ann Arnado, helped celebrate the launch in Manila and listened as local Christian, Muslim and Indigenous women – proudly united by lilac polo shirts emblazoned with the Mindanao Peoples Caucus logo and “CPC Women” – told courageous stories of facing family protests and overcoming their own fears to document and publicize cease-fire violations by the army, MILF or local armed groups.

 

For stakeholders in Mindanao, the four international Women PeaceMakers alumnae, Dee and I, opportunities for learning and partnership were built in Manila and Mindanao throughout the 10-day summit. Bilateral partnerships, strategies to reduce violence and promote justice and reconciliation, and models for inspiration and replication filled every conversation. The Women PeaceMakers returned home tired but energized by the new peacebuilding tools they had both collected and imparted to help address the many challenges still facing their region.

 

The next Women PeaceMakers Asia Regional Network summit is being planned for December 2011.

From the Government to the Grassroots

In late May, IPJ Deputy Director Dee Aker and Program Officer Jennifer Freeman were in the Philippines for the second Women PeaceMakers (WPM) Asia Regional Network summit with WPMs Thavory Huot of Cambodia, Mary Ann Arnado, Milet Mendoza and Bae Liza Saway of the Philippines.

 

Our first of 10 days in the Philippines was anything but slow. We would later travel to the island of Mindanao, to the frontlines of conflict’s aftermath, but our first stop was the capital.

 

The morning found us in a meeting at the Manila Office of the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process, where we were encouraged to peek behind the scenes and find that the role of women in the peace advisement appeared somewhat substantial. The implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 under the Aquino administration is a priority, with a blueprint drawn from the 2009 Philippine Magna Carta for Women and its roots in the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the 2010 National Action Plan (NAP).

 

According to Gettie Sandoval, who is charged with moving the priority of women’s participation forward, they are “pinning down the doable” in concrete areas at all levels of governance and engagement. There must be a “staging and pushing” of the NAP into the justice system and security reform, into the negotiation processes and even into the standards for housing and latrines – as well as all the areas intended by U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820. While we had some hesitation as to whether everyone who might be engaged in the formulation of the plans and activities had been consulted, it is true that there is movement for building platforms for greater women’s participation.

 

And, that same day, the afternoon was dedicated to one such platform. Our Women PeaceMakers summit coincided with the international launch of the first All-Women Contingent of the Civilian Protection Component (CPC) of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), which monitors the cease-fire in Mindanao between the army and Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It was an honor for us to be there for the “Women PeaceMakers Solidarity Launch of the All-Women Contingent” and add our congratulations for the first all-women’s unit to monitor a cease-fire. The women peacekeeping force is organized by the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC), headed by WPM Mary Ann Arnado. A founder of MPC, Mary Ann has been instrumental to the civilian impact in securing the cease-fires of the last eight years. Their work certainly contributed to the unprecedented decline in cease-fire violations since the formation of the IMT: an average of only one violation annually for the past two years, down from over 500 in the years before the IMT.

The international launch of the All-Women Contingent in Manila

Those gathered to hear from the Women PeaceMakers and honor the All-Women Contingent ranged from the head of the IMT Mission from Malaysia and the chief of the AFP Peace Process Office to the head of the Government of the Philippines Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, the Deputy Commander of the 64th Infantry Division and members of diplomatic corps from the E.U., U.K. and U.S. Mary Ann kept to the background but was repeatedly recognized for all of her work and inspiration to solve the aftermath of conflict in Mindanao. Seeing Mary Ann work – her capacity to instill hope and produce new ways of thinking and responding – is rousing.

 

The Asian Network of the IPJ Women PeaceMakers had gathered to share their work, experience and support, and in Mindanao we would visit the headquarters of the IMT and the All-Women Contingent center, as well as the army command, revolutionary groups, indigenous, displaced and resettled communities.  From the halls of government in Manila, we then headed to the island of Mindanao for the field portion of our trip to see what the decisions made in the capital mean for those living and working on the frontlines.

 

A Victory for Women, a Reason to Celebrate

The following is an excerpt from an article in the March issue of Our Mindanao magazine. It was written by former IPJ Woman PeaceMaker Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus. For more information on the state of the peace process in Mindanao, please read the IPJ’s 2010 interview with Arnado.

 

The question that is frequently asked is “Why an All-Women Contingent of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus[1] in the Civilian Protection Component (CPC) of the International Monitoring Team (IMT)? Why women?” The knee-jerk reaction, albeit a nasty one, is: Why not? Why is women’s participation in any formal peace and security structure always put into question?

 

Mindanaoan women at a Bantay Ceasefire training in April 2010

After explaining the long litany of reasons why women should be part of the formal cease-fire mechanisms as mandated by U.N. Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, which has been there for more than 10 years already, the follow-up questions thrown to MPC are, “Are these women trained? Can they possibly do it? Will they be effective? Can they make a difference?”

 

I will not even belabour to answer these questions as I not only find them chauvinist and arrogant, but they are also posed as a booby trap for women. Why is it that women should bear the burden of proof of showing that they could make a difference while the men have long been making a total mess of our security situation? Again, the naughty answer can be, “Well, we don’t even have to make a difference. Like you, we have the right to be here. Period.”

 

For the women in Mindanao, especially in the conflict-affected areas, the All-Women Contingent in the CPC is a triumph of our decade’s old advocacy to operationalize UNSCR 1325, which calls upon all members of the United Nations to promote and recognize the participation of women in peace and security processes.

 

The entry of women in the CPC-IMT is unprecedented in the long and arduous history of the peace process in Mindanao. As Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles expressed in her keynote message during the launch of the All-Women Contingent, “Today, our civil society counterpart is launching an all-women peace-keeping force, most likely the first we ever had in our history of waging peace in the country. I have always been optimistic that gradually and one day, we would live to see ourselves go beyond the rhetoric and witness women really move to the front and center of the peace process. Today is one such day, yet still, I am caught up in amazement of it all.

Banner at a Bantay Ceasefire training - "Save Civilians"

 

As stated in the Agreed Framework on Civilian Protection, the CPC is tasked to monitor the compliance of both the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the following commitments:

 

a)      To monitor the safety and security of civilian communities in the conflict areas;

b)      To monitor and ensure that both Parties respect the sanctity of places of worship namely mosques, churches and religious places and social institutions including schools, madaris, hospitals and all places of civilian nature;

c)      To monitor the needs of the IDPs and the delivery of relief and rehabilitation support efforts in conflict affected areas in Mindanao;

d)      To strengthen ownership of the peace process by supporting and empowering communities to handle conflicts at the grassroots level;

e)      To monitor acts of violence against civilian in conflict affected areas; and

f)       To strengthen linkages and information-sharing between IMT and Peace Panels.

 

Two young Muslim women at a Bantay Ceasefire training

For Bencita Saliling, an Arumanen Manuvu who hails from Carmen, North Cotabato, her participation in the CPC is a hard-won achievement not only for women but also for the Arumanen Manuvu tribe. “Since childhood days, the only thing I know whenever there is fighting is to run away for safety in the evacuation centers. The thought of armed groups was already horrifying, how much more to monitor and report the violations they have committed against civilians. I could not even dare to face and talk to soldiers and rebels alike. That was then completely unimaginable. Seeing that as my new role now in the CPC signals the beginning of a process of genuine conflict resolution and transformation. Peace is now possible as the then unimaginable is already happening.”

 

For Rohanifa Atar, who is a young Moro woman from Lanao, her involvement in the CPC is a breakthrough. “I could not even bring myself to talking with men, how much more to military soldiers and rebels. But the presence of these brave and courageous women in the CPC had boosted my confidence. If people from other countries have left the comfort of their homes to help us here in Mindanao, if they are doing this to protect Bangsamoro civilians, how much more is expected of me as a Muslim woman?”

 

Dinah Montecillo, a Cebuana from Kauswagan and a wife of a pastor, is now accused by some of her neighbors as anti-Christian because she dared to visit Maranao communities in Lanao del Sur. “Being in dialogue with the Maranaos can be misconstrued as a betrayal in these highly polarized societies. I don’t mind these comments anymore even if sometimes I get deeply hurt. What is important is my faith that the peacemaking work that I am doing is very much pleasing to God. If that is anti-Christian to some people, so be it. I realized that we are all victims here whether you are a Muslim or Christian. And that is why I am working together with Muslim and indigenous women in the CPC so that altogether, we can stop our men from attacking civilian communities.”

 

Why women? Imagine a place without your mothers, grandmothers, wives, girlfriends, aunts, daughters and granddaughters? That is like missing the other half of the world. If we want to have a meaningful change on the way the peace process moves in Mindanao, we cannot continue to begrudge the women their rightful place in peace and security processes.

 

For more information on the IPJ’s work in Mindanao, please see our “In the Field – Philippines” page.

 


[1] Established in 2001, the Mindanao Peoples Caucus is an alliance of over 50 grassroots organizations from indigenous, settler and Bangsamoro communities which seeks to strengthen grassroots participation in peace talks between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front and works toward an inclusive political settlement of the armed conflict in Mindanao.