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Women and new beginnings

02:07 AM August 31, 2015

WOMEN COMPRISE half of the population. Hence, we are not a sector. To call us the vulnerable sector compounds the misconception. The provision in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) upholding women’s right to meaningful political participation and protection from all forms of violence sends the message that women refuse to be tagged as victims only.

Women want to participate and take on leadership roles and make a difference. Women can effect change through participation in governance and in decision-making processes, especially those that relate to peace and security.

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Women from the Bangsamoro areas hail this CAB provision. More than 3,000 of them from Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, Maguindanao, Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were consulted on how they wanted to flesh this out. The result was a list of lobby points submitted to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and Philippine Congress.

The women we talked to want to throw into the dustbin of history their days of political invisibility. They want to see themselves participating in decision-making mechanisms. They want as many seats as possible reserved for them in the parliament and other mechanisms of the future Bangsamoro government, like the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, Bangsamoro Council of Leaders and Bangsamoro Cabinet, local government units, including the Shari’ah justice systems.

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Aware of their capability to help make their community safer, the women want participation in the police force, in controlling the proliferation of weapons and in preventing and resolving conflicts. They want the Bangsamoro government to ensure that community police will respect and promote human rights, particularly women’s rights, and to establish as well a program that will address sex and gender-based violence.

They want women to have equal access to land ownership, and for the Bangsamoro government to ensure their meaningful participation in the conceptualization and implementation of development programs and projects. All of these they know will have a greater chance of being put into practice if they are in decision-making mechanisms. Hence, they want the Bangsamoro government to ensure that political parties will integrate women in electoral nominating processes and to have a women’s agenda.

The women submitted these proposals, informed by the voices from the field, to the BTC, the House of Representatives and the Senate using advocacy tools they were familiar with. They held breakfast meetings with the BTC and women parliamentarians. They knocked on lawmakers’ doors appealing for the adoption of their lobby points. They e-mailed, snail- mailed and posted on legislators’ Facebook and Twitter pages.

They developed and gave away campaign materials—pens, fans, umbrellas—just to drive home the point that they want to be at the center of governance, not in its peripheries. They attended and spoke at public hearings. They did school tours aimed at broadening public support for their cause. They organized women’s marches and public actions encouraging people to cut their bangs for the Bangsamoro in support of women who want to participate in governance.

The efforts have not been futile. The document submitted by the BTC to the Office of the President contained language affirming

women participation. House Bill No. 5811 highly reflects the women’s call, thanks to gender champions within that chamber. Senate Bill No. 2408 includes provisions on women’s protection, but not much on their aspiration to be counted among the leaders and decision-makers. Not yet, anyway.

The women are keeping on. They will continue to walk the halls of Congress or the streets of Mendiola to make their aspirations known. They want a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) adopted, a BBL that is true to the letter and spirit of the CAB, an agreement where their right to politically participate is clearly inscribed.

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Indeed, they want to be counted and they are looking at the Bangsamoro political entity as a viable vehicle to live their dream. Delaying the passage of a CAB-based, inclusive BBL is delaying their chance for a new beginning.

Jasmin Nario-Galace is executive director of the Center for Peace Education, professor at the International Studies Department in Miriam College, and national coordinator of the Women Engaged in Action on 1325. She joined women from Nisa ul haqq fi Bangsamoro, Unyphilwomen and Teduray Lambangian Women’s Organization in conducting consultations in Bangsamoro areas on what women wanted in the BBL. The consultations were coordinated by Conciliation Resources and supported by the United Kingdom Embassy, European Union and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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