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In July 2005, a thousand peacebuilders gathered at a GPPAC civil society conference at the UN Headquarters in New York. They all felt that it was time to finally prioritise the prevention of violent conflict and to build a global peace movement. Together, we joined hands to launch People Building Peace: A Global Action Agenda for the Prevention of Violent Conflict.

A 15-member delegation conveyed Pacific priorities during regional consultations. They included Rev. Akuila D Yabaki, Noelene Nabulivou and Lillian Thaggard from Fiji, the late ‘Akilisi Pohiva and Ofa-ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki of Ton-ga, Judith Fagalasuu of SICA Commission, Solomon Islands, James Tanis of Bougainville, Bernie Lovegrove of ASPBAE and Reuben Kavoi of Peace Foundation Melanesia together with Carole Shaw, Dr Graham Hassall and Kieren McGovern and Bernard Choulai of UNDP Suva. At the time Jone Dakuvula, was the Regional Initiator for the Pacific region and the Citizens Constitutional Forum the secretariat.

In 2020 the COVID19 pandemic has brought greater complexity to the work of Pacific Peacebuilders already dealing with issues including the climate crisis, progressing conflict prevention and human security, including political security priorities for non-independent territories and regions.

A key priority for the GPPAC Pacific network is to continue to progress an inclusive conflict prevention and human security approach taking a peace, development and humanitarian nexus approach. A key priority for the GPPAC Pacific network is to support our communities adapt to the changes that are being felt in their homes and communities as well as communicate their recommendations for the response and recovery efforts. This includes addressing the prevention of violence, mobilising assistance to local communities, localising information and identifying solutions to ensure peace and security in homes and communities.

The GPPAC Pacific network is committed to deepen a collective understanding of peacebuilding and conflict prevention by supporting multi-stakeholder initiatives that continue to contribute to establishing a culture of nonviolence and prevention that will collectively promote Human Security, Inclusive Conflict Prevention and Climate action for Ecological Just’Peace.

What is needed is a new multi-actor consultative framework for regional peace and security that supports civil society representatives who can localize and operationalize Women, Youth and Civil Society Peacebuilding, Prevention and Participation frameworks. Women do not just need to be consulted, but supported to enhance our infrastructures for peace and security at local and national levels.

Members of GPPAC Pacific are the Pacific Conference of Churches, Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding, FemLINKpacific. The Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation, Talitha Project, Vois Blong Mere Solomons and the Vanuatu Young Women for Change. Since July 2019 Transcend Oceania has been the Regional Secretariat. The Regional Liaison Officer is Adivasu Levu and Sharon Bhagwan Rolls is the Regional Representative to the GPPAC International Steering Group.

Sustaining Peace – Women Lead

BOUGAINVILLE stands on the threshold of becoming the world’s newest nation after 98.3 per cent of the population voted for independence from Papua New Guinea.

While actual independence may take another five years, the referendum of December 2019 and the result of the vote guarantees a continued peace.

Wracked by civil war from 1988 to 1998, the resource-rich Melanesian Island east of PNG and north of the Solomon Islands was led to peace by its women.

For had the women not intervened, it is possible the men of Bougainville would never have laid down their weapons. And the death toll from the conflict could have far exceeded the 20,000 killed by war and disease.

Bougainville’s men – who will lead talks with the PNG government on the future of the island – are quick to acknowledge the critical role women played in the struggle for independence.

Martin Miriori was a member of the Bougainville Interim Government as the island descended into war. He said women helped end the war.

“Women’s groups played a critical role in negotiating for peace and bringing an end to Bougainville’s civil war in 2001,” said Miriori, a candidate for president in the island’s 2020 elections.

“They have the power; In our matrilineal society the women own the land, and they used that influence to bring about peace.’’

On Bougainville, women are allowed by custom to exercise control in trouble spots and their peace messages were heard by all sides during the conflict.

Men are believed to have a duty to protect the land on women’s behalf.

This gives women the ability to instruct men on different methods of protection.

“Coming together from across political, religious and regional lines, they mobilised to end the violence,’’ Miriori said.

“Through marches, petitions, vigils and mass meetings, women’s groups built and maintained the pressure required to chart a new way forward.’’

By 2001 the people of Bougainville had fought off a better equipped and organised PNG Defence Force. But now, fractions had emerged between the islanders.

At peace talks in Burnham Barracks, New Zealand, the women were forced to step in again.

“The mother – that’s how we made the breakthrough at Burnham,’’ Miriori recalled.

“Out of the 75 (delegates) who went, there were 20 women leaders, so they made the difference and because of the mothers begging their sons to make peace.”

Miriori said, however, that it was not enough for the women to merely achieve a peaceful outcome to the civil war.

“They are very instrumental in maintaining the peace and it’s important that they continue to be involved in the process post-referendum.

“That is part of an inclusive approach to negotiations the government is going to include women … they must be part of the negotiating team.’’

During the conflict, women carried peace baskets filled with essential supplies such as food and medicine into vulnerable communities.

These practical messages of peace supported by frequent radio messaging and broadcasts and prayer vigils encouraged solidarity and kindness.

Support for peace grew, as did the respect for women who, through leading figures like Josephine Kauona, were able to represent female voices and experiences at negotiations.

Former Deputy Speaker of Bougainville’s Parliament, Francesca Semoso, said peace would not have been possible without women who now have three reserved seats in the 33- seat legislature.

But Theonila Roka Matbob, Independent beat her rivals to take the non-reserved Ioro Open seat and take women’s representation in parliament to 12 per cent.

“Women were the backbone of the peace process – in the lead up to the referendum. I take my hats off to them for their perseverance. They provided that leadership, from traditional to cultural and government settings,” Semoso said.

As Bougainville prepares to take its next step, it is clear that the women will once more play a significant role.

That is the spirit of Bougainville’s women.

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