Five months following the Women’s Agency in Keeping the Peace, Promoting Security: 2019 Women, Peace and Security training, community women from Aleosan, North Cotabato talk about how they never imagined being able to do monitoring and documentation in a former MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) Camp. They describe the experience as “something we could have never done before this training.” A municipality in North Cotabato in Central Mindanao, Aleosan faces recurring incidences of shootings, unresolved land conflicts, family feuds, petty crimes, cases of rape, and proliferation of firearms.
The women from Aleosan had been the first group trained by WePeace in Kidapawan, North Cotabato last 9-10 April 2019.
Growing in and out their peace circle
Community women from five barangays in Aleosan—Tapodoc, Dunguan, San Mateo, Bagolibas, and Paganan, have been constantly engaged in monitoring documenting conflict situations as a budding Women’s Peacekeeping Group.
Under the guidance and mentorship of Balay Mindanaw, they conduct regular recall sessions, reflecting on their shared field experiences, and discussing the two main roles they constantly perform: monitoring and documenting incidences, and mediating conflict.
They have done site visits to conflict-affected barangays facing boundary issues. They have coordinated with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and worked with them to help address concerns on land ownership. They also helped monitor the mid-term elections last May, validated blast sites, and supported initiatives on health such as an information drive on dengue, and advocated for Zero Open Defecation (ZOD).
The women proudly share they have learned how to document properly and precisely through constant immersion. They are now aware of the proper process of gathering data, making sure to collect detailed information to support their documentation. As a testament to their progress, the women now add writing case reports, apart from monitoring and documentation, to their responsibilities.
They emphasize that a critical step in meaningful field work is maintaining their current engagement with the Peace and Order Council and Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT). “Of course it remains the same – for issues concerning peace or security, the groups who are called to be there are the BPATs and Peace and Order Council. We continue (to make our presence known) because we, women peacekeepers, know we can engage. Our goal is to achieve peace, which is aligned to their goal and their work.”
Their presence and engagement enable them to draft and help implement barangay ordinances, making them more aware, and puts them in a better position to take action on the peace and security concerns in their community.
Mediating for peace
Being a community mediator is one of the key roles of the Women Peacekeepers in Aleosan. Mediation skills come handy especially when dealing with VAWC cases, and conflicts among neighbors and friends. The training on Gender Sensitivity and Women’s Rights has improved their capacity to run the barangay VAWC desks. They have observed that in the application of their mediation skills, they can even see an improvement in the relationships between patients and health workers.
Reflecting on their experiences, they share that the mediation process is different each time, and will always depend on the issue and situation. Only two key action points remain constant in any case: data gathering and listening sessions.
“Mediation is difficult because there is a possibility you can cause conflict. There could be buttons you are unknowingly causing the problem to be bigger, so we hope for more opportunities to learn more about what to do and what not to do when mediating.”
Bigger than their challenges
Almost as challenging as the work they do in monitoring and the difficulty of weak cellphone signals as they perform their duties is dealing with public perception of women doing peacekeeping work. Our women peacekeepers are often criticized for being “pakialamera” (nosy) and just in for the “tsismis” (gossip). Sincerity and legitimacy have become both a challenge for the women to prove, and for their community to accept.
When asked if this bothers them, they just roll their eyes, laugh and share, “We need to humble ourselves because what we are doing is not for us; it is for them.” They share that the issues of their community are bigger than their personal concerns. They are also reassured to find support and allies in their husbands, who are also peacekeepers.
For the Women Peacekeepers in Aleosan, continuing what they do now is, and will be enough, to prove their sincerity and capability of meaningfully contributing to building and keeping peace.
Moving forward and becoming more
WePeace Aleosan is a diverse group composed of barangay councilors, barangay health workers, barangay nutrition scholars, organization officers, and students. Striking the balance between their personal lives, and being a woman peacekeeper is something they are still learning. On one hand, they have learned how to properly approach people in conflict, even applying the skills they learned in their own families. They have also become more strategic in resolving conflicts, taking a more proactive approach rather than reactive. And while they have experienced tremendous personal growth in the past months, they are also very vocal about their need to develop self-confidence, to overcome personal fears and insecurities, and to improve the skills they already have. As they raise the bar in doing active and effective peace work, the demands of the communities rise with it.
But there is only excitement as they look and move forward. They are excited to deliver the demands that result from the work that they do. They know that with more training and continued guidance they shall be the capable women peacekeepers their communities need them to be.
In engaging themselves in peacekeeping and peacebuilding, not only have they become aware of the peace and security issues they face, but they have also become more aware of the endless possibilities they have as women in their communities. They realized that what they once thought was impossible—women visiting conflict sites or monitoring cases on land issues, is possible.
Experiencing a meaningful and empowering role in their community has made them stewards of women’s rights. They are not afraid to speak up and say, “No, you can’t talk to me like that because I have rights that protect me as a woman!”
The women peacekeepers of Aleosan, North Cotabato are, slowly but surely, proving to be more than the women they and their communities once believed they could be. From “being expected to stay at home,” they are our women mediators, women documenters; our women for peace and security.