One of the places where women have been dramatically underrepresented is in national and international security and peace processes. To amplify the voices of women leaders in conflict affected areas, Nonviolent Peaceforce gathered over 30 grassroot women from three countries (Myanmar, Philippines and Thailand) residing in areas affected by armed conflict with the purpose of creating opportunities for learning together and sharing their skills, and understanding of nonviolent methods that have increased peace and women protection in their communities. Although the Philippines women did not attend due to fears of coronavirus, the exchange visit was held in Patani, deep south Thailand, on the 28th and 29th January 2020. Women from Myanmar and Southern Thailand committed to work together to learn strategies prevent violence against women and make a contribution to peace in their communities.
Civic-Women and Nonviolent Peaceforce country programs in Myanmar and Philippines brought together over 30 women leaders to share experiences and learn from each other. The first day was a workshop hosted by Prince of Songkla University where these women first shared the opportunities, challenges and lessons learned from their work in responding to reducing violations in their communities. Through this exchange visit, Myanmar women from different ethnic groups participated in a learning environment where they had the opportunity to discuss fundamental issues in the field of women protection and peace in light of their experience, as well as to learn from each other about strategies leading to ensure that their voices are heard by the community. Moreover, the training and exchange visit in Patani was a great breakthrough to map out women influencers in each country, to recognize their strength and, above all, to generate new ideas that can be applied in the face of human rights violations in their own communities.
Women in southern Thailand shared how they are using different tools for protection and peacebuilding. For instance, they use citizen journalists to raise the issues of women and affected communities in the media. These stories are also used to publish booklets with stories of the survivors/victims. The sale of these booklets supports them to continue conducting more protection and peacebuilding activities. They also provide monthly stipend to support the family of the victim, as part of a broader long term support. The women participants from Thailand were also of the view that women are better at providing humanitarian support to the victims as they are more empathetic compared to men.
As one Myanmar women said “I expected to observe the level of development and social standards, as well as the peace process in Thailand. I am looking forward to learn from Thai women leaders”. They were thrilled to “see how women from different regions are freely and actively involved in the peace process”. Their expectations varied, but all of them had the common desire to learn, acquire knowledge, tools, support, and “to observe how women from different countries work for their community with their leadership skills and their capacity”.
These grassroot women leaders brought stories full of their own experiences and an enthusiastic spirit ready to share about their efforts to prevent violence against women and their contribution to peace in their communities. Indeed, the workshop held at Prince Songkla University and the exchange visit to Yumi community in Yala Province was powered by the energy of these women leaders. A presentation was given on NP activities in Myanmar and Influential women leaders’ map which include all the women who are contributing to the peace in Myanmar.
Furthermore, women from Myanmar listed a wide range of knowledge and skills that they were keen to share including: raising awareness strategies on civilian protection, early warning and early response activities, pro-active engagement actions to protect civilians such as supporting IDPs, relief and resettlement activities that they are doing regarding women rights and women protection in conflicted –affected communities. Moreover, women from Myanmar were proud to share their successful advocacy strategy that has led to inclusion of more women at the village committees in their area, or to contribute to development of draft of gender policy in Myanmar.
NP Myanmar presented their work on UCP and their work with partners in civilian protection in conflict affected areas of Myanmar. The women from Thailand highly appreciated the Early Warning and Early Response mechanism and reporting structures that Myanmar women are using in their communities. And Myanmar women showed a great interest when they met women leaders from university professors, and government officials. During the meeting with Ebu Ebu (Mother Group) in Yala Province, the participants from Myanmar showed keen interest in learning about how the group conducted inter-religious dialogues and dialogues between the communities and the authorities. These dialogues increased the confidence of the group members. Participants from Myanmar queried about the strategies the Ebu Ebu group had prior to the conduct of the dialogues and measured if these could be applied in Myanmar. One of the key learnings during this exchange was the value of intra-ethnic and intra-religious dialogue before the inter-ethnic/religious dialogues could be conducted. This also helps in allaying the fear of the members of the own community.
In addition, women together could identify commonalities, as one woman from Thailand stated “I feel we have not the same traditions and law, but our feelings are the same”, referring to challenges that women are facings regarding security, livelihood and the same desire for peace. They also acknowledge that “there is still women discrimination on women” and the importance of continued advocating for gender equality, promoting CEDAW, UNSCR- 1325 in the peace process.
At the conclusion of the exchange visit, Myanmar women shared their biggest takeaways and lessons from the experience. For instance, they mentioned that their exposure in Patani allowed them to observe different community developments. The key to success was the importance of having good relationship among women, indeed this ‘sisterhood’ encourages them to continue working for women protection.
In addition, they learned multi-stakeholder partnership strategies as they noted the attitude of governments and how they deal with civilians, especially women and children in each of the countries”. They also noted how Thai women have good dialogue with government for development”. Another highlight for them is to see that in other countries “although women are from different Ethnicity and regions, they have a strong social cohesion in their own communities, and they support and help each other”. They further added “Muslim women are able to learn, receive education and they have a structure of Muslim women leaders”.
The advocacy skills were a great element of learning. Myanmar women not only shared proudly their advocacy strategies; they also had the opportunity to learn from the advocacy skills of the Thai women as well as how Filipino women participate in politics. They remarked “we have learned about the advocacy skills and leadership role of Women leaders from different regions. They noted they could learn dialogue skills and public specking skill from their peers’ women leaders.
For Myanmar women their expectations were meet and they were thankful for having an opportunity to learn new skills and create opportunities for themselves. Myanmar women remarked “We could hear the voice of women from different regions and their feeling. And also, we could learn how they deal with community and how they advocate for the community before the government”.
The training and the exchange visit will have a longstanding impact for Myanmar women. As a result of the exchange they “feel more inspired to be actively involved in the protection of women”. They are planning to put into practice and replicate some of the learnings acquired from the Thai and Filipino women. The following quotes reflect how they are planning to advance women protection and peace initiatives among their networks and themselves:
“I could learn more about dialogue and advocacy process, women and youth sectors, norms of vulnerable people, Human Rights and Gender equality. I will share mainly Dialogue, Advocacy, GBV in my network”. Other women participants added “Advocacy and approach techniques to government will impact in my organization. I will share in my network about dialogue process, build capacity in youth, and strategies to collaborate with the government”. In addition, Myanmar women stated “I will share with my network the importance of raising awareness about women participation in politics, peace process and professions as professors and government officials”.
Definitely the training provided women from the region the opportunity to meet, it was so successful that they will further continue with this exchange involving more women from different religious and ethnic backgrounds.
“Though we cannot build peace at the provincial level, our efforts can surely bring peace at the local level” – Leader, Ebu Ebu Group. Southern Thailand
Overall, the training and exchange visit served as a platform to gain skills, confidence and understanding of nonviolent methods, as well as an emergent network. This is powerful to increase women leadership and their participation in peace process.
This exchange visit was made possible through generous contribution and support of Nonviolent Peaceforce supporters through GlobalGiving platform, Aberswyth University (UK), Leeds Becket University (UK) and Prince Songkla University (Thailand).
Nonviolent Peaceforce and Civic-Womenappreciate your support in making this exchange possible!