“They say there are two Mindanaos,” Irene Santiago, chair emeritus of the Mindanao Commission on Women (MCW), told 100 eager participants of the Young Women Leaders Congress.
The first Mindanao, she explained, refers to the urbanized cities such as Davao, General Santos and Cagayan de Oro. The second Mindanao, meanwhile, refers to the poorest areas such as Sulu, Tawi-tawi, the Cotabatos, the Lanaos and Caraga.
“But we say there is a third Mindanao. It is the Mindanao of the women who make our communities strong, vibrant and largely peaceful,” she said. “Yes, we are the third Mindanao but we are also the third side.”
The MCW was established in 2011 by Muslim, Christian and indigenous women leaders, hoping to influenYoce public policy and opinion for a peace and development agenda for Mindanao from a woman’s perspective. Their Mothers for Peace movement has been training women in “thirdsider skills” to become“experts” in preventing, resoloving and containing conflict. This “thirdsider skill” is the key to peace building in Mindanao.
“Our goal is encapsulated in this simple line, ‘for women to be taken seriously’”, she said. “I have no doubt that the challenges of our era for human security and peace will be resolved with a combination of good sense, compassion and boldness which are hallmarks of women’s leadership.”
The young women leaders congress lasted from October 20-22 and carried the theme, “Vibrant Visions, Valiant Voices”. It engaged participants in an exercise to define their own visions of Mindanao and to create young leaders to sustain a next generation of peace circles.
In her welcome address, Margie Moran, chair of the MCW, hoped the conference would bring lasting connection with the youth with women like them who can provide mentorship to enhance the young women’s competence.
“This program can support their leadership abilities and civic engagement that will define the role of the youth – to make another Mindanao possible,” she said.
Fairouz Salimbo, a peace volunteer from Marawi City, told the TIMES that the training would help her become a tool to foster peace in her community. “I participated in several trainings regarding leadership and because of this, it will help expand my knowledge,” she said.
She observed that because of the efforts of non-government organizations like the MCW, the women are now more empowered to assert their rights and participate in activities for the development of the communities.
On the other hand, Patricia Evangelista, a columnist of a national paper and executive producer of Storyline documentary who was the keynote speaker, encouraged women to write their own stories.
“They have the right to their story, even if it is brutal… If we are silent it means we are agreeing,” she said.
The three-day conference tackled a wide-range of topics such as understanding Mindanao history, feminism, violence against women and children, human trafficking, reproductive health and responsible sexuality, climate change and disaster preparedness, entrepreneurship, drug addiction, creative expressions as tools for advocacy, and how to run an effective advocacy campaign, among others.