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Keynote Address of Chairperson Loretta Ann P. Rosales
in the closing ceremonies of
the 2nd National Conference of Muslim Women Peace Advocates

“Noorus Salam: From Vision to Action, From Conflict to Peace”

10 February 2011
Garden Orchid Hotel, Zamboanga City

“Human Rights, Islam and Women: A Shared Platform for Peace”

His Excellency, Vice President Jejomar Binay
Senator Santanina Rasul,
Chairperson Remedios Ignacio-Rikken
Ms. Amina Rasul,
Distinguished participants of the 2nd National Conference
of Muslim Peace Advocates,
A pleasant evening to everyone.

I consider it a distinct honor to address this distinguished conference of Muslim women peace advocates.

We all yearn for the time when peace becomes a reality in the Philippines , not the kind of peace that springs from the barrel of the gun and the silence of the grave, but peace that empowers every person to live their lives free of fear and want. In other words, we dream of a peaceful environment where human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

Your mission of bringing women together, to fight violence against women,  to enable women to make informed decisions, to make peace a reality in the Philippines and in the region, charts a path not usually taken but nevertheless  illumined by shared fundamental principles.

I would like to begin by referring to the work of the scholar, M. Bakri Musa, in his foreword to Salbiah Ahmad's book, “Critical Thoughts on Islam, Rights and Freedoms in Malaysia ”. Musa insists that

“Islam, the feminist movement, and the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights all have one common objective – to emancipate human beings, to give each of us our inherent rights as individuals regardless of faith, nationality, skin color, or sex...the ideals of Islam, feminism and human rights are shared ideals.”

Thus, Noorus Salam or “Light of Peace” is a natural platform for integrating the different discourses on religion, women and rights within a cohesive and coherent framework for peace. On one hand, there is the usual tendency whenever peace advocates and scholars of Islam and human rights gather together to discuss solutions to peace, to generate high heat but little light. As Musa says, “conversations over social constructs quickly degenerate into controversies because we each bring our own baggage to the discussion.” Noorus Salam looks at the different dimensions of peace-building, using a gendered lens anchored on the historical, cultural, religious and political streams of Islamic consciousness.

Using an intersectional lens, the experiences of the women here present pose a strong and valid critique to the monolithic yet misguided notion that peace is a matter of mollifying the interests of warring factions of society. Your individual experiences as Muslim women from diverse communities and cultures may offer narratives of oppression, but they are also powerful sources for enduring solutions to conflicts.

In this regard, I wish to cite two qualities of women that perhaps give us an edge in contributing to lasting solutions to conflict.  One is the more discernible characteristic of women as care-givers, as nurturers, as protectors of the helpless, be they man, woman or child.

Hence, taking an in-depth look at the situation of women in conflict zones, the role of the aleemat in operationalizing the responsibility to protect as well as ensuring access to preventive health care facilities and services, is an endeavor worth more than the original investment of time, energy and finances. Sharing ourselves and our time in delivering health care services not only provides for the basic needs and well-being of those we serve but equally nurtures an environment for developing dialogue and confidence in building relations.   

The second, less discernible but more strategic quality of women is their capacity to exercise power that stems from this natural role as nurturer.  It has commonly been argued that the traditional concept of power from the men’s perspective is to control and dominate their subjects.  The relationship is vertical, hierarchical, unilateral and at times even dictatorial.

On the other hand, as relationships have evolved and women have grown stronger in the arrangement of power relations, women have helped transform this concept of power by exercising this in a manner that empowers her own subjects.  Power is shared rather than imposed.  In such a process of sharing, power becomes collective and transforms into a material positive force that can challenge  formidable obstacles that cut through economic, cultural and political behavior.

This conference, and the movement that animates it, contributes in concrete terms to the resolution of difficulties encountered by those coming from the Muslim tradition to come to terms with key modern ideas of pluralism, democracy and sustainable development – the ideas of the so-called secular world. Most of these difficulties are founded on the fear that religion has no place in a secularizing world. Thus, human rights in their modern form, are looked upon with much suspicion. Many would descry it  as an insidious tool of a crusading Western colonialism.

Looking at the work Noorus Salam is doing, I could confidently say that such fears are unfounded. Your discussions in the past few days attest to the proposition that human rights norms are not static but fluid, elastic and open to good ideas. You, the aleemat, have contributed quite significantly, and would surely contribute further, to the localization of human rights standards and principles, thus leading to a more grounded understanding of the roles of  state agencies as duty bearers and the minimum standards that should inform the behavior of all persons. In short, your work in Noorus Salam is changing human rights by adapting it to the requirements of building an enabling and lasting peace. As Musa again says,

“...the competing theological views of the divine and human, of good and evil, of individuality and community will inform and reform, will develop and deepen human rights...”

Let me offer therefore, my sincerest appreciation to Noorus Salam, its members and leadership, for paving the way for the broader human rights community of the Philippines and the region for the realization of human rights at the grassroots level. Thus, conflict resolution or the literal cessation of hostilities becomes both a process and an outcome, in terms of applying human rights standards and principles.

Noorus Salam's emergence as a network of Muslim women advocates for peace is a significant milestone in the continuing quest for peace and development in the Philippines . It is a most welcome development for the CHR as it works out an internal transformation to become the national comprehensive monitor. This kind of framework corresponds closely with what we in the Commission on Human Rights call our Roadmap for Human Rights.

Allow me to share a few points about our Roadmap –

First , it is an operational expression of our vision of comprehensive monitoring. This means that as a National Human Rights Institution, we would like to be able to monitor the state of compliance by the Philippine Government of its human rights obligations by looking at the means and level of fulfillment of human rights in accordance with international standards. In short, we want to be able to monitor as we investigate, and investigate as we monitor.

Second , it aims to strengthen CHR as a duty bearer, through a clearer understanding of its mandate, role, procedures, methodologies and linkages with other government agencies, civil society and the international community.

Third , it envisions an outcome where the national human rights infrastructure of the Philippines is strengthened, in recognition of the fact that the NHRI is just one of the many social institutions accountable for human rights. This would necessitate the enhancement of national and local frameworks for human rights protection and fulfillment.

Fourth , it seeks to nurture the formation of a strong culture of human rights. In other words, make human rights common sensical and practical. Human rights would, in this light, not only be mainstreamed in governance, but in all aspects of public and private life.

Working closely with you, the Commission on Human Rights would truly be able to immerse itself and in synergy with other duty bearers, in the whole development process and view development holistically. Thus, the aleemat has a direct role to play in helping the national human rights machinery determine for sure whether the Philippines has been respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights. This is the kind of grassroots, civil society work we are looking forward to engaging with. I nspired by your work, CHR , as the National Human Rights Institution, intends to commit all its resources – financial, technical, financial and intellectual – in support of this great effort.

I would like to close by expressing agreement with Prof. Khaled Abou El-fadl's thesis that human rights is the most formidable moral challenge confronting human rights in the modern age. This is not to say that human rights seek to displace religion in the hearts and minds of women and men. Rather, the challenge arises out of what Salbiah Ahmad identifies as the the political realities that have plagued Muslims – the hegemonic power of the West, the destruction of traditional institutions of authority and learning in most Muslim polities, colonialism, the persistence of highly despotic structures, Western hypocrisy in human rights and the rise and spread of supremacist exceptionalism in modern Islam.

Noorus Salam, by shedding light on the religious, political and social entanglements that fuel conflict, through the innovative use of gender as an analytical lens, deserves the full support of the human rights and peace constituencies.

Thank you very much and may God be with us all.