Courage and confidence. These are the words you hear from the women peacekeepers from Tabuk City, Kalinga when asked what change they saw in themselves after the WePeace training in May.
Being community mediators comes naturally to the women peacekeepers in Kalinga, fondly called WePeace KalinGanda. The word ‘Ganda’ translates to beautiful in Filipino.
Emma, a purok (village) leader explains how the knowledge and training from WePeace helps her be more comfortable in facing problems in the community. Once a case is explained to her, she finds herself leading settlements. She recalls an incident where she met with the respondents of a case involving child trauma, explaining the effects of their actions towards the child. She is amazed at how she is able to explain rights violations and cite laws on VAWC, playing a critical role in interventions seeking to address such issues. She gives credit to the training, which helped her learn policies that support her work, and to discover her potential to do peacebuilding.
Viva also shares how her involvement in WePeace helps her in significant ways—in her work as a law enforcer and as a private citizen. As a law enforcer, she hears of, or witnesses various cases of conflict on a daily basis—domestic abuse, land dispute, and vehicular conflicts. Through her active involvement in these cases, she finds herself sharpening her mediation skills, facilitating amicable settlements and guiding opposing parties to choose peace instead of violence. Now, even when she is off duty, people come to her for advice or to ask her to mediate, something she is now confident to do, thanks to WePeace.
Judy, a barangay councilor, now realizes how strategic her position is. Her leadership role allows her to influence others, and show them how to manage conflicts peacefully before it escalates to the barangay.
The atmosphere of camaraderie among the women who came together during the training, and their sincere intentions of wanting to work for peace and change their society impressed Sonja, a Swiss national stationed in Tabuk and WePeace participant. As a trained psychotherapist, she was surprised at how the women in WePeace Kalinga have embraced their role as mediators with so much passion and excitement despite being provided only a brief training.
Being vigilant and sensitive when doing monitoring and providing interventions have become their guiding posts in doing peacekeeping. They also share that following through with an agreement is as important as creating one. As peacebuilders the last thing they want to do is ignite violence between tribes. Instead, they make sure to maintain peace where it has been achieved.
Changing Times for Women and for Justice
Kalinga, composed of different ethnic groups, is one of the provinces in the Cordillera Administrative Region with indigenous communities whose culture and political structures remain intact,
To this day, the indigenous system of bodong remains to be the front-line justice system before a case is raised to court. Through the years, this once predominantly male justice system has evolved, welcoming the participation of women. This evolution has been continuous, where more people are given the chance to mediate cases through provisions in the Itabuk Pagta. While the Itabuk Pagta is based on the original Pagta of the bodong, it is special because its revisions are inclusive of all Itabuk – binodngan (a local tribe) and non-binondngan, migrants, and even Muslims residing in Tabuk City. The Itabuk Pagta covers all ethnic groups staying in Tabuk City, closing the gap on tribal discrimination
WePeace sees this progress as a great opportunity. Engaging with this change, they hope to engage with the Bodong council to conduct an information and education campaign (IEC) to raise more awareness of current Itabuk Pagta, particularly from a gender perspective, to encourage participation in mediation.
They are confident of the positive contribution they can make because they have seen it for themselves. In peace seminars, women are those who are actively engaged. When women speak in a Bodong, the solutions come. When women raise their voice, settlements are reached.
Rising Tall Amidst the Emotional Toll of Peace Work
Aside from sexual and gender based violence (SGV) and VAWC cases, two of the most common problems affecting their communities are vehicular accidents and public disturbances both usually influenced by alcohol consumption. They clearly cite that the creation of ordinances on vices would be of great help to their community.
On a special case, two peacekeepers have engaged in providing special assistance to their fellow councilor. Judy and Gloria, tearfully share their efforts to help a colleague who suffered a stroke on duty. The two led the rescue, and provided assistance to the victim’s wife, who also suffers from tuberculosis, and his children.
“Finding the balance between peace work and its emotional toll is critical,” emphasizes Sonja. Emotions fuel the peace work. She has observed that when tensions rise, there is a tendency for emotions to easily explode because no one talks about what they are feeling.
Women peacekeepers are often asked to settle issues on abuse because of their sincere involvement and concern in handling these cases. While this stands as a wonderful opportunity for service, it could be a challenge as the peacekeepers themselves could grow unaware of their own emotional attachment to a case.
They share that they are aware of the limitations of both their energy and resources. They share about cases in hard-to-reach areas they wished they could have supported but could not because of the distance and lack of resources. They can only do so much.
Proving Themselves Right
“Women have the right to stand for what is right,” Emma shares. Being the only woman councilor in a group of twenty, she has had her fair share of being underestimated. So the WePeace training was a breath of fresh air for her. She has found a sense of courage and confidence in knowing, and working with women peacekeepers like her.
When her co-councilors see her wear the WePeace uniform, they know she means business. It is her own confidence boost, some kind of self- assurance gained from new knowledge from WePeace. It is also a reminder to her co-councilors that she knows what she is taking about.
Other members of WePeace Kalinga happily share how a normal t-shirt has become a marker, and a statement of their peacekeeping work and story as WePeace.
Looking Back and Looking Forward
Fondly looking back on their experiences after the training, the women peacekeepers are very proud of what they have become. “When something is disappointing and difficult, there’s a community I can lean on and speak to. If there are people jealous of me, then I think about this role as my gift as a person. (Jealousy is) Not my problem anymore because I know I am working honestly. I just leave them be!” Through peacekeeping, the women peacekeepers found a community, a go-to group when they need support. They find motivation in seeing other women inspired to work for peace.
They share that their communities receive a lot of training but what set WePeace apart is the sincerity they felt from the training, which they now pay forward in serving their community whole heartedly.
“I realized how important my role is in sharing the knowledge I have. Now, I encourage women who are at home to engage and participate,” Emma explains. When they talk about WePeace, other women—even men—ask how they could join and why they weren’t invited in the first place!
The women peacekeepers of Kalinga build on this excitement to encourage more people to support them, knowing once engagement starts, cooperation is built. They are not only proud of what they have achieved but they look forward to how much more they can grow – evident in the many initiatives they plan to engage in.
Not Just A Woman – I am a Woman!
The words, “You are just a woman!” are repeatedly heard, like a tune on a broken record for most women in WePeace. When they are questioned if they can really do the work they have set themselves to do, the women have found a great rebuttal: “We know how to love and that is our greatest strength.” The eyes of the women peacekeepers in Kalinga sparkle with grit and determination to continue their efforts for peace. Yes, a long journey lies ahead, but for the women in Kalinga, peace is alive, and that in itself is important, and worthy of every celebration.
 A pagta is the agreed laws within a bodong by two tribes.