Pluralist justice for women after violence: An experiment in building justice webs in the Philippines project

 Gong_Image sourceA Habaradas

Project leader(s)

Australian AID Development Research Award Scheme

The breakthrough negotiation between the government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front produced the Framework Agreement on 15 October 2013 that will usher the creation of an autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro in Mindanao and thus the possibility of attaining lasting peace after centuries of conflicts and violence. This will have important consequences for Muslim, Indigenous and Christian women living in the region. Women are vital for community peacebuilding and reducing cycles of violence against women is a precondition for genuine and sustained peace. Recent research on peacebuilding in Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands suggests that the leaders of armed struggles do not automatically become enlightened civilian leaders in peacetime, ceding equal status and participation in public life to women. Indeed, considerable encouragement and monitoring of leaders is necessary to ensure progressive social outcomes for women. How violence against women is handled in post-conflict Mindanao should matter: both for what this means for the social fabric, and for the legitimacy and quality of state and non-state justice institutions in a post conflict order.

The avenues of redress for women in Mindanao who suffer violence are constrained. The state justice system in the Philippine periphery is relatively weak and the Shari’a courts are sparsely distributed. Legal stereotypes in court decisions remain prevalent and there is very little accountability for judges who make gender-biased decisions. As in many places, most everyday disputes are settled in non-state spaces: for Christians this will often be village or Church-affiliated processes; for Moro people family or clan-based adjudication. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence points to enhanced role of women in informal dispute resolution processes. A potential outcome of the peace and regional autonomy in Mindanao could be greater marginalization of local justice institutions from the national framework, and of local informal institutions from local formal institutions. Further at the local level, there may be a missed opportunity to strengthen the peace by encouraging non-state institutions in behaviour that signal clearly that violence against women is unjust.

Using violence against women (VAW) as case study, the project traces how justice institutions develop after the peace process and regional autonomy in Mindanao. The project examines how state and non-state justice institutions encourage or constrain community peacebuilding through their treatment of women. It looks at how women respond to VAW, the way women consider their justice options, and how their decisions might be affected by their social and cultural backgrounds such as ethnicity, religion and culture. The project contributes significantly to current research on legal pluralism and programming interventions in the justice sector in the context of post-conflict societies. Moreover, by linking local justice institutions with each other and nationally, the project seeks to create a ‘justice web’ that will promote better understanding among justice institutions and strengthen their capacity to address VAW and promote gender equity.

This 3-year project has four main objectives that address knowledge deficit in and provides evidenced-based policy recommendations on pluralist justice:

  • To systematically map formal and informal pathways to justice in pluralist, post-conflict Mindanao which include state courts, Shari’a courts, Catholic Church, village and clan-based forms of dispute resolution;
  • To examine the role of Moro and Christian women in non-state institutions, and social and cultural practices that address violence against women and enhance their participation in peacebuilding;
  • To showcase practices and patterns of behaviour in the informal justice institutions that address violence against women and promote gender equity; and
  • To provide justice sectors’ understanding of each other and create the space for interaction and learning among justice institutions through a ‘justice web’.

Dr Imelda Deinla is the Chief Investigator for the project and works with a local NGO in the Philippines, NISA Ul Haqq Fi Bangsamoro. Imelda, a lawyer in the Philippines, has prior engagement with Muslim human rights advocates and NGOs in the Philippines and in the Asia Pacific region. She also collaborates with a team of Muslim and Christian student-researchers based at the Australian National University. This project will also provide the space to re-visit previous collaboration between Muslim and Christian women and further strengthen sharing of knowledge, experience and skills.

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