Mindanao, Philippines- Women have been an integral part of JRS initiatives in the Philippines. JRS works and promotes an inclusive process where women’s experiences and perspectives are recognized, accounted for in discussions and policies that promote peace and reconciliation in their communities in the midst of violence and conflict.
JRS also believes in highlighting peace and reconciliation practices in diverse communities through a research project that will document narratives, stories and experiences of women on peaceful co-existence in their own communities. The need to promote experiences of peaceful co-existence and understand the role of women– as a force for peace – is deemed essential in the peace building efforts here in Mindanao.
During the focus group discussions in the research locales of Datu Piang, Maguindanao and Kulasihan, Lanao del Norte, 160 Muslim and Christian women participated and shared their experiences of the armed conflicts that affected their communities and their lives. Despite age-old biases that surrounds the relationships of Muslim and Christian people all over the country, these women have managed to set that aside and co-exist peacefully in their own communities.
Experiences of co-existence shared by the women includes participation of both Muslims and Christians to community-related gatherings such as fiesta celebrations and Ramadan which fosters cultural understanding and awareness of the diverse religious and traditional practices followed by both communities.
Experiences of pain and loss from decades of conflict and violence do not change the fact that they are of one community, as they grow up together in the very place they are living now. A few Moro women even have Christians as their closest friends. A 70-year old Moro woman said, “I’d rather have a Christian neighbor than have a Muslim neighbor who has guns.”
Intermarriages between Muslim and Christian also play a crucial role in fostering goodwill among them. Both Muslim and Christian women expressed that marrying someone from another religion resulted in having extended families on both sides. These extended families also provide greater awareness and understanding on traditions and practices outside of their own.
Women and girls’ experience of conflict and peace building is different. Recognition of these experiences has been largely lacking in conflict resolution and peace building processes. Placing women in all efforts related to peace building is an important factor in ending violence and ensuring sustainable peace. The research aims to know women’s thoughts and narratives about peace and reconciliation and to establish women’s role as essential in peace building. Research findings will aid JRS in providing sound interventions that will hopefully result to positive change in the lives of the women in conflict areas of Lanao and Maguindanao.