Women have always played a definitive role in times of war and peace.
In 2000, the United Nations Department of Public Information assembled a fact sheet based on the "Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action: Report of the Secretary-General". On the one hand, it revealed that "more than 75 per cent of displaced people are women and children, and in some refugee populations they constitute 90 per cent." On the other hand, it also put forth an observation that "a growing understanding of the role of women in conflict resolution and the specific skills and abilities they bring to the decision-making process."
This U.N. observation which was made more than a decade ago resonates in Southern Philippines.On the one hand, indigenous peoples of Mindanao, collectively known locals as the lumad, have been historically marginalized, lacking equal participation in matters of governance, and suffering high rates of violent conflict and human rights abuses. On the other hand, the region is in a time of transition. The transition offers an opportunity to support thelumadcommunities through implementing mechanisms which aim to improve their safety and security as well as their participation and ability to positively engage with existing and emerging government units and security actors.
Three barangays or villages in North Cotabato Province are most affected by recent tensions in the area emanating from tri-boundary conflict between the Provinces of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao. Tension also persisted because of land conflicts between Moro (native Muslim ethnic groups), B'laan (one of the lumad groups native in the area) and settler claimants who are Christians. The conflicts affect members of the minority B'laan tribe who consider parts of the conflict areas of the tri-boundary as belonging to their ancestral domain. The root causes of the conflict remain fundamentally unresolved and violence could potentially recur, which would certainly affect the communities. The area has experienced multiple instances of hostilities throughout the decades since the 1970's. The communities have close links, similar demographics and many families are spread in the tri-boundary area.
Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) in the Philippines launched a project in Mindanao covering the barangays of Kanibong and New Bunawan in the Municipality of Tulunan, North Cotabato province and Daliaobarangay in the Municipality of Maasim, Sarangani province. It was initially calendared to run from October 2014 to February 2015. The project dubbed as "Empowering Indigenous Communities with Emphasis on Women's Participation to Prevent and Respond to Violence and Positively Engage Authorities in Mindanao, Philippines" was made possible by forging partnerships withthe Tulunan Community Development Center (TCDC) and the Maasim Tribal Council.
NP maintains a relationship with the communities, as both have had previous training in Early Warning Early Response (EWER). EWER mechanisms provide a forum for identifying and addressing threats to civilian safety and human rights abuses, while simultaneously building relationships and connections with actors and stakeholders on multiple levels. However the communities need added attention, given the conflict dynamics and potential for conflict. The action aims to protect civilians from violence resulting from the multi-layered conflict and capacitate communities to identify and apply appropriate nonviolent responses to incipient conflicts themselves.
In January 2015, civilian displacement recurred in the B'laan community. This was the result of fighting between armed groups of settlers and Moro farmers. Out of fear, community members only visit their farms in the daytime but proceed to an evacuation center in the evening. The hostile environment precluded the timely implementation of project activities. Activities were cancelled which includes a EWER orientation and a three-day training which requires an especially careful and timely planning process. In response, NP asked for a no-cost extension in order to implement the required activities at a more appropriate time. However, fresh fighting again occurred on 6-7 March 2015 precluding the possibility of conducting training in New Bunawan during the project period. Due to pervasive armed conflict and recurrent community displacement, the establishment of a fully functioning EWER structure in New Bunawan barangay was near impossible.
Out of sheer determination, the three-day training finally took place in Kanibong on 16-18 March during which Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs) from New Bunawan attended.As a result of the participation of IDPs, approximately 60% are fully functioning EWER monitors in the communities. Without proper and sincere initiatives to solve the land conflicts in the tri-boundary area, it can be foreseen that the B'laan of SitioTuburan will continue to remain victims of the violence. However, NP's team has pledged to continue engaging both communities even after the project period. It proveddifficult to operationalize because of the dire circumstances in SitioTuburan could ony be pursued if the situation normalises.
The Project offers an important lesson for countries engaged in peace building. The Philippine experience has shown that keeping the peace and preventing armed conflictis possible because of the active role of women in communities especially where Indigenous Peoples (IP) reside. As a matter of fact, the empowerment of women IPs was at the core of the project's conception and implementation. A total of 10 EWER orientations were held throughout the project period. Out of 744 participants, 427 were women. A total of 75 women also participated in 5 Focus Group Discussions, exceeding the target indicator by 35 participants. Out of 105 training participants, 66 were women.
A female IP who is now a EWER Monitor from Daliao barangay, Maasim, Sarangani province said, "Before I had no experience engaging with government officials because I had no courage. I am thankful to Nonviolent Peaceforce because you gave me the courage through additional knowledge and skills to engage them. We can now each contribute as partners to achieve peace."
NP's presence in the communities helped assuage thevolatile situation by engaging an array of stakeholders including community EWER monitors, and then linking these monitors with relevant security actors and duty bearers. These meetings have served to ensure the communities' positive engagement with authorities in actual times of violence. Moreover, as a member of the International Monitoring Team's Civilian Protection Component, these concerns were passed along to the Peace Panels of the Government of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front via the International Monitoring Team's Head of Mission.In light of NP's work with the International Monitoring Team, the EWER structure will continue to contribute both proactively in times of relative calm and reactively in times of violence. This has been the model of NP's protection-related work in Mindanao since 2007.
Specifically, the Project linked the two key elements of protection and participation while at the same time proactively improving women's participation at the grassroots. Capacitated, informed and empowered communities are now better positioned to influence other stakeholders for their own protection concerns. The increased confidence to positively engage government and security actors can serve as a platform to foster mutual respect.With the empowering of women, dynamics and relationships within communities themselves have significantly improved. Certainly, it contributed to a more holistic understanding of and response to civilian safety and security.
In "Children of the Killing Fields," Cambodia's Chanthou Boua wrote: "Post-conflict societies inherently mean that people, especially women, are exhausted, particularly after a long protracted conflict. They have overwhelming tasks to fulfill in response to the situations mentioned above, usually with limited resources. Women have the added responsibility of nurturing the family livelihood. In post-conflict situations, with so many pressing issues to contend with, the social issues facing women are often low on the agenda."
Chantou Boua's description of women is still appropriate but her prospects for women may have changed already.
The work of NP in Mindanao is proof that the social issues facing women are at the forefront of peace building efforts. By developing and expanding Early Warning Early Response (EWER) structures that are focused on the inclusion of women and indigenous people, as well as strengthening the links between those EWER structures, authorities and other stakeholders, the NP was able provide these communities with mechanisms which promotes their safety, security and positive participation.