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Gender Peace Champions Creating a Safe Space in Conflict Zones of Basilan

Date: April 6, 2023

Reposted on UN Women September 22

Story and Photos by Denise Rafaeli Cadorniga

Despite living in a conflict-affected area on the island of Basilan, a group of Gender Peace Champions have been instrumental in creating a more nurturing space within their community.

Gender Peace Champions across the island of Basilan are achieving game-changing wins against all odds as they promote women’s rights and conflict prevention. NP has organized a group called “Gender Peace Champions,” made up of both women and men.

These Champions have participated in NP trainings to strengthen their abilities to engage in conflict prevention and protection of women’s rights. They've also sharpened their skills in unarmed civilian protection (UCP), and Early Warning Early Response (EWER). Now, they're sharing their learnings with their community.

Meet the Gender Champions

Each champion is motivated to advocate for nonviolence for various reasons. Saripa John is an ustaza—a woman religious leader—who plays an important role guiding women and children in learning about and exercising their rights within their homes. Mamra Ijalin of Tipo-Tipo is a youth leader and sociology student. Her bravery has led her to challenge norms and advocate for prevention of violence against women. Nur-alim Halim, a local government official, is striving to re-echo his knowledge among as many men in his community as possible.

These are just a few stories of Basilans' Champions. Each of them is making a significant impact in their communities today.

Gender Peace Champions of Basilan pose with pride in Linuan Falls located in Al-barka Municipality, where it is said the Abu Sayyaf's armed group camped out for over two months before the brutal Marawi Seige happened in May 2017.

When asked for reflections on NP's trainings, Gender Peace Champion Mardiya Amlain shared:

"Since we began working with NP, we've come to realize our rights as women. In the past, we've been disregarded—men have always done the decision making. We didn’t know that us women also have our rights.”

"Simula nung sumali kami sa NP, alam nanamin ngayon ang mga karapatan ng mga kababaihan. Dati, kasi binabaliwala lang kami. Puro nalang ang nag-decision-making ang mga kalalakihan. Yun pala may mga karapatan ring kaming mga kababaihan."

Spreading the Word

Inspired by the positive changes happening, these champions co-facilitated a two-day training in Basilan in January. They focused on strengthening local mechanisms to prevent gender and conflict-related violence.

The goal of this training was to empower women, and specifically women combatants, to become more involved in peacebuilding activities, particularly in community-based conflict prevention and resolution efforts. This is crucial, as women are often disproportionately affected by conflicts and excluded from decision-making processes.

As the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) transitions towards normalization of conflict-affected communities, the Bangsamoro Parliament is still in progress of defining the basic structure of its system in advancing women’s rights.

Advocating for Change

The province of Basilan is a dominantly patriarchal island riddled with the stigma of violence. The municipalities of Al-Barka, Tipo-tipo, and Hadji Mohammad Ajul are slowly beginning to accept women that challenge traditional gender roles. This is a major achievement, for these communities had grown accustomed to always allowing men to have the last say. The Gender Peace Champions worked with NP to integrate gender and culturally sensitive principles with their own traditional practices.

"There are still a lot of people that want to learn and know about their rights (as a human being), that’s why it’s very important to teach these things to them."

"Marami paring mga taong gustong matuto at gustong malaman yung mga karapatan nila, kaya importanteng natuturo namin ito sa kanila."

Looking to the Future of Basilan

The Gender Peace Champions of Basilan are an extraordinary example of a small group of passionate civilians leading the paradigm shift in violence prevention. Local and grassroot initiatives like these are essential to build on Basilan's strides towards conflict prevention and protection of women’s rights. The champions inspire us to look forward to a day when human rights, peace and equality become the norm, rather than the exception.


Gender Peace Champions of Basilan are one of the project participants of the Women- IMPACT Project, which includes former women combatants that are Increasing their Meaningful Participation in Advocacy and Conflict Transformation. This project is supported by UN Women through the UN Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund (WPHF) in partnership with Nonviolent Peaceforce.

Titles of trainings:

  • Training on Gender Equality, Women’s Rights, and Practice of Moderation and Tolerance
  • Capacity Building for Women and Local Protection Monitors on Women’s Rights, Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law, Children’s Rights, Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP), and Early Warning and Early Response (EWER)
  • Coaching and Mentoring on Gender Equality, Women’s Rights, Practice Moderation and Tolerance
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