Gender Experts Arrive in Havana

December 16, 2014
With the renewal of the peace talks in Havana on Dec. 10, the Colombian government and FARC-EP negotiating teams are moving full steam ahead, the visit of the first of three women’s organizations to the peace table has now been complete, and the fifth and final delegation of victims to the peace table is in Havana as of this writing.  In an historic event, the first of three groups of gender experts arrived in Havana early this week to meet with the gender sub commission and members of the negotiating teams.  The peace delegates of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP had announced the formation of the sub commission last June and formally installed it on September 7th.  The gender sub commission is mandated “to review and guarantee, with the support of national and international experts,” any peace agreements reached and to ensure that they “have an adequate gender focus.”  (See my earlier posts here.)  Exactly what this means in operational terms has yet to be clarified, but in procedural terms, the participation of women’s organizations is an important step forward.

Women at the Table

Women’s groups have been lobbying hard for a role in the peace talks since the talks  began.  Following a major summit on women and peace in October 2013 that brought together some 400 women from throughout the county to demand a place for women at the peace table, women secured spots for two government negotiators–María Paulina Riveros and Nigeria Rentería.  (See my Foreign Policy piece on their appointment here.)  This week’s delegation to Havana included members of some of the oldest and most respected women’s organizations and leaders working for a political solution to Colombia’s armed conflict:

  • Patricia Ariza (Colombian Theatre Company and National Network of Women Artists for Peace/Corporación Colombiana de Teatro y Red Nacional de Mujeres Artistas por la Paz)
  • Ángela Cerón, Initiative of Women for Peace/Iniciativa de Mujeres por la Paz
  • Esther Marina Gallego, Pacific Route of Women/Ruta Pacífica de Mujeres and the National Summit of Women and Peace/Cumbre Nacional de Mujeres y Paz
  • Claudia Mejía, Sisma-Mujer
  • Ana Elsa Rojas, Association of Women for Peace and the Defense of Colombian Women’s Human Rights/Asociación de Mujeres por la Paz y la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres Colombianas (ASODEMUC)
  • Olga Amparo Sánchez, House of Women/Casa de la Mujer.

The aforementioned women were accompanied in Havana by three international gender experts:

  • Magalis Arocha, Cuban gender expert
  • Hilde Salvesen, Norwegian Gender Expert
  • Belén Sanz Luque, Director, UN-Women, Colombia

On Monday, Dec. 15, the FARC delegation issued a statement welcoming the delegates to  the sub commission hearings, and paid tribute to women’s multiple roles in the history of the continent and in Colombia.  “Demonstrating our special commitment toward the rights of women,” the statement noted, “we consider it indispensable to adopt mechanisms that will guarantee the full satisfaction of the former, as well as [women’s] leading role in the attainment of peace and national reconciliation as well as in the building of the new Colombia that will arise from a a peace accord.”  (Read their statement here.)

Women Call for Holiday Cessation of Military Actions

Following meetings with members of both peace delegations, the Colombian women’s groups held a press conference on Monday afternoon.  View the press conference here:

The delegates called on the government and the FARC-EP to declare a “cessation of military hostilities” for Christmas and the new year.  “This would be the expression of a political will on both sides to provide the setting for peace in Colombian society,” the women said. (See more here.)  Patricia Ariza affirmed that such a bilateral ceasefire “would be a gift for the country” and “the Christmas star for the victims of the armed conflict.” (See more here.)The women expressed their hope that women’s participation at the table in Havana might be a turning point in Colombian history, and affirmed their desire to be full participants (as “pactantes y no pactadas”) in determining their country’s future.  “Our voices count not only for the construction of peace, but also for ending the armed conflict,” they noted. The women pressed for:
  • Participation of women in all phases and mechanisms of the peace process, and recognition of the diversity of Afro-Colombia, indigenous, peasant, rural, urban, young women, and members of the LGTBI community;
  • The equitable distribution of goods, services, resources, and wealth between women and men;
  • Guarantees for the rights of women conflict victims to truth, justice, reparations, non-repetition and a truth commission;
  • A de-escalation of armed actions and a commitment for the parties to stay at the table until a peace accord is reached.  (See more here.)

The engagement of the gender sub commission and the presence of women in Havana (as well as the concerted effort to bring victims into the process) are important elements in  establishing a voice for women at the table.  The women delegates recognized that the Government and the FARC had shown the “political will” to listen to them and to hear their proposals.  (See more here.)  Two other delegations of gender experts are expected to visit Havana when talks resume in the new year following the holiday recess.

Significance of the Visit

Women’s participation at the peace table is an important symbolic reparation for both the historic continuum of inequality, discrimination, exclusion, and violence to which women have been subjected, as well as their particular victimization during the internal armed conflict.  Beyond the important symbolism, the question is whether women’s proposals in Havana will be taken seriously and transformed into policy options that promote sustainable peace with gender equity and empowerment for girls and women.  Will the truth commissions, land commissions, peace constituencies, reconciliation commissions, and other mechanisms that are established as part of the peace accords include women and gender considerations in their design, composition, implementation, and evaluation?  Will gender-sensitive budgeting exercises be enacted such that the budgets for development projects designed to help pull the country out of war benefit men and women alike?  If violence against women and the LGBTI community has been a weapon of war, will this weapon be explicitly decommissioned in any ceasefire agreements? Will respect rather than dominance be promoted as the new model for masculinity during peacetime?  Will female and male ex-combatants each be given appropriate, differentiated options that meet their needs?

A peace process offers opportunities at every turn to generate the scaffolding for a more democratic, egalitarian society.  Democracies, interestingly, are less inclined to turn to war as a means for resolving conflict. Embracing women as true partners for peace will thus both deepen Colombian democracy and stave off a return to war.

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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5 Responses to Gender Experts Arrive in Havana

  1. Luz Mendez says:

    Muchas gracias Gini por compartir estas buenas noticias. Un fuerte abrazo, Luz


  2. Pingback: Women’s role in the Colombian Peace Process – Nobel Women's Initiative

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