In 2014, Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer became the first female chief negotiator in the world to sign a final peace accord with a rebel group. Negotiatress, actually. The agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines marked the ending of 13 years of unsuccessful attempts at negotiation.
“When I was at the university in the late 1970s, the country was under martial law imposed by the Government of Ferdinand Marcos. I started to become politically active and after graduation, I worked in the underground activist movement. It was a dangerous time. I had friends who were killed; other activists were raped, tortured or detained.“
In 1986, a series of popular demonstrations under the name of “the People’s Power Revolution” took place in the Philippines. They opposed the violence and suspected election fraudulence of the military regime.
The demonstrations succeeded in the peaceful removal of Ferdinand Marcus, who had been president of the country since 1965. However, these peaceful demonstrations coincided with the activity of more militant and violent factions. One such faction was the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an armed group in Mindanao in the south of the country, which wanted to form an autonomous region of the Moro people.
Following years of bloodshed, the agreement signed in 2014 stated that the rebels would turn over their weapons to a jointly-selected third party. In return, a regional police force would be established in the new Muslim autonomous area, named “Bangsamoro”. At the same time, the Philippine army would draw down its own troops in the region.
Coronel- Ferrer, portrayed left, signs peace agreement to end 13 years of negotiations
The Path to Leadership
Prof. Coronel-Ferrer holds a B.A in Philosophy from the University of the Philippines and a master’s degree in Southeast Asian Studies from the University of Kent at Canterbury. As mentioned, she began her political activity years before she was appointed as a government representative on the peace panel.
“I joined academia and concentrated on peacebuilding and the peace process. This was how I eventually came to be asked by President Aquino to join the Government of the Philippine’s peace panel in 2010”.
Before her nomination, Coronel-Ferrer was already involved in a number of campaigns. She was the founding co-chair of the Non-State Actors Working Group of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (which won the Nobel Prize in 1997). She also co-led the drafting of the National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in the Philippines. This resolution highlighted the relation between women's matters of peace and security and demanded their participation in decision-making on these topics.
Today she teaches political science, is the author of multiple books on the subject and advises the United Nations on mediation.
Luck… and hard work
Female leaders play a special role in paving the path for other women to follow. This monumental agreement was also a landmark moment for women in the Philippines, since in a historical feat, three of the five signatories on the Government’s side of the peace deal were women.
Coronel-Ferrer describes her path as “lucky”, because she was fortunate to have the support of her husband and family. She had a “safe, supportive space” she says many women do not enjoy.
But it’s important not to forget her own hard work in getting where she did. Shining a light on the steps taken by female leaders is critical for their aspiring followers, and though humbleness and gratitude are important, so are recognition of the effort it takes to reach such great achievements.
Education, activism and support
A relevant education and years of political activism were key factors in Coronel-Ferrer’s path to peacebuilding. But with her words she emphasises another critical factor for the success of women:
“Women already play a great role in many peace-building initiatives, but their important work stays mostly behind the scenes. Recognising their work and giving it visibility is essential, as is giving them the opportunity to take leadership roles.”
Coronel-Ferrer vows to pursue this goal herself, and says her experience made her “determined to work towards ensuring more women are participating and leading international peace processes”.
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Founder of Negotiatress
Originally posted on November 22, 2020 by Negotiatress