Irene Santiago

  • Country / Conflict-Affected Area:
  • Position: Chair Emerita and CEO
  • Organization: Mindanao Commission on Women
  • Expertise: Civil Society

Irene Santiago

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In 2005, Irene M. Santiago was one of the 1000 women nominated as a group for the Nobel Peace Prize. Chair Emerita and CEO of the Mindanao Commission on Women, and convener of the national Mothers for Peace movement, she is well known internationally as a strong advocate of gender equality to transform society. She says, “Power is not a bad word; it’s the potency to act for what is good. The women’s movement taught me one thing: in the beginning was the word. If you can name it, you can have it!”

Ms. Santiago is one of the few women in the world with personal experience in formal peace negotiations, having served from 2001-2004 on the government panel negotiating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). She brought to the negotiations three decades of experience working with Muslims, especially women, in Mindanao (the second-largest island in the Philippines), as well as varied experiences within the UN system and with non-governmental organizations. She served as UNIFEM’s Chief of the Asia/Pacific Section and, in 1995, was executive director of the highly successful NGO Forum on Women in China. As the parallel civil society event to the UN Fourth World Conference on Women, the Forum is remembered for its impact on issues that confronted women at the end of the last century and continue to confront them in this new one. With 30,000 participants, it was the largest international conference on women in history.

With the Mindanao Commission on Women, Ms. Santiago works with others to ensure that gender issues are incorporated into the overall peace process. She initiated the Women’s Peace Table, which forms groups all over the country to facilitate public participation in the achievement of peace. She also began a Women’s Peace Fund immediately after the signing of the Framework Agreement by the government and the MILF in October 2012. This fund, financed largely from private contributions, puts money in the hands of women so that families and communities feel a “peace dividend” quickly, to avoid a relapse into violence. Mothers for Peace, a grassroots movement she initiated, organizes peace circles throughout Mindanao to promote conflict prevention and resolution. From 2006 to 2008, she served as senior adviser to the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

Ms. Santiago has been a regular resource person on gender and peace since 2006 at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. She is also a board member of CoRe (Conflict Resolution Group), an NGO involved in mediation training, and she is in the initial stages of organizing an international campaign and conference on women, peace, and security to be held in 2015, the 20th anniversary year of the landmark Beijing Conference.

Among her many honors was the 2013 N-Peace Award as Role Model for Peace from the Philippines. For her work with Muslim women, she was honored as an adopted daughter of the Islamic City of Marawi and received the royal title of “Bai Romapenet” (Princess of Hope and Solidarity) from the 28 Royal Houses of Lanao, in Mindanao.

Ms. Santiago holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University where she was a Fulbright Scholar. She received her undergraduate liberal arts degree from the Philippine Women’s College of Davao.

Last Updated: October 2015