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The study and implementation of collaborative systems towards lasting peace and security has increasingly been the focus of various groups, governments and non-government. Women's involvement has been a key factor, particularly in the protection of women's rights and welfare during armed conflict and terrorism, and in the peace processes. Unfortunately, women are still kept away from the table as decisions are made which affect their lives. This is especially true in areas of conflict, such as we find in Muslim Mindanao.
In times of war and violence women carry a great burden in several ways. Women become major breadwinners of the family, when the men go to war. That means taking care of the children and having to earn income at the same time. There are also other circumstances when women become victims of threats, torture, arrest and rape by warring forces.
Regarding the important role women play in this context, the "Regional Project on the Role of Muslim Women in Peace and Democracy" will aim at giving the Muslim women in Mindanao a voice.
In 2001, the Magbassa Kita Foundation, Inc. (a Mindanao-based non-government organization involved in literacy and livelihood programs) conducted a focus group discussion (FGD) participated in by women from Sulu, Basilan, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Cotabato City, for sharing of information and experiences on the effects of the Muslim Mindanao conflict-towards the end goal of developing women as peace advocates and change agents in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The FGD yielded information, analyses and perceptions on the conflict and as a final output they mapped out a plan of actions to promote peace and development and contribute to conflict resolution. During a following workshop, core group of women leaders in 9 provinces of Mindanao was formed, who have started to serve as mediators and peace advocates at different levels - from village to national.
The objectives of the Project is to promote women's participation in peace processes - whether in conflict resolution, post-conflict reconstruction and peace building -through
- capacity building for women leaders and peace advocates in Muslim Mindanao
- development of strong and substantial networks of women peace builders in Islamic communities of Mindanao and worldwide, and
- establishing a substantial and analytical body of information to draw attention and support for the cause among policy makers.
"The International Women Leaders Conference on Peace and Development"
The conference is one of the steps in this ongoing progress. The preparatory three day workshop will give the women a frame to discuss, exchange and study several women-related topics. The Conference will provide the venue for sharing case studies and papers on a international level with sisters from the Asia-Pacific Region as well as the United States. Proposals will be generated on how Muslim women can contribute to peace-building as well as the development efforts in Mindanao. During the plenary session a draft of a Declaration of Principles will be created, which shall govern the establishment of the Muslim women peace advocates network.