Ferrer paving the way for women in peace-building

Daphne Galvez - The Philippine Star
Ferrer paving the way for women in peace-building

MANILA, Philippines — The path to peace is long and winding – and often dominated by men.

Being a female peace-builder is admittedly difficult, as attested by Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, recently named one of the 2023 Ramon Magsaysay Awardees for her work in promoting the role of women in peace-building across the world.

In peace talks, women are usually restricted to handling women’s issues instead of “dealing with the hard stuff,” according to Coronel-Ferrer.

“Sometimes, when you package your group as a women’s group, you get stuck with women’s issues when what you want to do is really deal with the hard stuff, which has usually been dealt with by men,” she told reporters last Monday.

Coronel-Ferrer recounted an experience in East Timor when her group of mediators were supposed to meet with the prime minister, but were instead referred to the Minister of Women’s Affairs.

“We certainly want to hear the women’s issues, but we wanted to talk to the top political leadership. You sort of get relegated to that position, and that’s what we want to break,” she said.

“Yes, we are women. We are mediators bringing in the women’s perspective but don’t box us only in women’s issues,” she added.

While she admitted that being a female peace-builder in the Philippines is “a little bit easier” due to the context of democratization and the fruits of women’s rights movements in the Philippines, there is still an initial hesitation in letting women take the lead in peace talks.

But when Coronel-Ferrer headed the government peace panel in 2012 – the first woman to do so – and led the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), this paved the way for other women to follow suit.

The 2023 Ramon Magsaysay awardee said there were women who reached out to her and congratulated her for “making it.”

“They told me ‘now we know that women can do it as well.’ It’s really this accumulation of women who show that it can be done by women and it can be done well and it inspires other women,” she added.


Almost 10 years after the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed, Coronel-Ferrer recalled that one of the key things that made the peace negotiation with the MILF successful was the political leadership of then president Benigno Aquino III.

She said that Aquino “really tried to open his mind” and accommodate, as much as possible, the requests of the MILF.

“If we didn’t have a leadership that did not try to understand the whole context and did not use his political capital, because this was not a popular initiative, then (peace talks) would not have been successful,” Coronel-Ferrer said.

Another key element is the “supportive public on the part of the MILF,” which tried to find a peaceful settlement to the conflict, as well as compromise on their demands that could not be possible under the Constitution.

In dealing with the MILF, Coronel-Ferrer said she learned that empathy is needed for the cause and respect should be shown to the other side of the table.

“Showing respect and also having a perspective that any agreement must be based on justice and dignity for all concerned, I think if that framework is not there, then there would be resistance in the whole negotiation process,” she added.

Creative solutions and good language engineering are also needed when talking about peace.

“An agreement is a text; you need to find the right words, you need to put it in a way that it does not create doubts or fear in any of your stakeholders, including the other party. So it’s a lot of creativity, and a lot of these are finding solutions and finding the right words for it,” Coronel-Ferrer said.

She recalled answering “everything” when asked what the most difficult part of the peace negotiations with the MILF was.

Looking back to it now, however, she said she just found some of the challenges they faced back then as “amusing.”

“You are just amused by this now because they did end up well in the end, but during the time, these are moments when everybody was still on edge,” she added.

While she admitted that she still has consultations with those involved in the negotiations in the Bangsamoro, Coronel-Ferrer said she is keeping a little distance.

“This is something that now belongs to them. They are now the primary actors, so I shouldn’t be intervening too much,” she said.

‘What you make it’

For the 2023 Ramon Magsaysay awardee, peace is “what you make it.”

“Think about it as an umbrella that puts together all the social movements, all the individual struggles that we do in order to make a better life for everyone,” she said.

She added that peace is something that is worked on an everyday basis, and an individual does not need to be a peace negotiator to be a champion of peace.

“Where you are is where you can start building peace in yourself, in your family and in your community,” Coronel-Ferrer said.

“We just need to stay connected so that all of these efforts become not just segmented efforts, but become a movement. We need a movement of people who are actually working and advancing peace and arguing in favor of peace,” she added.

Anyone can be a peace-builder wherever they are, according to Coronel-Ferrer.

“How did we all start? We started from where we were before we got to higher levels of involvement. But where we were, that’s where we started, and then we got connected,” she said.

A former United Nations senior mediation adviser, Coronel-Ferrer also co-founded the Southeast Asian Women Peace Mediators in 2020 “to ensure the protection of women’s rights during armed conflicts, mainstream the gender perspective in peacekeeping and peacebuilding and advance the role of women as peacebuilders at all levels.”

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