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At Large

Role models for peace

“The daily toil and toll of keeping and making peace can challenge even the most persevering among us,” Secretary Teresita “Ging” Quintos Deles, of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp), has said. “It’s not an easy job to keep the parties to a conflict to be consistently committed to dialogue, and to keep reminding them until you are red in the face that there are other ways of resolving issues than just by force of arms. It is not easy, but we persevere, because our people cannot afford to suffer again and any more.”

Well, such dedication, or shall I say stubbornness, is certainly needed in Deles’ line of work. But it has its rewards.

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Most recently, Deles was named a “Role Model for Peace” by the N-Peace Network, a multicountry network that supports the role of women in building and restoring peace.

Also named role models for peace in this year’s awards were women from Nepal, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Timor Leste, and judging from their brief write-ups, Deles joins a group of women who’ve dedicated their lives to the hard and oft-unheralded work of promoting, building and preserving peace.

The other awardees:

Radha Paudel from Nepal is the founder and president of Action Works Nepal who works “in conflict-affected areas with the most vulnerable communities” and is considered a key figure in Nepal’s peace-building work. She also has a link with the Philippines, being an alumna of the Asian Institute of Management.

Suraiya Kamaruzzama of Indonesia is the executive director of “Flower Aceh,” which she cofounded in 1989, and which is engaged in championing the rights of Acehnese women especially after the province won autonomy from Indonesia. She also founded a women’s crisis center in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami that devastated much of Aceh.

Rupika de Silva of Sri Lanka founded “Saviya,” an NGO promoting peace through community participatory methods. In 2002 she began an “innovative support program” to promote women’s voices through an exchange program between Sinhalese women in the north and Tamil women in the south. More than 100 women have since taken part in the program.

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From Afghanistan are Quhramaana Kakar, a women’s gender advisor for the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation program, helping shape gender-responsive policies; and Farkhunda Zahra Naderi, a parliamentarian (as representative of Kabul) who began the “controversial” program called “Chadari the Window of Power,” which seeks to educate and empower Afghan girls and women (an innocuous-sounding goal but not in Afghanistan where the Taliban still holds a lot of influence).

Representing Timor Leste is “Mana Lou,” or Sister Lourdes, who founded in 1989 the solidarity network “Ismaik” that provides humanitarian assistance as well as long-term projects “to fight poverty and revive and preserve East Timorese culture.” She often courts controversy by reaching to all sides involved in the conflict, even those thought to be “enemies.”

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Deles herself was the first woman to be appointed to head the Opapp (from 2003-2005), and under her leadership the Philippines became the first country in the Asia-Pacific to adopt a National Action Plan on the UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. But her involvement in peace work dates back way before Opapp, being involved in civil society grassroots organizations and NGOs promoting peace and reconciliation. She is one of the “founding mothers” of Pilipina, a national women’s feminist organization, and helped found as well the Social Development Index, the Coalition for Peace, the Asian Women’s Research and Action Network, as well as the Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute.

But perhaps her biggest legacy would be the culmination of peace negotiations of the government with both the MILF and the NDF-CPP-NPA, conflicts that the country has had to bear for decades. Prospects look good, it’s said, but they will need all our prayers and faith, and continuing and undying devotion to the cause of peace.

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The “Role Models for Peace” were chosen from among more than 100 nominees in six countries, including Filipinos Annabelle Abaya, former Opapp head; Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus; and Beatriz Colmo, advocacy coordinator of the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples for Peace.

Also named an “Emerging Peace Champion” was Amina Azimi, 29, from Afghanistan, who lost her right leg when she was just 11 years old when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the family home. She has since been deeply involved in working with the disabled community, being a member of the Women with Disabilities Advocacy Committee that advocates the rights of women and girls with disabilities.

Recognized in the category of “Men Who Advocate for Gender Equality” was Sadha Ram Sapkota of Nepal, who works in the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, and as such worked on the National Action Plan for UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and 1820, making Nepal the first South Asian country to nationalize provisions on women, peace and security.

So there you are. You don’t need to be a woman to work for women and peace, or recognize their particular vulnerabilities, as well as strengths, and who are often unseen and unheard, their daily efforts to promote peace in themselves, in their homes and in their communities unrecognized and unheralded.

The N-Peace network is facilitated by the UNDP Asia Pacific Regional Centre and four country offices in Nepal, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Afghanistan in partnership with the Institute for Inclusive Security and Search for Common Ground. The N-Peace Network is supported by the Australian government’s Agency for International Development, AusAID.

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TAGS: `role model for peace; award, featured column, n-peace network, peace process, teresita `ging’ quintos deles
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