The development of the Philippine National Action Plan (NAP) is a demonstration of women’s effective leadership. Our story began with three women meeting in a college cafeteria to ask how UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was being implemented in the Philippines. That meeting led to a national workshop where women doing peace work gathered to discuss and assess implementation of the resolution. This workshop revealed that there were scattered efforts at raising awareness on the resolution and these efforts have not really made much impact. The three women approached government, specifically the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (now the Philippine Commission on Women) and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) if they were interested in developing a NAP. The answer was “yes”. A 1325 Preparatory Committee (1325 PrepCom) was formed that in the next two years went around the country to consult people from various sectors on what they wanted to have in a NAP that will help protect women in situations of conflict and that will ensure women’s participation in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction. The result was a NAP launched in March 2010, the first NAP launched in Asia.
The development of our NAP is a good example of collaborative politics. Women-leaders from civil society worked closely with government agencies to make this a reality. We took a feminist approach to its development which was collaborative. It was not a document that emanated from experts but was rather reflective of the sentiments and interests of diverse peoples on the ground. We made sure that there was a good mix of participants in the regional consultations. There were community women, members of civil society, representatives from local government units and/or agencies, security sector, academe, religious, indigenous peoples and Moro women.
When government decided to form a Steering Committee that would implement the NAP but had only government agencies as members, the women from civil society in the 1325 PrepCom immediately formed its own network- the Women Engaged in Action on 1325 (WE Act 1325). The intention was still motivated by the spirit of collaborative politics- to help government implement the NAP, because we knew we could. WE Act 1325 was launched on November 17, 2010. It is currently composed of 37 member-organizations nationwide.
Where has women’s leadership brought us four years after?
We now have local legislations protecting women in armed conflict-areas from sex and gender-based violence as well as local laws mandating women’s meaningful participation in preventing conflicts and building peace in communities affected by armed conflict. These local laws specifically mandate women’s participation in local peace mechanisms such as the Lupong Tagapamayapa or Peace and Order Councils. These legislations are a product of the Localization Program we do with the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP).
Each year, we see the increase of women’s participation in decision-making level positions in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government as well as in the security sector. Peace panels in the Philippines, particularly those in government panels have a good number of women members. For the first time in it many years of negotiating with the government, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) appointed two women as members of its Board of Advisers. The many mechanisms that were created by the peace agreement between the government and the MILF such as the Third Party Monitoring Team, the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission and its Group of Experts and the Independent Police Commission have women as leaders and members. WE Act 1325 does not wish to attribute the increase in the number of women decision makers from its lobby work alone but it surely has been a loud voice in articulating the need for more women appointees in decision-making processes that relate to peace and security. It is also a blessing that the Head of the OPAPP, Secretary Teresita Quintos- Deles, is a gender and peace advocate- and she has made sure that women count in these peace mechanisms.
Since the adoption of the NAP, WE Act 1325 has trained peacekeepers prior to deployment in areas such as the Golan Heights and Libya. Roughly 3,000 UN Peacekeepers have gone through training on UN SCR 1325 and the NAP-our contribution to help make sure that our troops protect and do not violate women in areas of destination.
WE Act 1325 also wants to make sure that women’s voices and experiences on the ground are reflected in policies relating to peace and security. We consulted women in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao on their perspectives on the ongoing peace process and submitted such perspectives to the members of the negotiating panels drafting the final peace agreement as well as to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) which was tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Such consultations were meant to give community women the space to share their views on the peace process as they have perspectives shaped by their unique experience of armed conflict, particularly on issues that relate to decommissioning, arms control, healing and reconciliation and transitional justice.
WE Act 1325’s call for women’s participation is accompanied by capacity-building that women may be able to meaningfully participate in peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction. We share skills on conflict prevention. conflict resolution and mediation and build knowledge on human rights international humanitarian law and gender rights in the context of religion and culture– concepts and skills essential to help build peace and security on the ground. Learning or re-learning the latter is crucial to help dispel beliefs that women are home-bound and that peace and security are matters that are decided solely by men.
Implementing the NAP is not a walk in the park. In the work that we do we still see that participation and representation of women is still a challenge especially in communities where cultural practices restrain women’s inclusion. There are women themselves who are convinced that decision-making is a man’s domain. Stereotypes and prejudice about women continue to serve as an impediment to their meaningful participation in peace work.
Change in governance brought about by elections is a challenge, as well. The current national government, for example, is open to women’s participation in decision-making processes. Election of more traditional government leaders in the future might see a reduction in the number of women appointed to important government posts.
Another challenge we confront is the general lack of understanding and/or appreciation of the value added by the women, peace and security resolutions. Gender is often only equated with victimization or VAW. That we want to transition the image of women from victims to peacebuilders is something that cannot seem to be fully understood or appreciated, even by duty bearers.
These challenges, despite, we continue to work to make sure women count. Our people are tired of armed violence. The armed conflict in Mindanao, for instance, has claimed more than a hundred thousand lives. It had displaced hundreds of thousands over the years; rendered so many homeless; stole from so many a meaningful future. We want to see the end of war. And we know that these goals could actually be realized, if women counted.
The three women from the Cafeteria showed that there is nothing that can stop women who have the will, the capacity and the dream to reach their goal. Nothing.