Solutions to Violent Conflict

Interfaith Women’s Peacemaking in Indonesia

In Peace, Religion and Conflict on October 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Sumanto Al Qurtuby

In 1999, in response to bloody communal violence that broke out in eastern Indonesia, a handful of Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim women leaders and activists established the interfaith alliance Gerakan Perempuan Peduli, the Concerned Women’s Movement (GPP). Based in Ambon, the provincial capital of Maluku and the site of the most severe violence between Christians and Muslims, the group was one of the earliest interreligious civil society associations that initiated meetings and activities across religious boundaries to quell conflict and pursue peace in the conflict zone.

The idea to establish GPP came first from Catholic nuns, notably Sisters Francesco Moens PBHK, Brigita Renyaan, and Getruda Yamlean. The idea was supported by the Catholic vice governor of Maluku, Paula Renyaan. In subsequent clandestine meetings, the members discussed strategies and tactics to build peaceful campaigns and a nonviolent movement.

As the conflict raged over the next five years, the group engaged in various methods of peacebuilding and nonviolent action, ranging from street marches, mass mobilizations, civic education, anti-violence trainings, and peace sermons, to art performances, storytelling, and interreligious gatherings. They appealed with some success to their husbands and sons not to be involved in fighting. They worked together on information campaigns, trauma counseling, and training workshops for mothers and youth, in the hope reaching those particularly vulnerable to provocation.

As the conflict raged, the women’s group engaged in peacebuilding and nonviolent action, from street marches to interreligious gatherings to training workshops.

During the violence, Christian fighters wore red headbands while Muslim jihadists used white ones. The GPP activists wore and distributed green headbands with the writing “Stop Violence” as a sort of cultural resistance against those wearing the red and white headbands. After mobilizing large numbers of citizens to wear the “Stop Violence” headbands, GPP initiated a draft manifesto titled “Conscience of Women.” The draft called for government authorities to stop the violence and for Christians and Muslims to reconcile. The draft warned of decreasing food supplies as an effect of the conflict and underlined that violence threatened their children’s future by damaging school facilities.

The petition was approved and signed by a variety of members ranging from petty traders to religious leaders and high-ranking bureaucrats. Women peace activists marched to the provincial government office to read and submit the “Conscience of Women” to the governor of Maluku. The Maluku government adopted the points, including the call for the government and authorities to stop violence and rebuild brotherhood, which later became the embryo of the government-sponsored peace accord.

FORMING AMBASSADORS OF PEACE

GPP members also held secret meetings with child soldiers of militia groups. The women activists persistently approached the children to persuade them to stop fighting. Some of the militia members eventually responded and became “ambassadors of peace,” actively lobbying among their peers.

By bridging gaps between Christians and Muslims and engaging militia members in a series of informal meetings, the GPP influenced Maluku’s male leaders to bring local fighters into clandestine meetings that supported the eventual peace accord and reconciliation. Driven by the GPP’s success in facilitating intergroup cooperation, the government used the group’s models to sponsor interreligious peacebuilding initiatives involving selected members of Christian and Muslim militia groups and religious leaders.

Peace messengers played a key role in preventing the escalation of communal violence in the region.

The government also appointed two key GPP members to be delegates in the government-sponsored Malino II Peace Treaty. Elite members of the GPP were among those who composed the terms of the agreement that was signed in February 2002.

After the Treaty, women’s groups continued peacebuilding activities and sponsored hundreds of workshops that helped to recruit thousands of peacebuilders across the Moluccan islands, local peace messengers who played a key role in preventing the escalation of communal violence in the region.

A SUCCESS STORY

The GPP had a tremendous impact on ending violence in Ambon and was one of Maluku’s successful stories of interreligious collaboration. Its legacy can still be witnessed in today’s Ambon. Although the GPP no longer exists, activities to promote interreligious reunification and conflict prevention in post-war Ambon persist, led by two women’s organizations that are the offshoots of GPP: Genuine Ambassadors for Peace (GAP) and Young Ambassadors for Peace (YAP).

“We believe,” GPP co-founder Dr. Etha Hendriks said, “that our activities were able to create public awareness about the significance and beauty of peace and togetherness.” Their work continues.

Sumanto Al Qurtuby, a cultural anthropologist, is a visiting research fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.