In the Philippines, as in many other countries, disability discrimination is entrenched and reinforced through superstition and misconceptions. Stigma can keep persons with disabilities at home and out of leadership positions. Fear of negative attitudes initially prevented Norhanie engaging with her community, and she explains that some people saw her as ‘cursed’: “When we don’t understand the value or importance of someone or something, it’s easy to dismiss it [or them]”.
Norhanie became involved in community peacebuilding after attending a meeting with Conciliation Resources' partners, UNYPAD. Being invited to the UNYPAD gathering was a catalyst that helped Norhanie address her fears; she realised the importance of including persons with disabilities in conflict management processes, and she also recognised she had a lot to contribute. She now works with a Community Safety Working Group following training from Conciliation Resources, and is the Women’s Affairs Committee head of the local UNYPAD chapter, as well as the focal person for persons with disabilities in her municipality.
Her innovative work supporting women peacebuilders and linking excluded indigenous and religious communities to security sector reform across Mindanao has been made possible by her own experiences when faced with inaccessible venues with stairs, a lack of understanding of her needs, and fear of discrimination and other forms of violence. Norhanie’s visible participation in peacebuilding and her leadership roles have shifted attitudes in her community – there is more acceptance of her needs and they have increased their efforts to make the physical environment more accessible. She believes that including persons with disabilities in peace processes is a strategy to address harmful norms and discriminatory attitudes.