There will always be some kind of “bragging rights” for those that come as “the first’” — the first to do this, the first to do that. We are not immune to this.
In fact, in many gatherings on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1325 (UNSCR 1325) through the years, the Philippines has always been acknowledged as the first country in Asia that launched and implemented a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (NAP WPS) in 2010. This is a fact.
Other countries in Asia that launched their NAPs after the Philippines were Nepal (2011); Kyrgyztan (2013); Indonesia, Republic of Korea, and Iraq (2014); and Tajikistan, Japan, Afghanistan (2015).
In 2017, the Philippines could very well be the first country in Asia that has crafted and implemented its third generation NAP WPS and this time, clearly as integral to the peace process and not just an addendum to it.
But beyond the “license to brag” on being “the first” is also the necessity to substantiate what it means to be one.
For example, Action Point 5 of the substantive pillar on Empowerment and Participation of the NAP WPS 2017-2022 seeks to improve the role and status of women in the security sector. As such, it goes beyond female inclusion and participation (which was the focus of the first NAP WPS) and move more towards female leadership.
Without undermining the importance of “counting” women, there is thus the imperative to infer into women’s engagement in decision-making spaces as well in crisis/emergency situations.
Towards the tail-end of women’s month, I have had the privilege of witnessing concrete initiatives of the Department of National Defense (DND) on implementing the NAP WPS 2017-2022. The DND has been a member of the National Steering Committee on Women, Peace and Security (NSC WPS) since 2010 and thus mandated to implement the NAP WPS 2010-2016.
However, it was only fairly recently that it had began to actively strategize to implement the third generation NAP WPS.
For 2018, approved advocacy campaign activities included the conduct of a “Gender, Peace and Security Forum: Women in the Defense Sector” last March 27.
The first part of the moderated panel discussion focused on “Women Leaders” with female officers with several ‘firsts’ tucked in their belts: Colonel Maxima O. Ignacio, PAF (GSC) as the first female aviation student and first female pilot in the Philippine Air Force; Colonel Joselyn R. Bandarlipe CE PA (GCS) as the first female Engineering Battalion Commander in the Philippine Army; and Navy Captain Luzviminda A. Camacho PN (GSC) as the first female ship captain of the Philippine Navy as well as the first female United Nations Contingent Commander who led the 17th Philippine Contingent to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
For these women, being seen as “the first” depends on the significance one attached to it: either it is just used as a convenient brand and as a novelty since they are “trailblazing women” in a largely male-dominated institution or it is understood as a benchmark, as a standard for other women in the service to follow. These women have had illustrious careers guided by a certain work ethic that feminists would be proud to call transformative. And truly, they paved the way for other women who would succeed them.
The second moderated panel discussion centered on “Women in the Frontlines” that heard the stories and insights from Major Nancy R. Dacanay PAF, 1LT Mersheena Mahalail Silungan PN (M), MSg Astred T. Graganza PA (FS), and Ms Gecile Gonzales of the Office Civil Defense.
In the context of crisis and emergencies, these women did not boast any “firsts” and yet, they were one of the few who have clearly articulated that gender, at least in their experiences, was not relevant in the front lines — they did what they did not because they were women but because they were people with a mission. They were not “treated” as women by their colleagues, subject to protection, but as persons capable and trusted to deliver the task they set to do.
Interestingly, although there was the recurrent theme of accomplishing a mission effectively, the role of gender somehow rang differently in the experience of some hijab troopers I had a chance to converse with when I went down to Marawi City a few days after the forum.
The hijab troopers were deployed in August 2017 as part of the all-female Civil Relations Company (CRC), a joint initiative of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. Their main task was to assist in the implementation of rehabilitation and recover programs in internally displaced peoples (IDP) camps. Needless to say, this was actually the first initiative to deploy such in an on-going conflict situation.
As their deployment comes to an end, only a few hijabi troopers remain in Marawi. In retrospect, these women believe that they have contributed to a more positive image of the military in the eyes of affected people, particularly, the children.
“When we were newly deployed in IDP camps, children would say they wanted to be ISIS when they grow up; after several months of being part of their lives, they now say they want to be like us, like hijab troopers.”
For these hijab troopers, gender did matter — it was important on how women and children became more open to them, it was significant in a way that they were seen to be trustworthy and sincere, and it was relevant in a way that caring for the affected ones seemed to come more naturally for them.
Indeed, the Philippines may have been the “first” in implementing NAP WPS in Asia.
But there has to be further substantiation on what it means to be the “first.” As what I have learned from women in the security sector, there has been a lot of improvement as regards their role as leaders and decision makers and as women in the front lines. These must be celebrated, be they the “first” or not. But more importantly, their impact on the lives of others — such as the internally displaced children of Marawi — should also be given due worth. The “returns of peace” will not be seen today but rather will be felt at least a generation later… and in retrospect, that would be when we would probably say that gender did matter in peace and security.
Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University.