REGINA YVETTE V ROMERO
Defense Research Analyst

PCEDS STRATEGIC ANALYSIS                                           PSA March 2021 Issue

Reinforce the Role of Women Towards Inclusive Peace in the Bangsamoro

By: Regina Yvette V Romero, Defense Research Analyst

 

A Global Outlook on Women’s Role in Peace Processes

Every woman aspires and deserves to live in a society that is free from stigma and brutality: a safe and secure community that upholds equal rights and provides equal opportunities regardless of age, religion, color, race, nationality, disability, and gender and sexuality. To ensure that these goals are accomplished, women must be involved in all levels of society’s decision-making processes – and this includes the participation of women in peace proceedings.

The United Nations (UN) recognized that majority of those who are adversely troubled by armed conflicts are women and children. One key measure to end these conflicts since the 1990s is through initiating peace processes which entail discussions and settlements between the parties involved in the dispute. The organization has acknowledged the pivotal role of women in peace dialogues, peacemaking, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, and post-conflict restoration. To further strengthen these statements, the Landmark Resolution on Women, Peace, and Security (S/RES/1325), which highlights the significance of women’s equal and full involvement in all endeavors to preserve and advance peace and security, was adopted by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on 31 October 2000. This declaration has served as one of the foundations for women’s participation in peace operations by the member states all over the world.

Despite the developments in women’s involvement in peacebuilding affairs after more than two decades since the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1325, issues are still evident and needed to be resolved. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, from 1992 to 2019, on average, only 13% of negotiators, 6% of mediators, and 6% of signatories in crucial peace processes involved women. On the other hand, UNSC reported that only 11% of ceasefire agreements contained provisions on gender, a relatively small percentage in comparison to 26% of other peace accord classifications. Because of these circumstances, women and the other important sectors are unable to forward their demands and queries to the negotiating bodies. Some of these aforementioned dilemmas are not new to the people of Bangsamoro in the Philippines, as their struggle persists up until the present time.

Conflict & Negotiations in the Contemporary Bangsamoro: A Brief History

The Mindanao conflict, which is predominantly occurring in the central and southwestern parts of the island, is considered one of the major conflicts in the Philippines since its independence. In the late 1960s, the armed group Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) advocated for a homeland for the Moros. This displayed the recurring demands to fulfill the right to self-determination of the Muslim populace in the country. However, the conflict is also ‘multi-faceted,’ as described by Anna Strachan because it does not only involve various armed groups, but also dynasties, political elites, and criminal gangs.

On the other hand, the socio-economic lens was also used in analyzing the occurrences of these disputes. Poverty and inadequate social opportunities can influence and be consequences of conflict. The continuous battle resulted in high incidences of poverty in the region, despite having fertile resources. The table below shows the poverty incidence among the population in the Philippines and the ARMM from 2006 to 2015 reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority – Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (PSA-BARMM). From 2006 to 2012, there was an increasing trend of poverty incidence in the region, but in 2015, it recorded a 2.1% decrease from the rate in 2012. However, the rates in the region are distressing, as these are two times higher than the overall rate of the country.

               Table 1. Poverty Incidence among Population, Philippines & ARMM (2006-2015)

Region/Province Poverty Incidence among Population (%)
2006 2009 2012 2015
PHILIPPINES 26.6 26.3 25.2 21.6
ARMM 47.1 47.4 55.8 53.7
Basilan 39.0 36.6 41.2 37.0
Lanao del Sur 44.7 56.6 73.8 71.9
Maguindanao 54.6 52.2 63.7 57.2
Sulu 40.7 41.6 45.8 54.9
Tawi-tawia/ 52.4 35.3 28.6 12.6
Source: PSA – BARMM
a/ Coefficient of variation of 2015 poverty incidence among the population is greater than 20%.

To address the persisting conflict, administrations since the Marcos presidency sought to establish peace agreements, with the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Jakarta Accord being the outcomes. Eventually, in 2014, the Philippine government and armed group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which is the final peace agreement adopted by the parties. Following this is the passage of Bangsamoro Organic Law, which was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2018.

These measures in ensuring peace and security in the area are crucial and indeed commendable. Even so, the path to inclusive peace and security in the Bangsamoro is under construction: the region, up until today, is still going through its transition period; but through the participation of women in all decision-making processes, the populace would be able to fast-track its peace-building missions and post-conflict restorations.

 

The Role of Women in the Bangsamoro Peace Processes

            The role of women is crucial in peace processes. They may be involved in formal negotiation processes, participate in technical committees or sub-commissions, and engage as civil society actors. In the context of Bangsamoro peace negotiations, it was only in 1997 that a woman was selected as a member of the government peace panel. During the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, University of the Philippines Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer was appointed as the chair of the government negotiating panel. Upon the ratification of CAB, she became the world’s first female chief negotiator to sign a major peace agreement. On the other hand, the MILF also appointed human rights lawyer Raissa Jajurie as part of its Board of Consultants in 2011. In an account, it is said that her role made a significant impact on how the MILF handled dialogues about gender, paving the way for the inclusion of many gender provisions in the CAB. Some of these provisions pertain to the participation of women in political affairs, lawful employment for women, protection of women and children, and creating mechanisms for talks with women.

The country’s rich history of activism has influenced evaluative and varying outlooks among the people of Mindanao. In the adoption of CAB, Prof. Coronel-Ferrer credited various civil society groups like WeACT 1325 and Women’s Peace Table for lobbying gender-related provisions. She mentioned that they were heavily supported by active and passionate groups outside the formal negotiation table. How is this possible? Women’s active engagement in peace processes can be credited to the rapid increase of civil society organizations in the country, especially movements representing women. In the study of Anna Strachan, mechanisms that influenced the success of involving women in peace processes are 1) utilization of prevailing networks needed in organizing and mobilizing movements, 2) creation of networks of national and international alliances, 3) engagements with various women’s constituencies, and 4) usage of personal connections and coalitions of women to ensure that the concerns of women are included in the agenda.

            Following the signing of CAB, the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in 2018, and the plebiscite conducted in 2019, the BARMM was established, with the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) being the interim regional government that possesses both executive and legislative powers. The Bangsamoro Parliament is the legislative body which is composed of 80 members. Out of the aforementioned number of seats, however, 12 seats are occupied by women. Moreover, four of them hold pivotal roles in the whole transition body.

            Representation and involvement of women in the current transition government are crucial to ensure that their concerns and struggles are addressed. In an interview with MP Maisara Latiph, she mentioned that the Bangsamoro women are active in maintaining peace and decision-making at all levels. With this, her office ensured that there are women sectoral representatives for her focused sectors concerning the youth, children, education, environment, and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). And to further empower them, capacity-building and training are provided by the office for them to properly execute their mandates, particularly doing fieldwork and engaging the communities on a deeper level. As a member of the parliament, MP Latiph regularly conducts consultations with the sector. Some parts of the 5% budget allocation to gender development go to organizing consultations with women who are at risk of violent extremism, and provision of possible support and interventions. The responses from consultations are indeed important in crafting bills and resolutions on women in the region, especially when policies on the Gender Development Code and creation of the Bangsamoro Women Commission were created. On the other hand, the office of MP Latiph is also in coordination with non-governmental organizations and other partners in developing her projects and initiatives for women, children, youth, education, and IDPs in the Bangsamoro. These aforementioned initiatives to empower women are laudable, as women in the communities are motivated to do more. MP Latiph shared that since the sector representatives already have a deeper understanding of the problems, they have gained more confidence in engaging the community. However, despite these achievements, threats to their safety and security are still present, as well as the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, which greatly affect their dialogues with the involved sectors and the implementation of their projects.


 

Breaking Barriers and Addressing the Gaps

Women have already overcome series of obstacles to be involved in the region’s peace processes. The traditional notions like negotiations involving only war actors, women being forbidden by culture and religion to have roles in decision-making bodies, and ‘hierarchy of tracks’ being present, were broken. Moreover, the expertise of women was taken into considerations in crafting the peace agreement and its implementing mechanisms, and women can take key leadership roles in the region, as they have gained skills and knowledge being community organizers and activists.

Despite the aforementioned developments, there is still so much work to do, as key players must continue to empower women by overcoming some hurdles that prevent them to engage in governance. Some of these obstacles are persisting discrimination, poverty and other social concerns, and lack of conviction and education. To address the issue of discrimination, particularly disempowering women to participate in decision-making processes, Irene Santiago of the United Nations Women advised giving credence to the affirmative features of culture or religion in support of the participation of women in public decision-making to establish a new norm. With this, establishing a public belief that commends the crucial role of women in peacemaking and peacebuilding will be important in influencing political will. Moreover, this correspondent would like to suggest that discussions between men and women must be stimulated to deeply understand women’s struggles, as well as to recognize their involvement in peace processes, community-building, and governance. On the other hand, in tackling the issue of poverty, authorities must provide interventions based on the demands of the people, particularly on improving healthcare access, increasing employment opportunities, investing in education and training, and provision of social safety nets.

To further empower women, it is important to continue supporting civil society movements by honing the skills of their members, as well as training the next generation of leaders and organizers. This mindset will be beneficial for the movements in the long run, as their organizations would be able to continue the works they have started. Further, Leslie Dwyer & Rufa Cagoco-Guiam suggested strengthening efforts in supporting women as community conflict resolvers, as well as fortify holistic methods to conflict through implementing initiatives that are based on comprehensive gender analysis and projects that improve community solidarity. They emphasized the need for collaboration than competition in starting livelihood projects to lessen the risk of arising conflicts in the community. Lastly, in the interview with MP Latiph, she mentioned that in order to move forward, the strength of women must be shown through collective action: uniting and aligning with each other in pursuit of the common goals.

Upholding women’s rights, fully breaking the stigma, addressing poverty and their other social concerns, ensuring that education and training are accessible, and uniting towards peace in the region would help women to take more active roles in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. These aforementioned recommendations are neither overarching nor selective, but only some of the many possible recommendations that are essential in stimulating conversations regarding further reinforcing the role of women in peacebuilding processes in the Bangsamoro region.

About NDCP-PCEDS

NDCP-PCEDS is a specialized research and training center established at the National Defense College of the Philippines through Department Order 404 dated 18 September 2018. It is mandated to provide policy-relevant research on global strategic affairs to address strategic change and security priorities of the country, and to facilitate cooperation and coordination with national, regional, and international organizations working on defense and security issues.

Disclaimer

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense College of the Philippines, the Department of National Defense, and the Philippine Government.

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