South peace talks 'should involve women'

South peace talks 'should involve women'

International donors and state authorities need to stop merely supporting charitable activities for Malayu Muslim women in the deep South and start properly engaging them in the peace dialogue, it has been claimed.

Panellists at the launch of the "Strengthening the Role of Women Peacemakers" report argued that women's voices are being overlooked amid attempts to tackle insurgency in the region.

Shadia Marhaban, trainer and women's rights activist, said national and international donors should shy away from funding projects that support so-called "feminine" activities such as making handicrafts, but rather initiate training schemes that empower women to address political and social issues.

Ms Marhaban, a former peace talks negotiator with the Free Aceh Movement, said donors are too often reluctant to fund activities that could be viewed as political, but argued it is time for organisations to start supporting women onto courses teaching them about democracy, peace building and fund raising.

Ms Marhaban was among trainers who took part in the four-month-long "Capacity Building for Women in South Thailand" project, organised by the Justice for Peace Foundation (JPF) and supported by the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC).

She said that most of the women participating in the project said Merdeka, or independence, is the only way to protect and preserve their identity in the southernmost provinces, but they said they need practical and more immediate solutions to help deal with the current difficulties facing their communities, such as violence and socio-economic problems.

Marhaban called on authorities to do more to get women involved in political dialogue, so they can help find answers to the problems that affect their day-to-day lives.

A file photo of Angkhana Neelapaijit, chair of the Justice for Peace Foundation, which organised the four-month-long "Capacity Building for Women in South Thailand" project. (AFP photo)

Angkhana Neelapaijit, JPF chair, said those responsible for violence in the South have exploited women, adding that the authorities have been too slow to realise this, while religious leaders are reluctant to encourage the empowerment of women.

Ms Angkhana suggested that Islamic councils in the southernmost provinces should provide seats for women to help make decisions on cases relating to issues such as marriage, rape, inheritance and education.

She also called for clear policy measures to eliminate social and religious prejudice and foster leadership roles for women, and backed Ms Marhaban's assertion that women should participate in the ongoing peace talks in the South.

Masiyah Dengla, 53, head of Lohtu village in Pattani's Kapor District, said there has so far been little attempt to include women in designing strategic solutions to the issues affecting them on a daily basis.

"If integrated and included, women will help better resolve employment, drugs, education, and other health issues," said Ms Masiyah, who has been a village head for 22 years.

She called for stakeholders from local administrative organisations ans religious leaders to collaborate in addressing problems affecting women.

Nithima Lama, a teacher from Narathiwat's Rueso district, said action to tackle poor educational performance, protect teachers, and address poverty must be discussed as part of peace talks.

Naserah Jihhah, an Isra News Center reporter from Yala's Yaha district, added that too many women in the South still lack basic access to employment and education.

Many Muslim women are also without a safe space in which to speak about their own problems amid the backdrop of insurgency, said Ms Naserah.

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