My name is Aileen
Kesa Marie U Hualde.

I am a leader from an indigenous Téduray community who live in South Upi, Maguindanao on the island of Mindanao. The Philippines has around 7 million indigenous peoples belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups.

My fellow Téduray women do not always have the opportunity to get an education. Every day, we still witness discrimination. It is the strength of Téduray women in the face of this discrimination that inspired me to become an insider mediator.

One of our assets is that we are considered ‘insiders’ and are largely trusted and respected by our communities.

Téduray people want to preserve our culture and ancestral lands, and to be included in peace talks with the government. I also advocate for women’s involvement in resolving community matters, and invite other women leaders, the indigenous people’s religious sector, and youth to have discussions.

Mediators like me convince them that we need their cooperation and show them that women must be engaged and represented as leaders in the community. I’m happy with how responsive the communities have been to us. They say they are inspired by what we are doing because what we do benefits not only women but the whole community too.

Yet the job is not easy. Women leaders in particular are faced with constant threats to our security.

Ongoing conflicts and the pandemic have made it hard to reach the far-flung areas and different indigenous communities. There is low internet access in some areas, and due to travel restrictions, it can be difficult to connect with other tribal leaders. This is something we are still trying to navigate.

I am Baina

I have seen how the pandemic has had a detrimental effect on the Bangsamoro people’s financial stability. Many people did not have time to prepare - economically and emotionally - for many months of hardship. There are people who were experiencing poverty even before the Covid-19 crisis hit. In moments of crisis like these, women are often the ones who take on additional burdens for the care of their families and communities.

The added pressure of having their livelihoods reduced or completely taken away can make some vulnerable to extremist recruitment.

Violent groups capitalize on crises by offering money in return for loyalty. Without state or community interventions that reinforce established peace agreements, it can be easy to convince those who are already suffering to join.

As an insider mediator, we have contacts in the community who report to us if there are instances of violence, conflict, or violations of peace agreements in the communities.

People know us; we have established partnerships with them and have their trust, recognition, and respect.

I also help with rido settlements: disputes between families and clans relating to land or other local issues. It is important that I respond immediately when called, using my training and knowledge in peace processes to avoid any escalation into violence.

I also do everything I can to support those who might be overlooked. Centers supporting war widows and orphans have been particularly hard hit by state and donor budget cuts, so I have been helping to provide relief packages with food, masks, alcohol hand-rubs, and educational materials.

I keep reminding those I serve that what we are going through is only temporary.

We have experienced worse in the height of conflicts over the last few decades. In Islam, we often say: So verily, with every difficulty, there is relief. (Qur’an 94:5). This is what I tell them to keep them strong.

My name is Hadja Giobay Diocolano.

I know conflict well. I was a Moro National Liberation Front fighter in the past and spent much of my earlier years as a first aider helping medical teams, counseling survivors and nursing gunshot wounds at the frontlines. But then I was involved in championing the breakthrough 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the MNLF and the Philippine government, and since then I have since spent two decades as a peace advocate. I am determined to promote peace to help the Moro people in their ongoing fight for self-determination.

The pandemic has given rise to what many call a ‘shadow pandemic’.

Staying at home is not necessarily safe for everyone. Violence against women and children, rapes case involving minors, and early marriage have risen. With schools closing and with fewer work opportunities, youth can turn to violent extremist groups. It has also been difficult to respond to these challenges. When the lockdown happened, we had to cancel all the community activities we had planned. But after a month or two, we obtained provincial passes to provide relief, and we changed our workplan so that we could support the pandemic response efforts. We distributed vegetable seeds so that people could grow food in their gardens and provided handwashing facilities to schools.

Women have been standing at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, as health care workers, caregivers, innovators, peacebuilders, and community organizers. Yet despite all the work we do, the biggest challenge we face is trying to get decision makers to accept us. In many Muslim communities in the Philippines, women are not allowed to participate in conflict mediation.

It can be challenging for people like me to lobby local governance when many still hold these kinds of views.

But it’s also essential for women peace advocates to collaborate closely with government representatives. They have the power to create inclusive policies that can be adopted and implemented at all levels of governance, and they also have a key role in helping us change the perception of women leaders. We are committed to strengthening the political participation of women leaders with the guidance of alim and alima – or religious scholars - in the whole of Bangsamoro, In Sha Allah.

Women like Hadja Giobay, Baina, and Aileen are crucial responders for their communities in conflict, and now also in crisis.

UNDP has been working together with women insider mediators to ensure women are included in national and regional decision-making levels. UNDP Philippines’ Women Insider Mediators Rapid Action and Mobilization Platform (formulated with the support of the Australian Embassy in the Philippines, the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Manila, and the European Union) provides women like them a network, resources, and training to supplement and sustain the work they have been doing.

UNDP also connects them to national and regional decision-making processes to ensure that local communities and local women’s voices are represented. This year, a regional insider mediators’ platform is being established so that women leaders from different countries in Asia can share knowledge and learn from each other’s experiences. In a post-pandemic future, investing in their capacities and providing them with opportunities and resources to build forward better has never been more timely.

Aileen Kesa Marie U Hualde is the Executive Director of Women Organization of the Raja Mamalu Descendants. Baina Samayatin is the Executive Director of the Moro Women Development and Cultural Center or MWDECC. Hadja Giobay Diocolano is the founder of the Kadtabanga Foundation for Peace and Development Advocates.

For more on how UNDP and the EU have been working to prevent conflict and secure sustainable peace in Southeast Asia, click here.

Animations: Julia Azron
Words: Charlene Erica Balaan, Mailee Osten-Tan, Isabella Caravaggio