May 20, 2016
On May 18, some 13 ex-combatant women from around the world concluded a visit to Havana, where they were invited by the Colombian government and the FARC-EP to meet with the peace table and to share their reflections and experiences in other peace processes. Participating in the meeting were female ex-combatants from Colombia’s Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT), M-19, Army of National Liberation (EPL), and Quintin Lame, as well as ex-combatant women from around the globe– El Salvador, Guatemala, Uruguay, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Indonesia and Nepal. The women had all set aside their weapons following peace processes and experienced the transition from armed resistance to reincorporation within their respective societies.
In Havana, the women discussed these experiences in all their social, economic, and political dimensions. Their reflections will provide important insights for the Gender Subcommission and the Technical Subcommission on Ending the Conflict, which are in the final stages of their work. They will also be invaluable in informing the design of public policies, which have all too often failed to address the diverse needs and interests of demobilizing populations. When armed groups are treated as homogeneous and a “one-size-fits-all” approach is used, the results frequently consolidate inequitable power structures and patterns of exclusion. Yet a wide variety of experiences and models of reintegration among Colombia’s ethnic minorities (men, women, boys, and girls alike) can define a customized, differential approach that will be more effective. Consultation with indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities that will be receiving excombatants, created can ensure that reintegration programs are sustainable and serve the needs of these various populations.
Following the joint meeting of the subcommissions, María Paulina Riveros, plenipotentiary for the Colombian government and co-chair of the Gender Subcommission that was established two years ago, underscored some of the lessons she drew from the encounter. She emphasized in particular the different receptions that men and women receive when they turn in their arms and return to their families and communities, and she underscored the “spirit of strength” of the ex-combatant women in their desire to intervene for the implementation of peace agreements. (Read her statement here.)
Victoria Sandino, the FARC co-chair of the Gender Subcommission, for her part noted that, “Peace must be the reflection of a just and equitable society that includes the citizenry in its entirety, above all those of us who have been excluded from development and the most basic human rights.” She underscored the relationship of gender equity and peace. “Peace requires the full participation of women in all stages of the design, signing, implementation and monitoring of the accords. For us FARC-EP women,” she said, “peace represents the materialization of collective and individual dreams.” (Read her statement here.)
Role of the Gender Subcommission
The negotiators in Havana established the Gender Subcommission in June 2014, and tasked it with reviewing all of the accords reached to ensure that they reflect gendered perspectives and analysis, and meet the needs of men, women, boys, girls, and the diversity of genders in Colombia today. (Read my earlier blogs on this topic.) The subcommission (and UN-Women, which has provided key support and guidance), has played an important role in opening space for the direct participation of women at the table. Beginning in Dec. 2014, the gender subcommission and the plenary of negotiators met with 3 delegations of representatives of Colombian women’s groups and the LGBTI community at the table in Havana. Last August, the subcommission received a group of researchers and women’s organizations to address the topic of sexual and gender-based violence. Independent gender experts are no strangers to the table, and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent Security Council resolutions recognizing the international commitment to the inclusion of women and gender dimensions for the transformation of conflict have been an important reference point.
This week’s visit by ex-combatant women to Havana recognizes the important role that one particular group of women can play in building peace in Colombia. In the context of current discussions on ending the conflict, setting aside arms, and establishing programs for demobilization (or alternative non-violent mobilization, more precisely) and reintegration, the voices of excombatant women are particularly important. Such voices can provide early warning to the negotiators about pitfalls to be avoided and policies to be emulated. They can help ensure that the gender blindness of previous reintegration efforts is corrected and both men and women (and girls and boys) benefit from the peace. These women likewise will be important allies as the FARC women seek to re-negotiate a new place in Colombian society.
As the gender sub commission works to complete its mandate, the table’s incorporation of the concerns of historically marginalized groups (which all include women) will be an indicator of how successful, and how sustainable, a transition to a new Colombia at peace is likely to be.