Women for peace: Sahara, Philippines

To mark International Women's Day 2016, for which the official theme is #PledgeForParity, we are profiling some of our female peacebuilders around the world and asking them: What can gender parity mean for peace?

You can read all of their featured stories here.

Sahara, Philippines

Sahara Mama was a volunteer with TASBIKKa Inc, International Alert’s partner for a project in Maguindanao, Philippines.

Please describe your professional background and what you are currently working on.

I graduated from the Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi City in 2009 with a degree in History. I now teach this at the MSU-Maguindanao, where I am also pursuing a master's degree in Peace and Development Studies. This is one of the poorest and most conflict-ridden provinces in the country.

Before this teaching post, I was involved in an organisation advocating for electoral reforms in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and in TASBIKKa, an NGO engaged in community development that is based in Parang, my hometown. I continue to be involved in this work. Just recently, I finished facilitating a life skills training for out-of-school youths in Parang.

How did International Alert’s project benefit you?

Knowledge is power, they say, and it is really true. Alert helped me secure an internship at a power company in 2014, and their training really helped my self-development. I became confident in speaking with people of different backgrounds. I also became exposed to different perspectives. I learned that not everyone I thought was bad was completely bad, and that that there was a good side to everyone. I realised that a big difference can be made if the community, the private sector and the government work hand in hand, and especially if the women are actively involved in areas such as livelihood generation, peace and order, governance and law.

What are the challenges and opportunities for gender equality in your country?

There are employment opportunities for Filipino women but our culture still expects us to take care of the household. Our participation in government, the private sector, or whatever we want, is somehow constrained by this. We need to be 'superwomen' who work both outside and inside the home.

This applies to Moro women. But we face another challenge: society's acceptance of our beliefs. I had aspired to join the Philippine National Police but I did not push through with it because I would be required to wear a short skirt and do away with my veil. How can we compete with other women for jobs or fully participate in the development of our country if we are forced to compromise our beliefs and the teachings of our religion?

What role do you think gender equality/women's empowerment could play in long-term peace in the Philippines?

Women teach their children to distinguish right from wrong. They play a vital role in the community as they are ones who mould their children to become good citizens.

As for Bangsamoro women, we certainly can play an important role in resolving conflict, if given the chance to do so. We can help settle ‘rido’ - disputes that grow to become protracted family or clan feuds. As women don't start them, then we won't be harmed and can mediate these conflicts.

In bigger conflicts, women have a special voice as they know what households need. They should always be listened to.

Which women inspire you and why?

I am inspired by mothers who are able to bring up their children to be good human beings, those who advocate for what is right and fight the bad, and those who try to change society so it will be better for other women.

I am also inspired by women who are active in society, those engaged in peace and development work that benefit their communities, those who challenge men when they are wrong, and those who fight for their rights without abandoning the teachings of their religion.

Will you be celebrating Women’s Day this year? How?

It won’t be a big celebration. I'll commemorate it by simply educating my students about gender equality and its importance in the development of the community or the country in general.