QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 05 June) — Last week, we had a conversation on the environment with former DENR Undersecretary Ipat Luna. She had voiced her concerns for the state of our natural resources, with “schizophrenic” organization of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) and the lack of political will of our legislators to do what must be done to protect us from the disastrous impact of climate change. This week, I saw for myself the devastation climate change can cause. I was in the Maldives, attending the annual conference of my network, the Women’s Alliance for Security leadership (WASL).
Our meeting had been postponed for two years because of the pandemic. I am so glad that the Maldives hosted the meeting, thanks to our sister Dr. Mariyam Shakeela, former Maldivian Minister for Health and Family and former Minister of Environment and Energy. Mariyam had been inviting the network to come to the Maldives, in part to enjoy the beauty and peace of the Maldives and in part to see how the country has been suffering from climate change when it has not contributed in any way to global warming. Some of the Maldivian islands have suffered from the erosion of its shores due to rising water levels and increasing violence of hurricanes.
The Maldives, a tropical paradise favored by Europeans and wealthy Arabs, is a small country located in South Asia. With a population less than 600,000, it only has a total land area of 298 sq km in its chain of 26 atolls. Mariyam tells us that there is one resort allowed per island, making tourism the principal industry of the Maldives. A predominantly Muslim country, the Maldives has been concerned with the threat of violent extremism from ultra-fundamentalist groups influenced by ISIS and the Taliban. Truly, there are snakes in paradise.
She took us to one island, inhabited by Maldivians, where we had a dialogue with the women who have become members of the community development council. While we observed that the men did most of the talking, Mariyam is encouraged by the support of the government for women’s participation in these decision making councils. Step by step, slow by slow, the women are empowering themselves. In a concrete way, the Maldivian women’s struggle for equality reflected the theme of our conference – “Reclaiming power, restoring peace.”
Two of my Indonesian sisters were at the conference with me: Ruby Khofifah, the Secretary General of Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN) and co-founder of the Southeast Asian Network of Women Peacebuilders and Mira Kusumarini, the founder and Director of the EMPATIKU Foundation which addresses peace and security, and community empowerment. Ruby and Mira are committed to expanding peace initiatives across the generational divide and leadership of women in decision making.
It was a bit challenging to tape our conversation, as our sisters (there were close to 100 of us at the conference) moved around, saying hello. As well, the glorious balmy weather made us want to spend every free minute sitting on the beach and enjoying the peace. But converse we did. When I asked Ruby and Mira what their takeaways were from the conference, they shared the successes of Indonesian women reclaiming their power to decide and to act. We in Southeast Asia are lucky that we belong to a region that has been historically pluralistic and supportive of women’s leadership. Both Ruby and Mira believe we can share our experiences with our sisters in the Middle East and North Africa. Ruby, for instance, has successfully reached out to Indonesian Muslim religious leaders to collaborate on her organization’s capacity building for Muslim religious women who are Islamic scholars or teach in Islamic schools (the initiative is called “KUPI”). On the other hand, they have much to share with us on day-to-day experiences in dealing with violent extremism.
Collaboration – cooperation – is key. Ruby also says that in order to reach that stage, we must be prepared to listen to others who may not have the same ideas as we do. Trust has to be built for cooperation to happen. And trust can only be built if we listen to each other and accept that we are not infallible nor the only source of good ideas.
Out keynote speaker, Mariya Didi, the first female Minister of Defence of the Republic of Maldives, did start the conversation on that path to cooperation by stating that men alone cannot secure the peace. They need us women. And vice-versa.
Listen to Ruby and Mira: Click, Play and Listen
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Amina Rasul is the President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, an advocate for Mindanao and the Bangsamoro, peace, human rights, and democracy)