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At Large

Women raising voices for peace

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NEW YORK—It’s been said before: The year to come is a “crucial moment” in the struggle to get the voices of the world’s women heard, recognized, respected and heeded. At the center of this “moment” is the United Nations, which is observing a series of events: the 20th anniversary of the Beijing International Conference on Women, the approaching deadline in 2015 for a global reckoning of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the crafting of a “post-2015” development agenda that, women gathered here earnestly hope, will have women and girls front and center.

Alongside these important occasions is another milestone, an upcoming “high-level” review of the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace and Security.” The resolution “reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in postconflict reconstruction.” It also stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”

But a speaker at a recent panel on “women’s role in building a culture of peace,” representing UN Women, cited a global study on women and peace which showed that 50 percent of peace processes “fail in the long run.” This she attributes to the fact that, despite stories of women “brokering local ceasefires” to enable them to find food for their families, women are still, by and large, ignored in the negotiations for broader, formal peace agreements. Agreements which, many years or even just months later, break down due to clashing political ambitions, male egos, and entitlements.

* * *

THE onset of peace doesn’t always bring about peace or equality for oppressed populations, a speaker for the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform said at the same event.

Since the end of the “troubles,” the woman speaker said, there has been in Northern Ireland a “reassertion of male control,” with many male former detainees in the struggle abrogating the right to speak on issues of peace, “leaving no platform for women.”

About a thousand women in Northern Ireland were surveyed recently and asked: “How has the peace process affected your lives?” The results were alarming, dispiriting.

There was a huge prevalence of prescription drug use and abuse, for one, with women and families and even entire communities “traumatized.” Northern Ireland is also reporting “high suicide rates,” as well as “large numbers of sexual and physical violence.” So even with the arrival of “peace,” with problems swept under the rug and women’s aspirations ignored, “peace time” in a troubled land has yet to bring peace in its entirety to the women of Northern Ireland.

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WILL THIS be the fate awaiting the women—and not just the Moro women—living in the areas designated as the Bangsamoro territory?

Or will the cessation of hostilities bring on the surfacing of personal, familial and community issues?

Perhaps in preparation for this, a group called “Women Engaged in Action on 1325” led a series of consultations involving women from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao “on what they want enshrined in the Bangsamoro Basic Law.” The results were collated and submitted to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, in time, they hope, for inclusion in the draft basic law which President Aquino is scheduled to sign on March 27.

Meeting with Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and former chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front panel in the peace talks, the women voiced their concerns on such “normalization-related issues” as decommissioning, addressing arms proliferation and misuse, and transitional justice.

Among the concerns raised was the urgent need to decrease the arms still in the hands of former warriors, and disarming existing armed groups. “They want emphasis to be placed on the meaningful involvement of women and their proactive role in the return to stable conditions,” a report on the consultations said.

Recognition of and respect for traditional cultures of indigenous people living in the Bangsamoro area was also emphasized, as well as respecting the human rights of indigenous communities.

“Women want to see a mechanism for controlling, reporting and monitoring of arms within the Bangsamoro region,” the report said. “Women want to be assured that just compensation and definitive programs such as livelihood, scholarships and other peace dividends will be available to those who will yield their arms. The security of those who will turn in their arms should also be ensured. Consultations should also be conducted regarding the perspectives of the former combatants regarding their preferred compensation. Such compensation may include sustainable livelihood, scholarship grants for the children of the former combatants and training for skills development. Women should be involved in the disarmament process such as in monitoring and reporting.”

* * *

ONE aspect of the report stood out for me: the desire of the women for proper recognition of “the struggles and history of the people in conflict-affected communities.”

And this recognition need not come in “grim and determined” ways. Some suggestions: interfaith dialogues, fellowships, “bayanihan” activities like sports festivals and “salu-salo”—all “to promote the conciliation of differences.”

And it goes without saying, though it does bear repeating, that giving women voice in the postconflict scenario involves the proper, proportional presence of women in decision-making bodies, including the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, and the inclusion of gender fairness in the Bangsamoro basic law.


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