Muslim Filipina bags top award in Austria for peace building | Global News

Muslim Filipina bags top award in Austria for peace building

By: - Business Features Editor / @philbizwatcher
/ 05:50 AM October 23, 2023

TRIUMPH IN VIENNA Amina Rasul-Bernardo, together with the organizers and other recipients of the Intercultural Achievement Award conferred by the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

TRIUMPH IN VIENNA | Amina Rasul-Bernardo, together with the organizers and other recipients of the Intercultural Achievement Award conferred by the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Amina Rasul-Bernardo vividly remembers with great sadness to this day how her hometown in Jolo was ravaged by a fierce clash between government troops and the Moro National Liberation Front in 1974. Her home was razed to the ground, as were those of her friends, neighbors, and relatives.

“Unlike the Marawi siege (in 2017), no institution came to our aid. No government agency offered assistance to rebuild our houses and livelihood,” said Rasul-Bernardo, president of the nonprofit Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, which is dedicated to the study of Islamic and democratic political thought and to the search for peace, democracy, and development of Muslim communities.


“We had to fend for ourselves and rebuild on our own. From that point, I did whatever I could to educate people about the reality of armed conflict. I guess that’s how I became a peace advocate,” she told the Inquirer in an email interview.


During the pandemic, all grassroots work ground to a halt. A close friend advised her to continue her advocacy via podcast. “Okay! But what’s a podcast?” was her initial reaction.

But she learned how and soon started “She Talks Peace” on Spotify, Apple, and Google Podcast in August 2021, envisioning a platform for peace education anchored on the United Nations Women, Peace and Security agenda.

The podcast aims to provide easily digestible content, bridging the gap between complex ideas and a broad audience. Her cohosts include Dina Zaman, cofounder of Malaysian think tank IMAN Research, and Ayesah Abubakar, professor at Albukhary International University.

Since then, the podcast has amplified the voices of women leaders from the Philippines, Yemen, Liberia, Indonesia, Cyprus, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and many other nations. Before she knew it, it attracted listeners across 100 countries.

READ: Young Filipina shines at One Young World for her call to peace

READ: UN honors Secretary Galvez for role in Bangsamoro peace process


READ: Malaysia vows continuing support for Mindanao peace, aid to Bangsamoro

New ground in dialogue

“She Talks Peace” recently caught the attention of the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. Rasul-Bernardo flew to Vienna to receive on Oct. 10 the Intercultural Achievement Award (IAA) from the Austrian Federal Ministry.

She is the only Asian to win this year the IAA, which honors successful and innovative civil society projects in the field of intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, both in Austria and on a global scale.

She is also the first Muslim Filipina to receive the IAA. The award shines the spotlight on those who identify and make use of opportunities that positively shape intercultural coexistence, and honors those who successfully break new ground in intercultural dialogue and promote the interaction of cultures and religions through their media presence.

The award took Rasul-Bernardo by surprise. After all, hers is an amateur’s podcast that does not generate ads and therefore does not have much of a budget for a professional production.

“It tells us that the podcast may be amateurish in terms of production but our growing audience have appreciated the content—the honest conversations,” said the daughter of former Sen. Santanina Rasul.

Meaningful conversations

For Rasul-Bernardo, each episode is special, because experts and practitioners air their advocacies, challenges, and realities.

“The world today is even more divided, more conflict-affected than before. A major reason is that we don’t seem to really talk to each other anymore, we don’t listen to each other. We know that an honest dialogue is a strong foundation for preventing conflict, even resolving it—that’s why we have peace processes,” she said.

The podcast “tries to have honest conversations about tough issues and situations—whether it is about Palestine or Myanmar, about gender and LGBTQ issues, discrimination of Muslims, human rights violations by the state,” she added. “We hope that educating our listeners on tough issues will help them understand and support our advocacy for peace, not war.”

The initial podcast in 2021 coincided with the anniversary of the formation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Her guests, former Foreign Secretary Delia Albert and Indonesian Ambassador Artauli Tobing, shared their stories about Asean and their thoughts on the feminist foreign policy in the region.

“Listening to the episodes is like listening in on a conversation among friends,” Rasul-Bernardo said.

One memorable episode had Sister Mary John Mananzan and professor Amilah Awang talking about the Virgin Mary/Maryam as a model for modern girls and women. She loved the discussion that framed the Virgin Mary as a strong woman who stood her ground, a model for the modern girl.

In a two-part episode, former Vice President Leni Robredo shared insights into the challenges of a woman in politics and what’s in store for her.

Women leaders

Several guests who work in conflict areas have also mentioned the high impact of investing in women’s livelihood and entrepreneurship.

“Muslim women, like most Filipino women, are entrepreneurial at heart. At the community level of Muslim Mindanao, where the impact of poverty and conflict are most felt, what we need to do is support the women who run or can run micro-cottage enterprises. If they succeed, women first support their families then invest earnings to grow their business,” Rasul-Bernardo said.

“Investment in these potential women entrepreneurs isn’t big but the ROI (return on investment) is high. What we need, at a minimum, are: access to capital, training in business management and financial literacy, perhaps training in technology which can help in marketing.”

Government commitments

Rasul-Bernardo said she would like the podcast to reach more people. “Our guests—from Indonesia to Nigeria, from the Philippines to Palestine, from Malaysia to Ukraine—have so much to share. Our listeners seem to appreciate the conversations, as shown by statistics,” she said.

Asked what else should be done to achieve lasting peace and economic prosperity in Muslim Mindanao, Rasul-Bernardo said the government would have to step up to its commitments to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro as well as its commitments to indigenous peoples and women and children in conflict-affected communities.

“The rehabilitation of Marawi is a case in point. It has been six years and the structures that have been built are mostly government buildings. Not a single home has been rebuilt. No family has returned to ground zero. The Marawi Compensation Board has finally been organized but the budget it has to provide funds to rebuild is grossly inadequate,” she said.

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“If government does not step up, anger will continue to build and I worry that another generation of angry young men and women will turn away from peaceful, democratic pursuits of their rights.”

TAGS: Amina Rasul-Bernardo, Intercultural Achievement Award, Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy

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