November 27, 2013
Talks between the Colombian government and the FARC resume tomorrow in Havana. In this 17th round of discussions, the parties will focus on illicit crops and drug trafficking, and will be joined by two women at the table–María Paulina Riveros and Nigeria Rentería. Nigeria’s name was released last Saturday in a Reuters report as the replacement for outgoing industrialist Luis Carlos Villegas, who arrived in Washington, D.C. this week to assume a new position as the Colombian Ambassador to the United States. Some of his first activities will be related to the upcoming State visit of President Juan Manuel Santos to Washington on December 2-3.
For the last week, I have been working on an article on the appointment of Nigeria Rentería for Foreign Policy’s online magazine. (See the article here.) As I was writing the piece, it seemed unusual to me that, beyond the Reuters piece, I couldn’t find any official statements on Rentería’s new position, especially given that the inclusion of women on the team represents is a pretty significant policy shift. Something seemed a bit off. So, when I read the news yesterday that Santos had named not one but two women to the negotiators’ table in Havana, I figured that was probably the cause for the delay in the official announcement.
In his Nov. 26 press statement announcing the new appointments, Santos underscored that María Paulina Riveros and Nigeria Rentería will be fully vested in their new roles as plenipotentiaries (the ones at the table with real decision-making authority), and he outlined the qualifications that they each bring to the job. Both women are lawyers with careers in the public sector, and have worked directly with President Santos. Rentería is Santos’s lead Senior Advisor for Women’s Equity and grew up in the Chocó region, where she served as the regional director of the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF), though she is originally from the department of Cesar. Riveros has worked in the Office of the President and is the point person at the Ministry of the Interior for human rights issues, a theme on which she has played a role as a liaison with minority communities that have complaints. Riveros has represented the government on human rights issues before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Santos noted that the women will not represent any particular group at the table, but have been “named for their merits and for the positive and constructive contribution that they can make to the process.” (Read Santos’s statement here.) President Santos also recognized publicly the efforts of the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace and noted that it is entirely run by women. “In the entire process, from the beginning, they have played a very, very important role: in the planning of the process and in the development of the process,” he said.
New Pilot Mechanism for the Process
While Santos made it clear that the new negotiators are not specifically representing any particular group, he also underscored the history that both women have in serving as interlocutors with ethnic minorities and he specifically charged Nigeria Rentería with “establishing an adequate channel of communication with women’s organizations,” in effect creating a new mechanism for channeling women’s voices to the table. The existence of a specific channel and assigned responsibility for outreach to women is a substantive and important modification to the process that should ensure that the ideas and solutions women’s groups have been developing are introduced into the discussions at the table in Havana.
The parties in Havana have developed a variety of mechanisms for soliciting civil society inputs on the topics on the agenda. These mechanisms have included forums organized by the National University and the United Nations, regional consultations promoted by the Peace Commissions of the Colombian Congress with technical support from the UN Development Program, and interlocution with the offices of mayors and governors around the country. A website set up by the delegations has received 17,000 proposals, according to Colombian lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle.
For the most part, however, these mechanisms have been successful but inadequate, particularly because they have not been able to articulate sectoral needs. If this new mechanism for channeling women’s voices into the process via an assigned negotiator (similar to the process set up in the Guatemalan peace process) proves successful, it could serve as the basis for creating other similar mechanisms. It would be a way to help organize and vet the many ideas coming from other civil society sectors in ways that are most relevant for the discussions at the table.
Women Pressure for Peace
The presence of two women negotiators at the table did not just happen overnight. For the last year, women’s organizations have been seeking representation at the table and ways to be heard in Havana. They have taken advantage of all of the spaces offered to civil society in the different forums and consultations.
In the last month, women’s efforts escalated dramatically. At the end of October, more than 400 women traveled from all over the country to Bogota to participate in the National Women’s Peace Summit and to show their support for the peace talks. The women urged the government to find ways to include women’s voices at the table and to give women representation in the peace process, and suggested the government create a commission of women that could represent their concerns in Havana. One friend who was at the summit told me that the women were committed to making sure that the men don’t leave the table in Havana until an agreement is reached. “But if the men do get up from the table,” she said, “the women are prepared to sit down.”
This week opened with the International Day to Prevent Violence Against Women on November 25th. Thousands of Colombian women again took to the streets. “Peace and democracy won’t happen without women,” some banners read. Another admonished that women want “neither the war that kills us or the peace that destroys us,” referring to the anticipated rise in domestic violence that frequently happens when ex-combatants return home from war.
Women have been victimized by the conflict, but they are also seeking solutions that address the roots of the conflict. They want peace with justice. They want to prevent the resurgence of violence down the road. They want to transform the culture that has nourished the violence. (See mypost in Spanish or in English on the Ethical Pact for Peace.) They have sought political solutions to the war, documented and denounced the impact the war has had on them and on the rest of civil society, and in particular, have sought to raise awareness of the ways that sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war. (See, for example, the October 2013 Sisma-Mujer study on Access to Justice for Women Victims of Sexual Violence, and some of its findings highlighted in El Espectador.)
Women are of course far from homogeneous. Nonetheless, there does seem to be consensus among women in Colombia on at least three four issues: it is time to end the war, women have a role to play in peacemaking and peacebuilding, the epidemic of sexual violence must be addressed once and for all, and the peace to come must address the needs of both women and men. With two women at the table, these goals may become a step closer. Stay tuned as the table begins talks tomorrow on illicit crops and drugtrafficking. And… happy Thanksgiving to all my readers… Time to get back to the kitchen!