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Rising Up To The Challenge of Long-lasting Peace

WePeace Surigao del Sur

Susan is a barangay health worker from Kilometer 9 Diatagon, Surigao del Sur. She is an indigenous person, and one of the women peacekeepers of WePeace. Of the diverse topics discussed in the training in April, Susan notes that one important realization she has taken home is how gender sensitivity can reshape our everyday lives. “When my grandson cries, I will no longer tell him that a boy who cries is gay,” she explains.

Dealing with her children and grandchildren this new gender lens are both challenging and eye opening. “During the training, I was taught that everyone, no matter what gender, has the right to express their emotions and what they are really feeling.”

By learning about gender, and being more aware of how it has shaped her own bias and thinking, Susan has understood and come to terms with the fact that our standards cannot serve as the basis for anyone’s sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Susan’s story gives us a glimpse of the long but steady process of learning and unlearning by the women of WePeace in Surigao del Sur. 

WePeace Surigao del Sur

Situated on the Eastern side of Mindanao, Surigao del Sur enjoys beautiful coastlines but remains vulnerable to natural hazards such as typhoons, tsunamis, and earthquakes. It also continues to experience armed clashes between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF. The overlap of natural disasters and conflict has continually displaced communities, making peace challenging and fragile.

The WePeace training in Surigao del Sur was the largest and most diverse. Some participants hold leadership roles, and positions in their respective barangays and LGUs. Some are also health workers, IP leaders, and government workers. After the training, it had been strategic for participants to present WePeace to offices they work, and engage with.

In Lianga, WePeace is being accredited and registered as a barangay peacekeeping team. They are also drafting an ordinance to strengthen measures against VAWC, and improve the role of their women’s desk in their barangay. 

In Cagwait, a re-echoing has already been organized by WePeace to share knowledge, and organize the women in the area. This has brought the possibility of creating an ordinance on SGV led by the women working in VAWC desks.

A woman peacekeeper has become the leader of the Huwangan Farmers Program. Cherlita takes advantage of their organization’s seminar for women from rural communities as an opportunity to share what she has gained from the WePeace training.  She is doing this so they too would know more about their rights, and the current peacekeeping work being done by women working in VAWC desks.

Gender at the core of their everyday lives

The gender sensitivity training (GST) resonated with the women the most. The discussions on VAWC, SGV, and the Magna Carta of Women have informed most of what they have been doing for the community, may it be through their work with the LGUs or within the dynamics of their own homes.

The GST provided them the knowledge and confidence to give advice to fellow women and mothers not to abuse their children, and mediate and negotiate cases involving women’s rights and dignity. Being informed has given them the courage to empower other women to never tolerate any form of abuse. The realization that women have the right to say no to the sexual demands from their husbands is something they credit to learning more about women’s rights and SGV.

Simulation exercises of community mediation, peace negotiations, and dialogue also left quite an impression on the women. They happily share their experience helping couples in trouble, referring them to the proper authorities for settlement. 

Monitoring Peace and More

Susan sees her responsibility as a peacekeeper to look after everyone’s safety; especially school children who skip classes. She has lobbied for parents to ensure their kids’ attendance in school, to keep them safe and distant from danger and conflict.

She is also involved in community mediation between couples in conflict, either referring cases to the barangay or handling them herself. This engagement helps her exercise her mediation and negotiation skills, which she sees very useful not only in the community but also within her own family.

Truly, WePeace Surigao has been doing peacekeeping work beyond issues related to physical security. Peace is closely interlinked with other issues that affect peace in their community. They participate and contribute in tree-planting activities, solid waste management, garbage segregation, sanitation and clean-up drives. The security of children, improvement of health, and a clean environment also means peace to them.          

The Road Less Travelled

The context and environment of WePeace Surigao is a challenge for peacebuilding. Though the efforts towards peace have been highlighted, there is still a lot of need to solidify partnership between the peacekeeping teams and the LGU, and to recognize the contribution of women in peacekeeping work. Mobilizing and organizing the women in the community also remain a challenge. A catechist from Linaga voiced out how their efforts to engage other women to do peacekeeping are opposed and turned down by the community.

Because the communities are often caught between operations of the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF, ensuring their own security is a challenge in itself for the women peacekeepers. They have witnessed and experienced issues in barangays such as the presence of uniformed personnel inside communities, and tribal threats they cannot document out of fear.

Susan recalls an incident that has enveloped their community in a blanket of fear, “We evacuated, and were carrying the dead body of our fellow IP who was killed in our community. That was an unforgettable experience which challenges us, until today.”

She also shares the burden of having to perform her role as in the community in peacekeeping and peacebuilding while also having to perform a multitude of household chores when she comes home. Many women share Susan’s experience who, like her, have had to carry multiple burdens following a conflict.

The complexity of challenges arising from the environmental context, familial and societal expectations, coupled with the fact that peacekeeping is purely voluntary, some of the women had to step back and reflect if they can still embody and continue their roles as peacekeepers.

Recalling Challenges, Realizing Progress

Yet they continue because they know they have support. They forge on because peace is not an insurmountable challenge.

Mentorship and recall sessions led by Balay Mindanaw have been a significant help and much needed support for the women. They point out how mentorship and recall sessions offer practical advice that is useful in their everyday lives. These consultations also continue the capacity building from the training, strengthening partnerships they already have. This gives them confidence, and enables them to echo what they have learned in other spaces, including in Barangay Development Council sessions.

For many of the women, these recall sessions are deeply personal and special because they also push them to grow as peacekeepers.  It is in these sessions where they realize they are now able to document complex issues, and can refer issues and concerns to appropriate authorities.

Moreover, recall sessions serve as a measure to see how far their work has come, and a reminder that their work plants seeds of change in their community. Accomplishments and action plans become more visible; growth and progress, more measurable. Jeneth from Cagwait shares, “Finding ourselves in negative situations is normal and negative feedback is always present. For example, I encounter people who are close minded, especially when it comes to [..] peace work. But as I continue my work as a peacekeeper, I have witnessed people who have resisted before, but are now slowly participating in peacebuilding activities.”

Moving Women Forward

WePeace Surigao has done a lot this year alone. They have continually invested in building their capacities through participating in livelihood programs that train them to create products from indigenous materials; attending training on sexual health education and responsible parenthood;  and participating in peace dialogues within IP political structures. “If we (women) involve ourselves, we can do great in peacebuilding,” says Rachelle from the Municipal Planning and Development Office of Lianga.

Looking forward, they recognize the importance of continuous engagement with LGUs in advancing the development of ordinances focused on addressing VAWC and SGV. They also highlight the importance of investing in livelihood programs and social enterprises, may it be through training or partnerships with government offices such as the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). They also give high value to the training and recall sessions with Balay Mindanaw.

Moving Peace Forward

WePeace Surigao is aware of the need for more women to be engaged in peace, in the way that they have been active. They know it is important and critical to continue mobilizing more women peacekeepers in neighboring barangays if they want to keep the peace they have started to build.

Peacebuilding is not an easy job but it has given them a new perspective on women’s roles in society. WePeace Surigao now firmly believes that they have rights, and should be allowed to express their ideas. Women have the capacity to create and implement plans to help build and attain peace in society.