Indigenous women in the frontline of protests are actually proponents of peace

We are aware that we celebrated the International Women’s Day last March 8. I saw a lot of selfie posts of females eating ice cream, drinking a glass of wine, shopping, doing whatever, saying that they were celebrating ‘Women’s Day.’

These posts got me wondering, do we really know what we celebrate on March 8?

It is not so much as merely celebrating our being a woman – we can celebrate it every single day of the year after all.

What we actually celebrate on March 8 is the movement for women’s rights. We know from history that for so long, the woman has been considered second class – in ages past, women had to fight for suffrage, for a decent wage, for several other things that we are enjoying now.

Maybe there are those of you who know of this trivia. On March 8, 1917, women workers in Petrograd (then called St. Petersburg), Russia took to the streets to protest against the hunger and economic crisis Russia’s involvement in the First World War was causing the country. This eventually was recognized as the start of the Russian Revolution.

Today, I am honored to speak about women and peace at this point in time. Today, when, for sure the stature of women has changed in some ways and we are more aware of our rights. But today, we also see a similar scenario. There is war. There is hunger. There is a felt economic imbalance.

In this afternoon’s forum, we talk about peace and the involvement of women in peace building – particularly in Lumad communities.

When we hear the word peace we often think about the hippie symbols. The anti-nuclear peace sign, the flowers of EDSA I that has been portrayed as a ‘peaceful revolution.’ All these fancy and sweet images.

But this afternoon I wish to open another dimension of peace, a dimension that may be abstract for many of us who are here in the city, but a dimension that is very real in the remote indigenous communities where armed conflicts take place.

Maybe by sharing this perspective of peace, I can invite you to think and reflect when we hear or read – in social media – calls for an all-out war or a militaristic solution to the conflicts in our country. Calls from people who, it is sad to note, have not probably even set foot in these zones of conflict.

This kind of peace, would at first glance, be the antithesis of everything we know about peace. This peace has been branded subversive even. This peace is actually the simple fight for access to land, access to identity, fight to live humanely.

Simone de Beauvoir, an icon of feminism, stated that ‘All oppression creates a state of war.’

Whereas the women of Petrograd protested their hunger that was the effect of war, in this case it is the other way around – the woman are at war because they are protesting their hunger.

Rosa Luxemburg expounds on this concept more thoroughly in her article Peace Utopias. Let me quote a little bit from her. “The limitation of armaments, the retrenchment of militarism, does not coincide with the further development of international capitalism.”

What does it mean for us? What does it mean for the Lumad communities – especially to their women?

We are well aware of the issues of plunder in ancestral domains – mining, logging, and plantations. Here in our region, the main development aggressor are the plantations. The economic framework of our country is implemented regardless of the consequences on the indigenous communities.

This was the security plan of the state during the Oplan Bayanihan, presented by representatives of the 4th Infantry Division. You would think that as state forces, they are protecting the citizens of the Philippines. But what do we have at the core? They have business firms. Where are the communities? Where is civil society? Around the business firms, expected to protect the business interests.

When indigenous communities protest the plunder done in their land, this discontent is seen as externally influenced. Thus the militaristic solution to the suppress the demands of the communities.

This results to displacement. Last year, we saw at least three evacuations of Lumad communities – from Zillovia in Agusan del Sur, Camansi in Misamis Oriental, and San Fernando in Bukidnon.

We have often heard of the right of the indigenous peoples to their ancestral domains. But what I would like to stress on right now is their right to self-determination.  It is codified in international declarations and conventions. We also have this in the Philippines through the IPRA. But concrete cases point out that these laws, implemented by the government seemingly wanting to help the indigenous communities, actually do not work on the ground. I am not going to give you abstract scenarios as we have here our sisters from the Pulangion community in Butong, Quezon, who can share to you directly their struggles. The point is that despite the codification of the rights of IPs, in the end the laws – with all their loopholes - contradict each other resulting in the continued marginalization of the IPs.

What options are there in a society that condones - and promotes - structural / normative violence? The oppressed fight back.

The stories that Bae Jocelyn and Angelly will share to you are concrete expressions of how peace can only be achieved through a more equitable society. Their struggles are difficult, many of their kin having died along the way. Yet they fight for their rights instead of being coopted, instead of handing over the future of their communities in the name of peace, which is actually a muted submission to an oppressor.

To end, I would like to pose a question. Let me go back to March 8, 1917. Did the women who took to the streets who inadvertently became the start of the Russian revolution want a war? Similar to the indigenous women who are now protesting their hunger and economic situation, do they actually call for war? Or are they actually proponents of peace?

Again thank you for this opportunity to share with you these ideas. Good afternoon.


[Speech delivered by Ms. Mary Louise Dumas during the ‘#PeaceWorks: Forum on Women Human Rights Defenders in the Frontline of the Struggle for a Just and Lasting Peace’ held at the CON Hall of the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) on March 15, 2017. The forum was organized by the Center for Human Rights Education and the Center for Local Governance Studies of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension of the MSU-IIT. Ms. Dumas is the executive director of the RMP-NMR-established Mindanao Interfaith Institute on Lumad Studies. Photo above is by Pau Villanueva.]