From her office in Zamboanga City, Minority Floor Leader Atty. MP Laisa Alamia joined young, promising women leaders as a panelist via Zoom during the Bangsamoro NextGen Young Women Leaders Training held on Feb 18 2022, Friday, in Davao City. 

The event is led by the Bangsamoro Youth Commission (BYC) and the Bangsamoro Women’s Commission, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The UNDP is currently implementing a project on integrating the women, peace and security

agenda into peacebuilding efforts in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). This includes promoting women empowerment as part of strengthening community resilience and peacebuilding.

The said project also seeks to support the Bangsamoro Women Commission (BWC) in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Bangsamoro Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (RAPWPS), while also working with the with the Bangsamoro Youth Commission (BYC), specifically on enhancing the role of youth in peacebuilding and conflict prevention in the forthcoming Regional Action Plan on Youth, Peace and Security (RAPYPS).

Viewing the world through various lenses

“I wear different hats and view the world through different lenses,” MP Alamia said as she shared her experiences as a changemaker in the Bangsamoro region. 

These lenses, according to her, were derived from her experiences as lawyer, nurse, and mother, as a Muslim and Moro woman who takes on various roles as a civil servant, political leader, advocate, and entrepreneur. All of this shaped her and the paradigm she uses to make sense of the world and the social problems that persist in it.

“When there is a social problem, I use these lenses and derive different points of view based on my various experiences,” she said. These have helped her view the world against paradigms that have guided the work and initiatives she has done, as well as the ways she has effected change as a leader.

According to MP Alamia, the paradigm she subscribes to incorporates the knowledge and experiences she has acquired through the years. This includes her memories as an internally displaced person in the late 1970s because of the Tictapul Massacre, and as an election lawyer who handled election cases in a far flung municipality in the island provinces. She shared how she was threatened as she stood up against election fraud while she was seven months pregnant.

“I realized that when push comes to shove,” she said, “ it is during the difficult and challenging times where what you’re made of will really come out.” 

Not easy being a woman leader

In the years that followed, MP Alamia said that she experienced “threats and death threats,” and bullying both online and offline, especially against her work as a public servant and government official. However, she said that these were nothing compared to what she has already experienced during the past.

“All of my experiences have strengthened me,” she said.

She also shared how she was discriminated against and had to face prejudices because she was a woman. “When I served in high government positions, I definitely experienced this,” she said, “being the first and only woman executive secretary in the ARMM” and as one of a handful of women members of parliament in the BARMM.

“It is not easy to be a woman leader,” MP Alamia shared. “I experienced how it is to be downplayed, to be dismissed, to be excluded from political conversations and decision making spaces. I had to assert myself.” 

“It is not easy to work from the lowest ranks of government and you try to work your way up, but it’s not because women are not capable,” she said. According to her, there are many women who are capable and have the potential to be very good leaders, “but the intersecting layers of discrimination that comes with being a woman, a Muslim, and a Moro “ that makes it particularly challenging. 

“It’s all the discrimination you experience not only within your community, but especially outside of it. Especially if we go out of the BARMM,” she said.

The heaviest responsibility

“Being a Bangsamoro woman leader is perhaps the heaviest responsibility I carry now,” MP Alamia candidly shared. “I currently belong to an 80-member body appointed as interim government of the BARMM known as the BTA. I’m the minority floor leader in a parliament that is a product of the GPH-MILF peace process and years of struggle and reconciliation efforts.”

“In all of this, where are the women?” she asked the participants. “In the transition and the challenges that the region faces? Nasaan tayo?”

In the BTA Parliament, there are only 13 women, despite women making up half of the region’s population. Despite this gap in representation, “women are not simply just there,” she noted, since many women play vital roles in families and communities. “Even as a wife and mother, women play a vital, productive role that isn’t even paid but it is one that women do 24/7,” she pointed out.

“So many women bear the brunt of poverty and crisis, and we see this in every country where wars are happening.”

Women leaders as changemakers

The gender gap in rights and freedoms in the BARMM is why MP Alamia has proposed a number of legislation that uplifts women, including the IDP Rights Bill, a Women’s Caucus Bill, and a legislative package with four bills that zeroes in on issues related to transitional justice and reconciliation. She has also proposed policy recommendations that uplift women and children throughout her years in government, many of  them carried out by the agencies and organizations she has worked with.

However, there is much work to be done, she reminded the participants. 

“The lenses and paradigms affect the types of questions we ask when we are trying to make sense of the world around us. Anything you are going to do, wherever you are right now, all of this can be affected by the paradigms you work with and your own moral compass – the principles you hold in your mind and in your heart,” MP Alamia shared.

“I would like you to find your own lenses as changemakers. We have the same goals and objectives, and we see that there is something wrong in our society. As women and women leaders, we want these to change for the better,” she said.

“You cannot do this alone,” MP Alamia emphasized. “If you want to affect change, you have to participate. You have to take part.”