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Weaving peace: the women's narratives.

I used to think the only solution to conflict was resorting to violence But after having this caring space I learned justice could be done by peaceful means.

(A young woman from the south)

Background:

For nearly two years people in the three southern provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, and Pattani have been living in threat and uncertainty after the occurrence of several violent riots. "'The situation in the southern provinces has resulted in over 500 dead, nearly half of whom were killed through excessive force by security forces" (2). Due to their different religion, culture and language, Thai-Muslim people are at the fringe of Thai society and are deprived of enjoying their rights as Thai citizens to have their own religion, language and schools. The violence was caused by a culmination of internalized conflict in the affected provinces between state authorities and the socially and politically excluded Thai-Muslim people. Those killed include policemen, soldiers, officials, protestors and civilians. The violent conflict has divided the Muslim community into "good" (on the side of the state), and the "bad" (the trouble makers--"insurgents").

The Impact of Violence on Women:

Violence against women, according to the 1993 U.N. Declaration for the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women, includes the physical, psychological and sexual violence that occurs in the family, in the community and the violence perpetrated or condoned by the state. The increasing conflict and violence, though not directly targeting women has vastly affected women's physical and psychological well being. It is, according to this declaration, the state's responsibility to take all steps possible to stop the violence. Yet immediately following the violence, disparate compensation was given to the affected women, depending on which side they belonged to, which served to add fuel to the conflict. While the wives of state officials were ensured of compensation and security for their children, those of the "insurgent" side struggled with meager income to feed their family members, having lost their livelihood providers. For women whose cultural role keeps them in the realm of family and home, being plunged into the role of provider was terrifying. Seeing women from the "state" side receive more compensation was salt on the wounds of the "insurgency" wives. The divide was deepened.

Women for Peace Network:

The Women's Network for Peace, coordinated by the Foundation for Women, initiated the "weaving peace to lives in the southern communities" project. The objective was to bring together the women who were suffering so terribly from the violent conflict, and work towards a peaceful solution. The Peace Network provided relief and recovery assistance to families whose father or husband was one of the many massacred in the violence--families from both the "state" side and the "insurgent" side.

The first healing process involved sixty women who lost male members of their families. Three initial two-day meetings were organized for 20 women from each province.

The women from Narathiwat Province were mostly wives of government officials. The majority of those from Yala and Pattani Provinces were mothers and wives of the "insurgents", and lived in the troubled villages where soldiers now patrolled day and night. Each group participated in similar activities which revolved around sharing their trauma. Because of the deep trauma the women had suffered, a face to face meeting between the two sides was not possible in the first stage of awakening from grief.

A glimmer of hope was the Thai Government's decision to appoint a culturally diverse panel of experts to create the National Reconciliation Commission. The role of the commission is to be an independent body to develop recommendations to the government. Now some structural steps towards peace could be made.

The Women's Network for Peace organized two more separate meetings at the request of the women. At one of the meetings childcare teachers and youths produced a learning kit for children on conflict solution and peaceful coexistence. Together they explored the current situation in their villages, and learned different methods of teaching conflict resolution to affected children; children who were growing up immersed in conflict and hate. In the arena where these Muslim women have such a wealth of expertise--the development of human beings--women from the warring sides were able to make some of the first steps towards peace together when developing peace strategies to tackle the brooding war in the playground. They also united their voices in the development of the first appeal for peace to the National Reconciliation Commission.

Women and children from both sides finally met face to face at a three day meeting in Bangkok. Here they came to the conclusion that both sides were losers and the best approach was to work together towards peace. Together they produced a booklet using their own stories and pictures. A member of the NRC shared information on the newly established compensation policy for families of both sides. Most of the women were satisfied that the assistance was indiscriminate between the two groups, even though it was meager. Resentment receded, and the second appeal for peace was developed.

Before returning to their own villages, the women requested to visit a famous beach together. Healing mothers from both sides, covered with veils, carried children in their arms to catch the foam of the waves that lingered on the long beach. The laughter of mothers and children was at least for us a reflection of the grief subsiding.

Learning the Lessons:

As the affected women and children shared their stories with us, it became clear that the violence in the southern provinces has had a structural cause in the systematic deprivation, discrimination and the denial of human rights which angered the poorer group in the Muslim community. While we addressed and responded to the different levels of women's psychosocial problems as a result of the conflict, it was connecting women to the structural efforts for peace and reconciliation that provided the fabric for the weaving of peace.

The self-representation of the distressed women and youth in public forums, and meeting with responsible agencies created dialogue which can now inform policy based on principles of nondiscrimination. FFW believes that these new national mechanisms and the rectification of unjust compensation policies are good practice for the way forward. We believe that the final stage of the process should allow women, particularly the most deprived ones, to reclaim their rights and dignity. In order for peace to be restored, the structural elements, including discrimination and human rights violations that the marginalized groups hitherto have encountered must be completely removed. Sustainable peace cannot be attained if affected groups still feel and witness the injustice from the system.

I was told that my children would get scholarships until they finish their University studies. And they will be accepted to work in the police force.

(Wife of a policeman in Narathiwat Province)

Everyday I think how can I take care of my family? Will all my children finish their school? What can I do with the debt? Sometimes I would like to kill myself but that is against Allah's teaching.

(Mother from Mae Lan, Pattani Province)

Whenever I pass that place I tell my son--remember always this spot where your father was shot dead. I don't know why I do this, possibly deep inside I want him to seek revenge for his father.

(A police wife)

The First Appeal for Peace handed to the National Reconciliation Committee

1. Stop all actions which divide and discriminate against people living in the three southern provinces, as this inhibits peaceful reintegration.

2. Promote reconciliation by withdrawing or limiting military troops initiated by the Prime Minister. Military action creates tension and threat, encouraging children to legitimize the use of force in solving conflicts.

3. Encourage and support the work of daycare teachers who have significant roles in caring for and protecting children. They should have the same protection, security in their workplace and social benefits as those in other professions working in the troubled areas.

The Second Appeal for Peace handed to the National Reconciliation Committee

1. Promote the participation of civil society and community in solving problems, prevent arbitrary arrest, and coordinate assistance to the victims of violence.

2. Provide indiscriminate and adequate support to families who lost their members and ensure the support reaches them in due time.

3. Inform the public about the available forms of assistance and remedy, and set up a mechanism to monitor the assistance and hear the problems of people in the south.

4. Exempt families who lost their main income earner in the violent incidences from debt repayments to the Agriculture and Cooperative Bank.

5. Be flexible with the periodic shifting of military personnel by extending the stay of soldiers who have good rapport with the community.

(2) Source: Summary: Thailand Country Report on Human Rights 2004. U.S Department of State, Embassy of the United States of America, Bangkok. Released 1 March 2005

Siriporn Skrobanek as part of the Weaving Peace to Life in Southern Communities Project
COPYRIGHT 2006 Foundation for Women
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Skrobanek, Siriporn
Publication:Voices of Thai Women
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:1497
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