through feminist action research, skills and capacity building and multi stakeholder dialogue
Isis International launched its initiative to strengthen Women's Participation in Peace Building in2009. Called "The Cultural Politics of Conflict, Peace and the UNSCR 1325: Strategising and Capacity Building", this initiative continues Isis International's commitment to strengthen women's participation in peace building through: feminist action research, skills and capacity building and multi stakeholder dialogue. It uses creative methodologies such as story telling and informal dialogues that allow women to surface their experiences in their homes and communities as they strive for a peaceful and sustainable life. To begin with, Isis International launched the initiative in Indonesia and the Philippines. Its partner organisations in these countries are: Centre Studies of Indonesia Eastern Region, Indonesia and BALAI Rehabilitation Centre Inc., Philippines.
In the Philippines, the use of storytelling as a methodology for gathering data has proven to be an important mode of exchange of information and support for women. Through their stories women have been able to share how they find peace in their everyday lives through the creative ways they negotiate for their participation and bridge understanding, despite cultural and religious diversity within and outside of their homes.
In Indonesia, women's stories reflected their participation in community and public life after the experience of conflict. Women's efforts of becoming peace agents began as early as 1997 where their homes and the market place served as a venue to share informally their values of peace building.
Creatively crafting messages for peace building
Capacity building in both countries, in the form of development communications arts, strengthened women's confidence and communication skills, enhancing their capacities as leaders and peace agents in their respective communities.
In the Philippines, a five-day session on Women Crafting Messages for Peace Building facilitated women's creativity in telling their stories of strengths and challenges in peace building work. The use of theatre and visual arts and community radio allowed them to share their stories of peaceful negotiation and conflict handling, acceptance of diversity and calls for the strengthening of women's participation in peace and development work in the community.
In Indonesia, different media, such as local dance, radio drama and songs, shared women's stories of maximising the market place and their homes as sites for peace. These media allowed women to exhibit their creativity in arts and in daily life as they turned the loss of their loved ones to strength to stand for the rest of their families, and continue to find spaces in their communities to share peace.
The dialogues with peace advocates in both countries strengthened women's participation in peace building, making this a shared agenda for stakeholders.
In the Philippines, the dialogues were held with local government units on ways towards making gender responsiveness part of good governance and government services. This also encouraged local government officials to ensure two seats for women on the village council.
In Indonesia, community leaders had the opportunity to speak with media practitioners and local government. Using this opportunity, women were able to talk about their everyday participation, and correct misconceptions that women are merely victims in these situations. This provided the holistic viewing of women, recognising their everyday contribution and, at the same time, calling attention to their immediate needs of livelihood.
Feminist action research
The feminist action research took careful note of the use of creative methodologies to surface women's stories and shared the results of the research with the women so that they could discuss this and use this themselves.
In the Philippines, the storytelling in groups and the deeper conversations with the women provided the space for them to discuss the most intimate parts of their lives, their dreams for their families, struggles with partners, and the simple ways they are present for their friends and neighbours that form part of the way they live a peaceful life. These spaces were much appreciated by women as these were novel to them even if they were used to sharing within capacity building spaces and psychosocial intervention. The women described the focus group discussions as "emotional band-aid" because of the relief they felt in being able to share and hear about each other's joys and pains, while acknowledging the learning they gain from each other.
In Indonesia, women acknowledged how the conflict affected their lives in many ways. They shared the pain and grief they felt as they lost their loved ones to the conflict, and shared the struggles they went through in picking up their lives. They acknowledged how the conflict has allowed them to participate in community and public life, a new way to contribute that they have come to value. The conflict also allowed the women the space to move out of their otherwise constricted gender roles.
Creative capacity building
Capacity building sessions integrated theatre arts to strengthen women's leadership skills in communications, articulation of their visions for participation and equality, as well as practical knowledge of international policies and frameworks that acknowledge women's role in various aspects of their lives.
In the Philippines, the workshop on Women Crafting Messages for Peace Building, not only enhanced the women's creative expression but in many ways also released tension. As the women went through creative exercises in theatre and in poetry they recalled times of conflict and fleeing their homes. They were able to touch base with feelings of fear for their lives, but took comfort in being able to acknowledge the reality of their situation and appreciate where they are now. The theatre pieces, posters and radio spots they produced allowed them to communicate the value of women's everyday participation in peace building to other peace and development stakeholders in a non-threatening way. Thus, the call to gender responsiveness was not seen as a threat but rather a shared agenda by all.
In Indonesia, the capacity building space was a first for the women in a number of ways. It was a first for them to engage with other peace and development stakeholders and be acknowledged as part of this circle. It was also the first formal capacity building space for the women where: 1) the results of the research were shared, 2) they were able to participate in discussions on international policies supportive of women's rights and participation, 3) alternative frames such as Engendered Peace Journalism were shared with them and with media practitioners as an important part of peace and development work; and 4) skills were shared with them on the use of radio to produce short spots, and talk shows to discuss women's issues in peace building.
Learning about the Landmark United Nations Resolution on Women, Peace and Security
The United Nations Security Council adopted resolution (S/RES/1325) on women and peace and security on 31 October 2000. The resolution reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts. It also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict. The resolution provides a number of important operational mandates, with implications for Member States and the entities of the United Nations system. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/wps/
The Isis international initiative also aims to strengthen women's use of the UNSCR 1325. This was the first time the women had learned about it, including women community leaders involved in peace building work, despite the 10 years since its approval by member states. The session on understanding UNSCR 1325, falls under the principle of feminist knowledge sharing to which both country teams are committed.
In the Philippines, even before the women knew about the resolution, they had already taken part in many efforts to restore life and peace in their communities. Still the women affirmed the need to know about such resolutions, since they continue to hold strong hopes for policies that support women's rights and participation, provided the women know it and are able to access it. They noted local policies like the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act that were effective in preventing domestic violence in the community because information was shared. Most of them noted that, if the same effort in information dissemination on the UNSCR 1325 were taken seriously, the policy would take its effect for women's rights.
The same was also noted in Indonesia when the women heard about UNSCR 1325 for the first time. Women took a certain pride in the informal ways they have contributed to peace building within their families and daily work. The Indonesia team took pains in developing sessions that made women more aware of the international policies that could also be taken up at a local level.
Sensitising media and the community
An important aspect of the initiative was to sensitise the media on women's role in conflict resolution and peace building, particularly in how women are portrayed. In the Philippines, community systems like the family, organisations, friends and linkages with local government and non-governmental organisations were the women's major sources of information and value sharing. The dialogues held in the Philippines expanded beyond a dialogue with media to include local peace and development stakeholders that could also respond to strengthening and supporting women's participation. At the multi-stakeholder dialogues women creatively communicated their needs in the everyday commitment to peace building, while local governments and nongovernmental organisations exchanged ways to approach gender, peace and development work.
Ultimately concrete commitments to ensure women's participation in local governance, and more gender responsive programmes that address women's immediate needs in conflict situations were developed. Women's participation in the development communications workshop and dialogue allowed the women to reflect on the need for community media that could take up awareness raising on the importance of women's participation and their unique contribution in peace building.
In Indonesia, women community leaders held a dialogue with other stakeholders. The dialogues were attended by media practitioners, and the women took the opportunity to engage with them for the first time. In an effort to balance women's portrayal in media, the women community leaders shared the challenges they faced in the situation as well as their contributions. The women's sharing called attention to the urgency of media attention on women in situations of armed conflict together with other pressing issues such as displacement brought about by floods.
The narratives of women that came out of the research in the Philippines and Indonesia speak of women's strength and resilience and picking up their lives after conflict - everyday strengths that in most times goes unrecognised. Bringing this into the public space as an area of dialogue among stakeholders is also very timely as the provisions of the UNSCR 1325 of participation, representation and protection of women's rights are not only to be viewed as problems by women or the states but rather an agenda of which stakeholders in peace and development need to be very mindful.
The project teams have become more mindful of how states take up the implementation of the UNSCR 1325, as well as how local stakeholders can be more committed to its successful implementation, as in the Philippines, where the UNSCR 1325 Implementation Plan has recently been developed.
In the experience of the Philippines, where women have contributed to a strong local peace movement that has committed to many efforts in building cultures of peace and strengthened community life, the UNSCR 1325 Implementation Plan needs to take on a stronger gender perspective to be conscious of women's inclusion and participation in various spaces for peace building.
In Indonesia, the project teams noted that it will take a longer time for their state to act on the development and implementation of a national action plan for the UNSCR 1325, but women have taken this initial opportunity to speak of their need for programme and policy support for women's participation.
Producing our own media - Claiming our space
Given the commitment of all partner organisations for media and information work as part of attaining holistic and sustainable peace, the women became more aware of message development and maintaining relations with media. In the Philippines, the exposure to development communications has opened up their dreams for community media that would help sustain their peace and development work and they have gained confidence in producing media forms that speak of their needs and situation. In Indonesia, it has inspired women to think of their own stories as newsworthy and be willing to share these with various media. It has also inspired some of them to produce women and peace building themes in various radio formats.
For the women, the confidence they gained in their everyday contributions has inspired them to speak about these and encourage other women and men to take part in peace and community building. They have affirmed the value of organising that provides immediate assistance in times of need as well as awareness in communicating effectively in numbers.
Despite encountering male dominance in leadership in local and community organisations, women have and will continue claiming spaces in the G7 Farmers organisation in Pikit, Philippines or taking advantage of the marketplace in Sulawesi, Indonesia, as spaces to share values for peace. The capacities in communications that they gained have also inspired them to develop and disseminate their peace messages in various forms. Women of Pikit appreciated the use of theatre and radio and now seek the development of community media in their place. Women leaders of the Sulawesi Islands gained the confidence to speak with stakeholders like themselves and were inspired to produce various radio materials.
Calling for commitments
Peace and development stakeholders in the Sulawesi Islands in Indonesia and Pikit North Cotabato in the Philippines were called to be more responsive to the needs of women in these contexts. The women leaders in Sulawesi Islands called for women's basic needs for education as part of acknowledging their basic rights and commitments to strengthening their capacities.
Other commitment areas were to look into strengthening women's participation in local and national government; and the role media can play in disseminating the peace messages that women produce. In Indonesia, these are initial commitments that may lead to strengthened partnerships in favour of women.
In the Philippines, concrete commitments towards strengthened participation of women in local governance were achieved despite very evident male dominance in leadership in various organisations in Pikit, achieved through creative and nonviolent communication. The local leadership in Pikit acknowledged that the local council could benefit from having two women representatives in the local council. Another commitment area was for inter-government support on gender responsiveness as part of good governance (even in conflict situations) that involves network building for local governments in Pikit, North Cotabato and Davao. This commitment is directly in support of the Pikit municipal council's commitment to gender and good governance in their programmes and policies that is meant to benefit women in Pikit.
In Indonesia and the Philippines this initiative affirmed the need to continue to work with national and local government and media as strategic partners in strengthening women's participation and in achieving holistic, sustainable and lasting peace.
Given Isis International's existing programmes such as the Isis International Activist School, the organisation continues capacity building support for the women leaders in both countries in the use of various development communications tools to sustain women as leaders and their efforts in peace and development work.
The initiative has also shed light on continued work needed with different types of media: mainstream, alternative and community media in terms of strengthening skills and commitment of strategic stakeholders in peace and development work. The frames of engendered peace journalism can continue to form part of theoretical and practical ways media can contribute to a true portrayal of women's situation in conflict.
It can also play a crucial role in disseminating information on the UNSCR 1325 so that greater awareness on the policy can be shared in various countries. Mainstream, alternative and community media can all play a role in monitoring the implementation of this resolution, be it in the form of monitoring of women's portrayal in the media, or on how states have taken its commitment to implementing the resolution.
The results of this initiative have been utilized in the other peace initiatives in which Isis International has been involved, including the "Women Making Airwaves for Peace" community radio training workshop for women in Southeast Asia and the Pacific and in community radio training in South and Central Asia. The results of this initiative also stirred the interest of government agencies in the Philippines, including the National Committee on Women and Office of Presidential Advisor on Peace Processes, as well and civil society organisations on further collaboration in implementing and monitoring the national action plan on UNSCR1325, which was launched in April 2010.
While Isis International joins women and peace advocates all over the world in acknowledging milestones in women, peace and development work, such as the approval of the UNSCR 1325; and as countries commit and draft their National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security, we also continue to be mindful about its full and effective implementation. As we reflect on the experiences of women and peace advocates amidst an environment that continues to question women's needs and participation, we find that efforts in policy development need to be accompanied by, as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) says, ways to "modify social and cultural patterns" based on gender discrimination or stereotypes.
Coming soon: Isis International is producing an issue of Women in Action on Women and Peacebuilding with stories and analyses of women's efforts to build peace around the world.