Reflections on International Women’s Day

Throughout the twentieth century, women’s day has been associated with the call for human rights (especially labor rights and women’s rights) and opposition to war.  It was first celebrated globally on March 8th, 1975, in tandem with the first UN global conference in Mexico in 1975, and then became institutionalized by a UN resolution in 1977.  The world unites today to acknowledge the progress women have made in securing greater political and economic rights, and to consider how each of us might further equal rights and opportunities for women. (See “The Journey of Women’s Rights, 1911-2011”, and check out Hilary Clinton’s impassioned pronouncement that “women’s rights are human rights”!)

From Colombia, some women are calling for the government to make good on its commitments to gender equity by giving women a place at the peace table in Havana. It is hard to understand why women are not there in the first place.

1. Women’s Inclusion Strengthens Conflict Transformation

Peace agreements provide the architecture for transforming inequities and power imbalances and create mechanisms for resolving conflicts without violence. Bringing in women and gender sensitivity can advance gender equity, but perhaps as important, can produce agreements that create a more inclusive and sustainable peace.  Women are often the least vested in and the most harmed by existing power structures.  They are well positioned to propose practical solutions and to ensure that agreements do not inadvertently perpetuate structural inequities and patterns of discrimination.  While the norm has been to exclude women from negotiating teams, they have sometimes broadened discussions about victims’ needs, social justice, and security sector reforms in places like Northern Ireland, South Africa, Liberia, Guatemala, and Philippines.

An interesting study done by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, “From Clause to Effect: Including Women’s Rights and Gender in Peace Agreements” (December 2012) reviews six peace agreements in Asia and offers suggestions on how peace accord language might contribute to greater post-accord equality for women.  It looks particularly at clauses related to power-sharing, resource-sharing, security arrangements, access to justice, and monitoring mechanisms, and is particularly attuned to the way language in peace agreements can shape exclusionary practices.

2.  Colombia’s National Norms Underscore Gender Equality

Colombian legislation, executive decrees, and legal jurisprudence are unequivocal in protecting women from discrimination, promoting their human rights and, in more recent years, upholding their critical role in peacemaking and peacebuilding.  These concepts are explicit in the Colombian Constitution (1991); as well as the more recent Public Policy for Gender Equity/Política Pública para la Equidad de las Mujeres (2012); Interior Ministry Resolution 0805 (2012) and Decree 4912 (2011) requiring a gendered protocol for violence prevention and protection, and guaranteeing preferential treatment for women at risk; and Law 1448/Victims and Land Restitution Law (2011) giving women preferential access to reparation and their rights to restitution. The Constitutional Court Order 092 (2008) called on the State to undertake preventive and protective measures against the particular risks to which women have been subject during Colombia’s internal armed conflict.

3.  International Commitments Affirm Women’s Roles for Peace

Colombia has reiterated its global commitments time and again to protect and promote women’s rights in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the 1993 Vienna Declaration on Human Rights, the legally binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the Beijing Platform for Action (among others).

When Colombia signed UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008), 1888 and 1889 (2009), and 1960 (2010), it recognized the differential impact of conflict on women and men, accepted the understanding that violence against women is a threat to international peace and security and that women’s exclusion damages peace and security.  In UNSCR 1325, it reiterated its commitment to “increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict.”

Furthermore, Colombia is a signatory to regional instruments as well, including the Organization of American States’s Declaration on Hemispheric Security (2003), which calls for the participation of women in peace processes; and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women “Convention of Belém do Pará” (1984).

4.  Colombian Women are Practiced Peacemakers

Finally, Colombia has many talented women who have been leading the fight for peace and human rights for years and have a wealth of ideas and talents to contribute.  From distinct institutional vantage points and perspectives, these women include the likes of Piedad Córdoba, Patricia Buriticá, Clemencia Carabalí, Francia Márquez, Ana Teresa Bernal, Jineth Bedoya, Paola Gaviria, María Victoria Uribe, Gloría Inés Ramirez, Gloría Flores, Angela María Robledo, Jenny Neme, Norma Inés Bernal, María Emma Wills, Rosa Emilia Salamanca, Alma Viviana Perez, Cecilia Ramirez, Luz Piedad Caicedo, Esperanza Hernandez Delgado, Marina Gallego, Zoraida Castillo, Olga Ramirez, Monica Roa, Angelica Rettberg, Luz Marina Becerro, Luz Mery Venegas, Ana Isabel Arenas, Pilar Gaitán, Pilar Riano, Marta Nubia, Gloria Tobón Olarte; Lorena Morales, Luz Estella Romero Villalba, Patricia Guerrero, Marta Quintero, Adalgiza Charria, and so very many others.

Great New Films on Colombian Women Peacemakers

A number of great film resources are out that highlight some of Colombia’s peace heroines.  Learn about women’s inspiring struggles for peace around the globe by watching the PBS series on “Women, War and Peace.” (Download from the PBS website by clicking here.)  The Colombia segment (click here) features Francia Marquez and Clemencia Carabalí in their inspiring struggle to protect their community from displacement by gold-mining entrepreneurs in the Cauca region.  Last November, we held a film event with producer Oriana Zill, Lorena Morales from Asociación Colectivo Mujeres al Derecho, Kathleen Kuehnast (USIP) and yours truly.  Hear our discussion by clicking  here.

Monday at the Teatro Gala

For those in the DC area, come celebrate International Women’s Day on Monday, March 11 at the Gala Theatre for a showing of Nicole Karsin’s amazing new film, We Women Warriors (Tejiendo Saberes). (For details and a trailer, click here.)  Join Nicole and long-time friends of Colombia Lisa Haugaard of the Latin American Working Group Education Fund, Gimena Sanchez from the Washington Office on Latin America, and yours truly.  The film is a beautiful tribute to three indigenous women dedicated to ending violence in their communities and their country. Hope to see you there! If you can’t attend, see about having your library or school or book group get a copy.

How will you celebrate women peacemakers?

About Ginny Bouvier

Love reading, writing, thinking, and working with people to make the world a better place. Family and friends, yoga, travel, photography, perusing dessert menus keep me sane. Latin American enthusiast. Peace practitioner yearning for justice. Heading up the Colombia program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, but tweets and posts are my own.
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9 Responses to Reflections on International Women’s Day

  1. Peggy McCarthy says:

    If there were more women like you, Ginny, the world would be a better place. Ginny for President, sez I.


  2. Ginny;

    Muchas gracias por tu interes en la paz de Colombia, por valorar el trabajo por la paz de las mujeres de nuestros país, y por contribuir con valiosos esfuerzos a nuestro proceso de construcción de paz. Sin lugar a dudas, agregaria tu nombre al colectivo de mujeres que destacas en tu artículo. Además, gracias por incluirme allí.




  3. Norma Inés Bernal V. says:

    Gracias Ginny querida. Está excelente tu escrito. Nos vemos la próxima semana creo…


  4. Pingback: The Call for Peace from Colombia’s Social Sectors | COLOMBIA CALLS

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