Last Nov. 25, the Philippines kicked off its annual 18-day Campaign to End Violence against Women (VAW). Now on its 13th year, the Philippine campaign combines three women’s human rights normative commemorations, namely, the International Day for the Elimination of VAW (Nov. 25), International Human Rights Day (Dec. 10), and the historic opening for signature of the “United Nations (UN) Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children” (Dec. 12) and as such, frames VAW (e.g. trafficking of women) as a violation of human rights of women. For this year, the Philippine 18-day Campaign took on the theme “End VAW Now! It’s our Duty! Gains and Ways Forward” that focused on taking stock of the efforts of duty-bearers and various stakeholders to respond to the issue of VAW in the country.
According to the Philippine Commission on Women, several activities were conducted during the 18-day period consisting of awareness raising, advocacy, and capacity development training. Interestingly, visibly absent from the list was that of VAW in the context of armed conflict. Conflict-related VAW flows from a continuum of “peace time” VAW simply because the situation of armed conflict is an environment of violence in itself — vulnerabilities of women increase several times over with various threats to their human security. For example, during conflict-induced internal displacements, cases of domestic violence and sexual harassment in internally displaced peoples camps had been recorded; more alarming has been that of women and girls falling prey to prostitution and trafficking.
The Philippines has recognized the situation of women in armed conflict through its commitment to implement UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1325 and 1820 that has been concretized with its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (NAP WPS). Specifically related to addressing conflict-related VAW is the NAP WPS thematic pillar on protection and prevention which aims to “ensure the protection of women’s human rights and prevention of violation of these rights in armed conflict and post-conflict situations through the enactment and implementation of gender-responsive and conflict-sensitive policies, programs, and services.” At the same time, having noted women’s vulnerabilities and the need to respond through protection mechanisms need not overshadow women’s agency and their capacity to act on matters that directly involve them. As such, the NAP WPS thematic pillar on empowerment and participation seek to “empower women and ensure their active and meaningful participation in areas of peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding, conflict prevention, conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction.”
In October, Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, in a speech during the High-Level Review on UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security held in New York, summarized the Philippines’ initiatives on the NAP WPS and I quote:
“Implementation of the Philippine NAP is a painstaking process because we want to cover all bases: policy, planning, implementation and monitoring mechanisms, and budget. Modest initial results are now being reported. Among the outcomes already being gleaned are the strengthened presence of women in peace negotiations and the implementation of peace accords; the establishment of “women-friendly spaces” to ensure the needed measure of private and safe space for internally displaced women and girls in evacuation centers; the adoption of explicit gender equality policies and mechanisms as an integral part of the governance of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; culture-sensitive trauma healing programs for Muslim women; the inclusion of WPS issues in the training of our foreign service officers; the plan to establish a dedicated team of public prosecutors for cases of sexual and gender-based violence in situations of armed conflict.”
These were the gains that have been made. But what are the ways forward for duty-bearers in responding to conflict-related VAW? Based on my observations, I suggest:
• First, there has to be a distinctive understanding on what it constitutes. Conflict-related VAW takes place specifically because of the situation or effects of armed conflict. In this regard, special capacity development programs for “frontline” government agencies must include both gender and conflict-sensitive assistance in light, for example, of psychosocial healing and access to justice;
• Second, although there have been decades-long efforts toward the mainstreaming of gender in the discourse and practice of governance in the country, there is still a need to institutionalize gender particularly in light of armed- or even post-conflict situations. For example, economic programs for post-conflict communities must not just ‘add women and stir’ but also consciously make them active participants in their communities’ politico-economic reconstruction;
• Third, there also has to be a stronger link between efforts at the national, regional, and local levels as regards policy-making, programming, and provision for service delivery. There are existing mechanisms that need to be further enhanced in order to fully integrate women, peace and security in conflict-affected and post-conflict communities.
Addressing conflict-related VAW is a matter for everyone to be part of. It is a violation of women’s human rights that must be eradicated. The Philippines has committed to do so… it must further strive to ensure that this commitment is felt by the women who need them the most.
Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University.