Integrating Gender in Peace Negotiations - Blueboard by Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza
On 25 November 2016, the 18-Day Campaign to End Violence against Women (VAW) kicks off in the Philippines and for this year, the theme is “VAW-free community starts with me.” According to the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), this year’s theme is a shift towards positive messaging “by giving emphasis on everyone’s commitment and contributions in ending VAW” as a matter of a “collaborative pursuit of our common vision of a VAW-free community.” Accordingly, the “me” is meant to individualize and advance ownership of contributions from the perspective and experiences of various actors: women and girls, men and boys, government institutions, barangays, private sector and non-government organizations (NGOs), and academia and training institutions.
Indeed, focusing on positive messaging is a strategic approach to underscore the agency of each and every stake-holder on the political project of eradicating VAW. However, such campaign trajectory makes me wonder about the women from conflict-affected areas. How will the campaign resonate with them when they have and continue to live in fear and insecurity? How will this messaging be integrated in peace negotiations that aim to end armed conflict violence which have been the lived narrative of many women?
A Widow’s Tale
When I was on field work several years ago, I heard many stories of women from different conflict-affected communities in the country. One story that I will never forget was told by Marianing from Hinabangan, Samar.
As she narrated, it was 12 September 2011 when the municipal hall was attacked by the New People’s Army (NPA). After the attack, people started to gather around the hall to see what happened (i.e. the Filipino term would be usyoso). Tragically, her husband who was there to look around was mistaken to be one of the rebels and was allegedly shot by the authorities. He was an unarmed civilian. Worst, when her family tried to claim his body, they were arrested on accusation that we were a family of rebels who perpetrated the attack. According to Marianing, while in prison, the authorities even took pictures of her daughter who was told to hold a gun and of her son who was instructed to hold a grenade. They were released on bail in December with the help NGOs. However, new charges --- illegal possession of fire arms --- were brought against her children using the pictures that the authorities allegedly took as ‘evidence.’
The case of Marianing’s family was reported to the Office of Human Rights in Tacloban in 2012. Their case was likewise documented under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the only negotiated agreement signed then between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) that recognized the “respect for human rights and international humanitarian law is of crucial importance and urgent necessity in laying the ground for a just and lasting peace.”
In April 2013, I visited the Provincial Director of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Tacloban and asked about Marianing’s case --- I was then told that the case was no longer pursued by the family. Several days later, I met up with the women from Hinabangan who I spoke with a few months back and they informed me that Marianing passed away. My thought then was clear: that for women who experienced armed conflict-related violence, justice seemed to have been an alien concept for the simple reason that it had not been accessible or attainable.
Integrating Gender and the Issue of VAW in the Peace Talks
From my 2012 to 2013 field research, I have spoken to women from several communities affected by the communist insurgency inWestern Samar,Negros Occidental, Surigaodel Sur, and Agusan del Norte. Based on their narratives, the impact of armed conflict on women were psychological trauma and insecurity, ‘normalization’ of armed-conflict-related displacement, economic costs of armed conflict, impunity, rebel recruitment, and the phenomenon of women as ‘incidental’ peacemakers. Quite notably, the most recurrent self-identified needs of these women were psychosocial healing, protection from armed violence/groups, economic and political empowerment (i.e. sustainable livelihood and political participation), children’s education, and access to justice.
Signed in 1998, the CARHRIHL, if and when fully adhered to, can serve as a key instrument in upholding women’s human rights in armed conflict situations. Relevant provisions are Part III (Respect for Human Rights), Article 2 (7) against rape and sexual abuse and (23) on the equal rights of women in all spheres of life and Article 10 on the recognition of collective and individual rights of sectors, including women as well as Part IV (Respect for International Humanitarian Law), Article 10 on providing special attention to women. In fact, as observed by an indigenous woman leader, the CARHRIHL can be instrumental for community women who can invoke it when violence is committed against them by armed groups from both sides.
On 6 to 9 October 2016, during the Second Round of Talks between the GPH and the NDFP,the Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs) on Social and Economic Reforms (SER) and Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR) agreed on a common draft outline on these substantive agenda. Of the two, only SER explicitly listed “Gender Equality and Representation.”
Nonetheless, since the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations is in the process of ‘fleshing’ out the substantive agenda, it would be an opportune moment to appeal for their consideration of the following: operationalization of the CARHRIHL, particularly, in light of protecting women and girls; inclusion of gender-sensitive provisions in any agreement that will be discussed and signed; inclusion of transitional justice with a gender perspective in the PCR; and ensuring the space for conflict-affected women to participate in the peace process through social mobilization initiatives. After all, the Peace and Development Roadmap of the current administration did say they would continue “the work of integrating gender in the peace process.”
In my mind, I see no reason for the campaign on a “VAW-free community starts with me” not to be picked up by the peace panels. As such, we can probably consider expanding the theme of the 18-Day campaign to end VAW to a “VAW-free conflict-affected and post-conflict community starts with me” --- I think this would resonate more with women who have lived through armed conflict.
Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza, Phd. is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science of the Ateneo de Manila University. She is currently the Vice-Chair of the Board of Sulong CARHRIHL Network.