Women’s leadership is vital to post-conflict recovery in Marawi: Jalilah, Rolanisah and Fedelinda's story
In the aftermath of conflict in Marawi, the Philippines, a group of women emerged as a driving force behind the city’s peaceful reconstruction and rehabilitation. Through their leadership, these women show the importance of women’s inclusion, for meaningful progress toward peace.
The 2017 siege of Marawi was a devastating five-month conflict that resulted in the displacement of 360,000 people, with thousands killed or held hostage. A crucial part of Marawi’s rehabilitation and recovery is the Marawi Compensation Law and Marawi Reconstruction Conflict Watch (MRCW).
Jalilah Sapiin, Dr Rolanisah Dipatuan and Dr Fedelinda Tawagon are community leaders and representatives from different sectors in Marawi. Jalilah is a young technical education and skills development specialist, Rolanisah is a medical doctor and Fedelinda is the President of Dansalan College, the first Christian school at the heart of the Islamic City of Marawi. They are all members of MRCW, an evidence-based multi-stakeholder advocacy group that tracks and analyses the effectiveness of government reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in Marawi City, established after International Alert identified the need for transparency and accountability in the rebuilding process.
Through the MRCW, the three women have been at the forefront of monitoring and assessing the economic, social, conflict and environmental impacts of Marawi’s reconstruction, identifying any challenges or gaps that need to be addressed.
Role of women in the Marawi Compensation Law
After months of uncertainty, insecurity and frustration among the internally displaced people of Marawi, due to the slow pace of rehabilitation efforts by the government, a Marawi Compensation Bill was drafted and developed by the MRCW, which became one of the central advocacies of the group. Since 2018, these women led the lobbying of the compensation law at the Senate and House of Representatives. They also regularly spoke to the media, focussing greater public attention on the delays and issues surrounding the Marawi rehabilitation.
“The MRCW really played a big role in the Marawi Compensation Bill and having women in the group gave it more credibility in pushing for that movement,” Rolanisah highlighted. “It really shed light on the many issues that women and their children are facing.”
“Women and children are most affected by violent conflict. The delays of the Marawi rehabilitation continue to drastically affect women, as they are left with the responsibility to sustain the needs of the family,” Fedelinda emphasised.
MRCW is inclusive because its composition comes from different sectors and different backgrounds of life. The women are also able to provide a wider perspective on the plight of internally displaced people because they have different lenses – as a daughter, mother, sibling, educator and doctor.Jalilah Sapiin
The task of pushing for the Marawi Compensation Bill was arduous, but the role of women champions who stood with them in pushing for the bill served as an inspiration for them to never lose hope. “The experience as a woman in MRCW is fulfilling but also a big responsibility, because it is not easy to talk and negotiate with different stakeholders and powerholders, especially men,” explains Jalilah. “There is this sense of empowerment that even if these are known people, I was able to have an avenue to speak up and tell the truth about Marawi.”
Merger of hearts and minds of the people of Marawi
After years of lobbying, the Marawi Siege Victims Compensation Act was finally signed into law by former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in April 2022. It was a monumental gesture and symbolised the state’s commitment and awareness of its moral and legal responsibility to support the full recovery of people displaced by war. The law also sets an important precedent for future victims of war and destruction.
The passage of the Marawi Compensation Law paved the way for the creation of the Marawi Compensation Board (MCB), who will lead the compensation process. In January 2023, the president appointed the members of the MCB, in which five out of nine members, including the chairperson, are women. Women’s representation in the MCB marks a crucial moment for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the history of Muslim Mindanao and a merger of the hearts and minds of the people of Marawi.
“It is more logical that the ones in the board are majority women because they will be able to see and feel the needs of women and children; they exercise emotional quotient along with IQ”, Fedelinda says. “I prefer women to take on the leadership to ensure that the rights of Marawi internally displaced people are truly safeguarded.”
Sapiin hopes for a future where women in Marawi can fight for what they want to be. “I hope that women’s role in the community will not be limited. Whether she wants to be a mother, a worker, a leader or take any other role, she should be free and empowered to do so.”
“There are women who would still have some feeling that they prefer more to be in the background or backstage,” Fedelinda explains. “But if we can encourage and develop their self-confidence, like how we are able to do as MRCW and how many of the leaders do now, they would probably be able to overcome any challenges.”