International Women’s Day
LONDON EYE - Stephen Lillie (The Philippine Star) - March 7, 2013 - 12:00am

Tomorrow, the world celebrates international women’s day. On the one level, it is a day when we celebrate the private roles played in life by women: mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and grandmothers. But it is also a day when we need to reflect on the roles women play, and are allowed to play, in societies more generally.

Discussion of gender equality can sometimes be limited to the rights-based approach. While I believe passionately that women should enjoy equal rights, gender equality is not just about improving the lot of women. It’s also about addressing structural factors that provide for durable peace and prosperity of society as a whole. Unfortunately, there is still much that needs to be done in many areas. The British government is therefore seeking to use International Women’s Day to raise awareness and encourage action on some issues of most concern. 

One of the most important and interesting is the role of women in peace and security. This is especially relevant to the Philippines. The Framework Peace Agreement is giving Muslim Mindanao a chance to re-think and restructure its approach to local accountability and governance and to utilise the skills of the people to maximum positive effect. As it does so, the role, contribution and special interests of women need to be fully factored in.

Research suggests that it is wrong to see the traditional approach of men and women as competing, and that there are important complementarities. Studies indicate that men and women have a consistent view of the causes of violent incidents. However, they focus on different parts of the impacts. Men tend to focus on the perpetrators of violence. Women tend to focus on the consequences and how it affects families and communities. Clearly it’s not an either/or issue. Both are important, need to be addressed and show how drawing upon the full range of people and skills in communities can lead to better outcomes.

Women are already a big part of the Mindanao peace process. Secretary Ging Deles leads for the Philippine government and women feature strongly in both peace panels. There are a number of women’s groups making a difference in Mindanao. We have been privileged to work with a number of such groups including WeGovern to build awareness and provide practical tools that can be used to help women make a difference in their community.

But much more needs to be done. Mainstreaming the role of women does not happen overnight. In the UK, we famously had our first woman Prime Minister in 1979. But it was a generation later before the number of women in Parliament was really transformed. Even now women remain less represented than men. That’s a tale common in most parliaments around the world and, still, the boardrooms of companies. It would be impressive if the first Bangsamoro parliament were to break this mould.

With women in Muslim Mindanao increasingly active in peace-building efforts at the grassroots, the next step is for women to be more involved in the politics and governance of their communities. The measures of success are clear. There is much benefit to be gained from the efforts of these women being progressively incorporated into the formal structures of the Bangsamoro government that will be formed. If that can happen, it can have a transformational impact on Bangsamoro, the role and number of role models for women and the Philippines. It would also be a symbol of hope for many other women in Southeast Asia and the world beyond.

(Stephen Lillie is the British Ambassador to the Philippines)

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