Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020: The Urgent Need for Gender-Sensitive Counterterrorism Measures in the Philippines

by Mary Ysabelle Samantha A. Chikiamco*

8 July 2020

Law enforcement authorities stereotypically portray terrorist fighters as weapons-carrying men who are always on the frontlines. They regard women, on the other hand, as passive members, blind supporters, or unfortunate victims of terrorist organizations who are always on the sidelines.

This mindset is sadly reinforcing gender-biased counterterrorism policies that utterly neglect women’s experiences, roles, and difficulties in acts of terrorism and other factors behind their engagement or participation in terrorist activities.

Current government policies also perpetuate gender insensitive ideas that always picture men as main targets of terrorist groups and that men are the main actors of violent extremism. This lack of gender sensitivity perpetuates prejudiced government approaches, efforts, and strategies in preventing and countering terrorism.

With terrorist threats and attacks intensifying within the Philippine territory, specifically in Mindanao, it is necessary to enhance our counterterrorism measures that addresses all challenges that terrorism poses to both women and men.

Focusing on the gendered effects of terrorism means recognizing and understanding that individuals are not equally capable of recovering from violent attacks and are not equally at risk. Both men and women have served in several positions in terrorist groups. Because women are less likely to stir up suspicion, our policies have not been built to recognize or acknowledge their involvement or motivations in terrorist activities.

Sadly, the counterterrorism laws and policies that the Philippine government has enacted over the past years have not been sensitive to the needs, experiences, roles, and rights of women.

For instance, the Human Security Act of 2007 describes women as being under the most vulnerable groups needing the utmost protection.  The Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020, which repeals the Human Security Act of 2007, reiterates and even reproduces this traditional and stereotypical portrayal of women in Philippine counterterrorism measures. It is also disappointing to note that in the new anti-terrorism law, the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women is not included in the identified support agencies of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), the main office in charge of implementing government policies in counterterrorism.

Apparently, existing counterterrorism measures have failed to deeply recognize the complex gender dynamics of terrorism, which regards women as capable players to be directly engaged in terrorist activities. The Jolo Cathedral suicide bombing on 27 January 2019 and the Indanan suicide bombing on 8 September 2019 were just examples of many cases proving women’s capabilities to also engage in various acts of terrorism identified in the new Philippine Anti-Terrorism Law.

When Philippine policies and legislations recognize the diversities of women’s roles in terrorism, it will open innovative doors to pursue gender-sensitive measures in counterterrorism. Pursuing counterterrorism laws and measures with gender perspectives can become an important starting point in addressing the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism.

However, we should also go beyond the analysis of texts in the current policies and measures because decision-making, leadership, empowerment, and participation of women are also significant key components.

There is evidently still a huge gap between the decision-making powers of men compared to that of women, thereby generating decisions and policies based predominantly on men’s perspective. This gap is seen in how differently men perceive the challenges and experiences of women and how the direction and framework we are building are the complete opposite of how women experience and see things.

Hence, promoting the active participation of women in decision-making regarding security measures and counterterrorism efforts would allow for essential feedbacks to generate deeper and more compendious gender analysis regarding our current laws and policies on counterterrorism.

It is critical that women engage in the development of counterterrorism frameworks to guarantee that their views and perspectives are taken into account and their contributions and efforts are given utmost attention if not priority.

Women’s reasons, experiences, challenges, and needs concerning terrorism and extremism are equally significant to that of men. Threats of terrorism and challenges of violent extremism would be better understood and addressed by looking at the standpoint of both genders.

More importantly, recognizing that women’s roles are multifaceted can allow advances in women’s positions and participation that can increase the probability of success and effectiveness in counterterrorism.

Over the past years, the Philippines has convicted terrorists, prevented terrorist attacks, responded through military interventions, and introduced protective measures to mitigate and counter violent extremism and terrorism. However, the slow and limited results of success and effectiveness in the country’s counterterrorism measures may be due to the gender imbalances and gaps within the context of counterterrorism policy frameworks and strategies.

Therefore, including women in the conversation and decision-making process would empower them and give them an equal opportunity to contribute to creating a clearer lens for ensuring that gender issues in preventing and countering terrorism are systematically identified.

But, for this implementation to become possible and more effective, the Philippines’ counterterrorism efforts should also go beyond military strategies and move towards gender-sensitive security measures that focus on human welfares, rights, aspirations, and roles of both perpetrators and victims of terrorism.

To broadly understand how diverse sexual orientation or gender identity can operate within the sphere of counterterrorism in the Philippines, policy-makers, political and security analysts, and leaders need to open its doors to changes in its policies and efforts in order to build comprehensive frameworks that incorporate gender perspectives and narratives. Counterterrorism laws, policies, and measures must become more sensitive to the capacities, needs, and roles of both men and women in order to remove all gender-stereotypes and the over-representation of just one gender.

The empowerment of women and the promotion of gender equality are corrective measures to perennial threats of violent extremism and terrorism. Thus, aside from reviewing or revising the provisions of Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 in order to make it more gender-sensitive including the eventual implementation of its planned rules and regulations guided by the rule of law, the Department of Justice and the ATC should also bear in mind that gender truly matters in counterterrorism.

* The author is a senior student taking up BA International Studies at Miriam College, the Philippines.  She wrote this piece as part of her internship requirements at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR).

This is piece is also published in Eurasia Review and FBI Reform.

Photo Credit: Cici Rezky Fantasy Rullie, said to be around 18, is believed to be the daughter of the Indonesian couple who bombed Jolo Cathedral in January 2019. Cici is seen here engaging in a shootout with the military. Image courtesy of Rappler-sourced video screengrab. Philippines, 2019. Source: Women of the Eastern Caliphate Part 1: Hiding in Plain Sight by Anna Santos and Nikki Dizon. Read more.

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