Bangsamoro women and youth: emerging leaders from the ground up
Photo: A young Bangsamoro woman participates in one of the series of gender-sensitive conflict and resilience analysis and capacity-building sessions among women and youth civil society organisations, gender and peace advocates hailing from Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi Tawi (BaSulTa).
Witten by: Juin Ancha and Winonna Fernando (CARE Philippines)
SULU, PHILIPPINES – Since the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in 2019, there has been increased attention to the differentiated impacts of decades-long conflict on Bangsamoro women and girls. However, for most, justice, healing, and reconciliation remain elusive. As we commemorate the 11th anniversary of the International Day of the Girl, women and youth-led CSOs in Sulu are retelling their history to every Moro woman and girl, one story at a time.
“The youth of today are fortunate to not witness the suffering and pain of conflict and war in Sulu following the declaration of Martial Law in the 1970s… But now, I have learned about the impact of historical injustices on communities and how the presence of conflict and war over the past 50 years has contributed to the province’s present condition.” – Woman youth leader whose name was withheld.
Although BARMM has been admired for its efforts for better women’s representation, and has progressed in pushing for laws and initiatives promoting the Bangsamoro’s right to know, right to justice, right to reparation, and the guarantee of non-recurrence through Transitional Justice and Reconciliation, along with other normalization initiatives, the Bangsamoro youth, particularly women and girls, in the isolated segments of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi remain sidelined and without means to access basic services, comprehensive education, and violence prevention programs that can facilitate and sustain their meaningful participation and leadership in formal or informal spaces and letting their voices be heard.
Life amid constant displacements
Sulu is ranked second-third to lowest in the 2019 Provincial Human Development Index by the Philippine Statistics Authority. Decades of evolving conflict have resulted in a vicious cycle of poverty, systemic exclusion, and sociocultural marginalization and discrimination affecting vulnerable populations including youth, women, and children. Surviving in these situations comes in many forms. To some youth it means resorting to other forms of self-preservation such as involvement in crime and illegal activities, violent extremism, and other negative coping mechanisms. But for some women and youth-led CSOs, surviving also means thriving. Despite constant displacements, many women and youth-led CSOs believe that harnessing collective power, claiming space and amplifying influence, and becoming positive agents of change can promote recognition, reconciliation, and healing.
“Justice has not been served to benefit all the abused, displaced and dispossessed. As women youth leaders, we want to be deeply involved in claiming our rights and ensuring that injustices do not happen again.” – Woman youth leader in Sulu whose name was withheld
Engaging young women and girls is key
Apart from conflict, deep-seated cultural norms and beliefs about what women and girls should be and how women and girls should behave have shaped the lives of young Moro people for generations. These norms drive many girls out of school, to forced marriages, and expose them to gender-based violence. However, recent developments have served as proof that reshaping cultural norms and engaging women and girls is key to achieving peace, reconciliation and healing.
CARE Philippines sees gender equality, synergy and complementation in humanitarian-development-peace nexus spaces, as key to ending poverty and social injustices.
In February 2023, CARE Philippines launched the “Civil Society Women and Youth Promoting Culture of Peace in Mindanao” (BRIDGE) Project, funded by the European Commission, aimed at reducing the drivers of conflict through strengthening women and youth CSOs, and working with various peacebuilding actors in Mindanao – complementing its existing humanitarian and disaster preparedness programming in the island.
In partnership with Nisa Ul Haqq fi-Bangsamoro (Nisa) – a women’s rights organization, small-scale women and youth-led CSOs hailing from Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi are capacitated and linked with relevant BARMM ministries and commissions with initiatives on peacebuilding and Transitional Justice and Reconciliation. Women and youth-led CSOs from Sulu are committed to increasing their involvement in community memory projects, narrative documentation activities, and rights awareness and information drives that will facilitate communities’ access to services ultimately aimed at addressing drivers that perpetuate conflict in the communities.
Peacebuilding by women, with women
Anything is possible. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the first woman to sign a major peace agreement in the world and led the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and human rights lawyer Raissa Jajurie, co-founder of Nisa and current minister of the Ministry of Social Services and Development of BARMM became an inspiration to many Bangsamoro youth and girls to pursue peacebuilding initiatives using nonviolent collective power.
For many women and youth-led CSOs, retelling their history would mean constantly defying cultural norms and beliefs that have curtailed women and girls’ rights. Through BRIDGE, they are positive to pursue peacebuilding initiatives involving more women youth and girls in the process. True enough, when youth and girls are recognized as equal citizens towards peacebuilding, meaningful participation arises.
As we observe and celebrate the International Day of the Girl, may we continue to seek and maximize avenues that amplify her-stories that promote genuine representation of youth, young women, and girls and ensure that no one is left behind.