(1 July – Dili) – “The Indonesian military raped women to subdue Timorese men, to reduce the commitment of combatants to the struggle for independence,” Ms Lita Sarmento shared at the international meeting held on 30 June to 1 July 2010 in UNMIT Obrigado Barracks in Dili. She said this after Ms Shadia Marhaban reported on the impact on women in Aceh of the 30-year conflict between the Indonesian Government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). “In one village (in Aceh), 40 women were raped. It was a strategy of the Indonesian military to cripple the Movement,” Ms Marhaban elaborated.

Ten (10) women from Aceh, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and Timor-Leste met in Dili to analyse how women are affected by armed conflict in Southeast Asia and to explore different responses by women to advance their peace agenda and to achieve justice for victims, particularly from rape and sexual and gender based violence. Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) – Southeast Asia organized the two- day meeting. “The report of CAVR or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Timor-Leste recognized that women were not only victims. As mothers and wives, they support the men so they can engage in the resistance. This was true even during the 2006 crisis in Timor-Leste,” Ms Sarmento, who is the Timor-Leste initiator for GPPAC, added.
“I regretted that I did not manage to get women’s agenda into the memorandum of understanding  (MoU) because Bill Clinton and others pressured us to complete the negotiations quickly. They said that otherwise international aid to Aceh will not come and our people, survivors of the 2004 tsunami, will be malnourished,” Ms Marhaban described the high pressure 5-month negotiation period in Helsinki in 2005 between Indonesia and GAM, of which she is the only female negotiator. The tsunami in December 2004 that killed over 200,000 men, women and children in Aceh became the catalyst for renewing peace talks.
“Mental rehabilitation is crucial,” Ms Marhaban said as among the tasks at hand which the Aceh Women’s League is working on. The 30 years of conflict have left many people traumatized, men and women, and combatants and non-combatants. The MoU led to self-governance of Aceh, a province of Indonesia, and the control of the provincial government of the petroleum income, of which 75 percent is retained in the province and 25 percent is remitted to Jakarta.
“Women IDPs were particularly hesitant to return to their communities because they feared for their security,” Francisca Alves Taolin of Rede Feto recalled what led Rede Feto to hold dialogues in the communities where the former IDPs returned or resettled. Rede Feto, along with other non-governmental organizations, worked in the IDP camps in the aftermath of the 2006 crisis and set up Women’s Committees to attend to the needs women IDPs from health services especially for pregnant women to women’s human rights violations such as rape and domestic violence, as well as sexual harassment. “The women’s toilet is located near the men’s toilet and this made women especially the youth vulnerable to sexual assault,” Ms Paolen explained.
In the Philippines, particularly in central Mindanao, renewed hostilities between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) led to the displacement of 600,000 people, majority of them Moros, which is the preferred identity of residents who are of the Islamic faith.  The figure is the highest displacement in the period, higher than the 550,000 figure from Sudan and 500,000 from Kenya, according to the report of the International Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva.  On the initiative of 30 women representing the various Moro, Lumad (preferred identity for indigenous peoples in Mindanao) and Christian tribes or communities, the Statement of Understanding of Armed Conflict and Women’s Experience was released. “As a result of our advocacy, women are now represented in the International Monitoring Team (IMF) of the MIFL and Government of the Philippines cease-fire agreement, to focus on the protection of civilians,” reported Shari Palabrica from the Philippines. The IMF is chaired by Malaysia, with the governments of Libya, Brunei, Japan, Canada and the European Union as members.
Philippines recently adopted its National Action Plan on UN SCR 1325, the preparation of which was led by the Philippine Commission on Women and theOffice of the Presidential Adviser for Peace Process. A coordinating body to implement the Plan was created and provided with 5 million pesos (or less than $110,000) of budget.
The meeting in Dili was organized to help women peace activists in the region make good use of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which is about ensuring women’s participation and leadership in peace making and conflict prevention.
“The content of the resolution is implemented in Timor-Leste; only the name UN Security Council Resolution 1325 is not familiar to Timorese civil society,” explained Ms Ubalda Alves, former Executive Director of Rede Feto now Gender Officer of Irish Aid. “For example, measures to ensure representation of women in politics were put in place in the early years of state building,” she added. The laws on National Parliament and on Suco/Community Elections contain provisions that led to a high 29 percent representation of women in Parliament and 28 percent in the suco or village councils.
Ms Ruby Rose Lora, Programme Manager of the Initiative sfor International Dialogue, explained why this meeting is held in Dili, “We chose Dili as site of this meeting because of the recently reported successful Open Day with Timorese women leaders.” It was hosted by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in preparation for the 10th year anniversary of the passage of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Security and Peace. Hosts of the GPPAC-Southeast Asia meeting were Rede Feto, the national women’s network of 24 national women’s organizations, Gender Affairs Unit of the UN Mission in Timor-Leste and the Gender Project of the United Nations Development Programme.
One of the outcomes of the meeting is a list of activities to help strengthen networking, information and knowledge exchange, and campaigning to promote representation women in peace processes and their continuing involvement in peace-building and post-conflict recovery. Among these are a people’s diplomacy training for women peace activists and a joint communiqué to the United Nations on the occasion of the 10th year anniversary of UN SCR 1325. GPPAC was created in 2003 in response to the challenge posed by the then UN Secretary General Kofi Anan for civil society organizations to strengthen their role in peace building and conflict resolution.
(For more details, please contact Annie Serrano, UNDP Senior Gender Adviser at 730 5074 or annie.serrano@undp.org and Ms. Elyse Ruest-Archambault, UNMIT Gender Affairs Officer at 763 9430 or ruest-archambault@un.org.)