"The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro raised the hopes and expectations of the Bangsamoro people who had grown so tired of war."

Two years ago, the government of the Philippines signed an agreement allowing for an autonomous Muslim state in Mindanao, the Philippines’ southern-most island. This hard-won victory came after decades of civil war and years of negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the group seeking autonomy for the Bangsamoro. This agreement, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, raised the hopes and expectations of the Bangsamoro people who had grown so tired of war. The agreement was meant to be a stepping stone towards the creation of a new independent Muslim state and a historic step to finally bring to an end the political violence in Mindanao.

But the creation of the new state stalled in 2015. Without the establishment of a new Bangsamoro government, no one could run in this year’s upcoming elections. The Bangsamoro Government was supposed to be asymmetrical to the central government and to include recognition of a separate Bangsamoro identity with their own justice institutions and comprehensive governing framework. This would have guaranteed basic rights including government representation, the right of women to participate in the political process, and to protection from all forms of violence.

With the failure to establish the Bangsamoro State, frustration has surged in Mindanao and many people are fearful of another round of armed conflict. But one thing is different from before: women are increasingly taking matters into their own hands and actively working to prevent a renewed outbreak of violence.

Nonviolent Peaceforce began working in Mindanao in 2007 promoting nonviolence and women’s participation. By raising awareness on gender-based violence and women’s rights, Nonviolent Peaceforce helped pave the way for women to get involved in the peace process. Because of this early work, a number of women are employed as local monitors for the Community-Based Peace and Protection Councils. They provide critical access to information on the ground about tensions in their communities and play a key role by reporting human rights violations. Reflecting on women’s roles in the peace process, Xarifa Lao-Sanguila, one of Nonviolent Peaceforce’s National Civilian Protection Monitors, spoke at Mariam College in Manila recently. In her presentation, she described working with community monitors watching for signs of conflict within villages and responding with unarmed strategies to prevent violence. She said, “To hold the peace together requires great effort, work and coordination. I must stress that it takes a community working together to achieve that.”

Now, women’s groups on the ground are monitoring election related violence. They educate voters, facilitate peace agreements and dialogue with political leaders to promote peace, while trying to forge connections between national-level and grassroots organizations. The Moro Women Development and Cultural Center (MWDECC) works to deter violence by hosting sessions on the integration of Islamic teachings with principles of leadership, governance and human rights. Ms. Baina Samayatin of MWDECC, conducts community workshops that provide a safe venue for the expression of anger and frustration about the delay of the creation of a new state. These community sessions focus on the peace process and the gains it has brought about. Prominent women now serve as chair of the government’s Peace Panel and as advisor to the President on the Peace Process. Mindanao women have developed a strong determination to have peace in their communities, and to take a hand in creating it through nonviolent strategies.

By Maria Mutautamahia, Nonviolent Peaceforce Communications Intern

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