04/09/2014, 00.00
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Poso, Christian and Muslim women unite for peace in Sulawesi

by Mathias Hariyadi
Over 450 women to part in the Poso Women Conference in March. Mostly simple uneducated people, but willing to rebuild a peaceful coexistence in an area long plagued by conflict. They aim to promote greater political, social , civic and economic participation of women on a local and national level.

Jakarta (AsiaNews ) - Ordinary women, the vast majority with a basic education from rural backgrounds but with a great desire to boost civic awareness, justice and the pursuit of peace in an area long plagued by sectarian violence held at bay by a fragile truce . These were the participants in the recent Poso Women Conference, held March 25 to 27 in the port city of Central Sulawesi in Indonesia , the most populous Muslim nation in the world where Catholics are a small minority (around 3% ) . Over 450 women from 70 villages scattered throughout  14 sub- districts in the regency of Poso took part in the initiative, the first mass rally since the signing of the armistice between the two Islamic- Christian sides.

Interviewed by AsiaNews Lilan Gogali, one of the organizers and a member of the NGO Mosintuwu Institute, emphasizes the presence of many "ordinary" women, whom came from villages scattered in remote areas.  Some of them left their homes "for the first time" to be present. Few of them have had the opportunity to study. Ahead of the meeting the activist traveled and met a thousand women of the indigenous population, to drum up interest and participation.

This helped her to learn a lot "about the local women in Poso and to inform them of our initiative". The goal was to spread the spirit of pluralism and strengthen moral, in a multi-cultural and interfaith context.

During the Poso Women Conference several issues were addressed, including: civil rights for women; the protection of women and children; political participation for women; their role in the preservation of the values ​​and identity; their contribution to economic development and solidarity and peace building.

The initiative was motivated by the continual outbreaks of sectarian tension between Christians and Muslims in Sulawesi, powered by a climate of mistrust between the two communities and the recurrence of incidents that heighten tensions. Gunfights and shootings still occur at regular intervals, culminating in the death of innocent victims on both sides (Christians and Muslims). The purpose of the conference, Lilan Gogali concludes, is to inform the highest authorities of the local realities, through the Women's Rights Commission (Komnas Perempuan) in Poso and in central Sulawesi, as well as the institutional spheres in Jakarta.

Between 1997 and 2001, Christians and Muslims were involved in a violent conflict on Sulawesi Island and neighbouring Maluku Islands. Thousands of people died and hundreds of churches and mosques were destroyed. Thousands of homes were also razed. About half a million people found themselves homeless, 25,000 in Poso alone.On 20 December 2001, the two sides reached a truce that was signed in Malino, South Sulawesi, following a peace initiative by the government. The local population is evenly split between Christians and Muslims.Despite the peace deal, terrorist incidents continued on and leaving a trail of innocent victims. One of the most horrific cases, which caused indignation around the world, was the beheading by Muslim extremists in October 2005 of three Christian girls on their way to school.


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