Building peace by empowering women | Inquirer Opinion

Building peace by empowering women

12:05 AM April 15, 2015

I was recently in Cotabato City along with United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) Philippines country representative Lotte Sylwander to open a roundtable meeting we cosponsored with Unicef involving representatives of the Bangsamoro Islamic Women Auxiliary Brigade (Biwab). This meeting was part of a larger dialogue to discuss the key role of women in preventing the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict in Mindanao.

Biwab is affiliated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.


To our knowledge, this was the first time in the world where female members of a nonstate armed group such as the MILF are acting as catalysts to change social and cultural norms and behaviors that could result in eliminating children’s involvement with armed groups.

To its credit, the MILF is currently implementing an action plan agreed to with the UN committing that no children under 18 are associated with the group as combatants or in any supporting roles. The action plan outlines concrete activities pertaining to the separation of children from MILF ranks, gives unimpeded access for UN verification, and promotes awareness-raising on child rights and protection for those living in MILF communities.   The MILF must comply with all these requirements, and if successful, it would be the first nonstate armed group to have complied with the UN Secretary General’s requirements on the elimination of child soldiers. With 29 battalions and 17,000 members situated across core MILF areas, Biwab is strategically placed to support the action plan’s successful implementation.


Canada firmly supports the need to prevent the recruitment and use of children in conflict and for the rehabilitation of children that have been recruited and used in hostilities. We are pleased to collaborate with our friends from Unicef on these important matters both in Manila and at the UN headquarters in New York where we chair the Group of Friends of Children in Armed Conflict. We also welcome the MILF’s commitment to work with the UN on a plan of action on the issue of recruitment and use of child soldiers in the armed conflict in Mindanao.

The roundtable meeting saw members of Biwab signing a declaration resolving to protect children through campaigning against their involvement and use in conflict by armed groups, as part of the broader MILF commitment to child protection and fulfillment of children’s rights in the context of the peace process.

This project reflects a longstanding commitment of the Canadian government supporting the work women play in building peace in their communities, a role recently highlighted in international activities marking International Women’s Month. In addition, promoting gender equality and women’s rights, and providing economic opportunities for women are core pillars of our development cooperation programming in the Philippines. Through the many years that Canada has been focusing on women’s issues, we have built a strong reputation in this country as a leading advocate in mainstreaming gender equality and women’s rights to achieve results both in peace-building and economic empowerment.

Our ongoing support to the Philippine Commission on Women, for example, which has partnered with other relevant government agencies such as the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Department of Interior and Local Government, seeks to remove barriers to women, growing their businesses to make them more competitive. We have so far supported almost 6,000 women microentrepreneurs, smallholder farmers and low-skilled workers to improve their skills, income, and access to markets. In the tourism sector, our programs led to the creation of 1,428 new jobs in assisted areas, with almost half going to women.

Through our small-grants facility, the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, we are supporting a number of projects assisting women. In Mindanao, our partnership with Women Engaged in Action on 1325 trained Moro and indigenous women to improve their capacity to undertake conflict resolution and mediation for them to take on roles in peace building, especially during the normalization period of the proposed Bangsamoro. Our assistance to Human Development and Empowerment Services Inc. is helping internally-displaced persons (mostly women and children) increase their awareness on violence against women and how to help prevent such violence from occurring, especially in evacuation and transitory sites in Zamboanga City. In Davao, I recently attended the closing activity for the training we provided to the Philippine National Police Region 11 on gender-sensitive community policing and conflict resolution.

Outside Mindanao, we partnered with the Samahan ng Mamamayan Zone One Tondo Inc. to undertake workshops on gender equality and women’s rights with residents and barangay leaders in Navotas City to develop a framework for gender-responsive barangay development plans. We helped the Support Service Institute for Women conduct seminars and information sessions on antiviolence against women especially in depressed communities in Metro Manila.

Canada recognizes the highly complex and significant roles women perform in society. Women have proven to be peacemakers and peace-builders in their families and communities. We will continue to try and support projects that advance women’s rights and economic empowerment.

Neil Reeder is Canada’s ambassador to the Philippines.

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TAGS: Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Philippine Commission on Women, Unicef Philippines
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