Gender on the Havana Agenda

July 26, 2016

At 10 am on Sunday, July 24, the peace delegations of the Colombian government and the FARC-EP filed into the Protocol Room of El Laguito in Havana.  There a distinguished group of gender experts had assembled to hear the results of the subcommission on gender that the parties had established on September 11, 2014.  Special invited guests included Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN-Women (the UN organization for gender equality and women’s empowerment);  Zainab Bangura, the UN Secretary General’s special representative for Sexual Violence in Armed Conflicts; Luiza Carvalho, the regional director for the Américas and the Caribbean for UN-Women; Belén Sanz, country director for UN-Women in Colombia; and Ambassador María Emma Mejía, Colombia’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York.  In addition, Martha Ordóñez, President Juan Manuel Santos’s special advisor on equity for women,  European Union Special Envoy Eamon Gilmore, and the accompanying delegations from Cuba, Norway, Venezuela, and Chile, as well as nearly two dozen representatives of Colombian women’s and LGBTI organizations attended the event.   (A quick nod here to Hilde Salvesen and Magalys Arocha and their teams.)

In Sunday’s ceremony, the Colombian government and FARC-EP delegations reported on the gender sub commission’s review of the provisional agreements reached thus far at the table.  In a joint statement, they explained that the integration of the sub commission recommendations will help “to create conditions so that women and persons with diverse sexual identities can have equal access to the benefits of living in a country without armed conflict.”  (See their statement here.)  They noted, “At the peace table, we are conscious that the transformations that the country needs to build peace will not be possible without a society that recognizes and respects differences and where the stigmatizations and discriminations for reasons of gender remain in the past.”

Mandate of the Gender Subcommission

The subcommission was mandated “to review and guarantee, with the support of national and international experts” any peace agreements that are reached, and to ensure that they “have an adequate gender focus.” (See more here.)   Co-chaired by María Paulina Riveros for the Colombian government, and Victoria Sandino Palmera for the FARC-EP, the subcommission was comprised primarily (but not exclusively) of women from the two peace delegations.  Colombian government negotiator Nigeria Rentería (who stepped down from her post to run for governor of Chocó) noted when the subcommission was installed that its goal was “to guarantee inclusion, social equality, and bring us closer to an accord that represents the interests of men and women.” (See her statement here.)  The FARC delegation for its part expressed the hope that the commission “would produce real change for women and members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) communities” and “grant full rights to women and to the LBGTI sectors that have been discriminated against for so long.” (See full statement here.)

Gender Inclusion in Eight Key Areas

In her comments to the assembly, co-chair María Paulina Riveros noted that there was considerable discussion among members of the sub commission about what it means to adopt a gender focus in the accords.  (Read her statement here).  Ultimately, the sub commission came down on the side of inclusivity and citizenship rights as fundamental aspects of a democratic society and its recommendations were geared toward recognizing and incorporating equal rights for women and LGBTI sectors into the peace agenda that has been under negotiation in Havana since late 2012.  The particular measures announced on Sunday aim at creating equal opportunities and overcoming stigmas and historic discrimination and inequality faced by women and LGBTI populations.  Riveros summarized eight areas where the delegations have accepted the affirmative measures recommended by the gender sub commission:

  • Equal access to and formalization of rural property for women;
  • Guarantees of economic, social and cultural rights for women and persons with diverse sexual identities in the rural sector;
  • Promotion of women’s participation in “spaces of representation, decision making, and conflict resolution” and a balanced representation of women in the highest decision-making positions in bodies created by the peace accords;
  • Prevention and protection measures that address the specific risks faced by women–these measures include reducing stigmatization for reasons of gender and sexual orientation, special protections for women exercising their political rights or defending human rights, and improved psychosocial attention for victims, especially victims of sexual violence;
  • Access to truth and justice, and measures against impunity–these include the creation of a working group within the anticipated truth commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento de la Verdad, la Convivencia y la no Repetición) that would address the differential impact of the conflict on women, provide technical and research support, and prepare gender hearings; specialized methodologies for dealing with the victimization of women and LGBTI individuals; a special investigative unit on sexual violence within the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP); and not giving amnesty for crimes of sexual violence;
  • Public recognition, an end to stigmatization, and broad dissemination of women’s  political work–this includes the promotion of a culture of participation and peace, and the eradication of stereotypes that incite gender-based violence;
  • Institutional actions to strengthen the political participation of women’s organizations (especially those of rural peasant women) and LGBTI movements;
  • Information systems that disaggregate data by gender, particularly in the case of the land cadastre and related to illicit crop cultivation activities.

For more details, watch the following video:

A Modern Colombia

Humberto de la Calle, the head of the Colombian government peace delegation, underscored the impact that these eight points will have in building a new country–“a modern Colombia… founded on the recognition of rights.”  (See his statement here.)  De la Calle alluded as well to the important role that women will have in the reconciliation of the country.  “Women have been very important peace builders in the middle of the war: they have prepared their social nuclei for reconciliation, they have been essential in conserving the memory of the acts of terror as well as the traditions and cultural roots of their peoples,” he said.  “Peace is possible.  Let us prepare for peace.  The torch of reconciliation will rest in the hands of Colombia’s women.”   Listen to him here:

Strengths, Accomplishments, and Limitations of the Subcommission

Colombia’s sub commission on gender is a peace process innovation with few global precedents and it has already had an impact.  In particular, the sub commission opened Colombia’s peace process to women’s and LGBTI organizations, and to the concerns of the broader civil society they represented.  Under the sub commission’s direction, between December 2014 and March 2015, three delegations representing women’s and LGBTI organizations (18 people) participated directly in the peace talks table and presented their analysis and proposals to the negotiators in Havana.  Of the five delegations of victims invited by the table to Havana, 60 per cent of the participants were women.  They too were an important resource for the sub commission. In addition, the sub commission brought to the peace tables in Havana 10 Colombian experts on sexual violence. The gender sub commission was also instrumental in bringing to Cuba representatives of various UN agencies and representatives to work on particular issues.  These visits helped shape agreements related to sexual and gender-based violence and child soldiers, including agreements on increasing the age of guerrilla recruitment and the separation of minors from FARC ranks.  The role of the sub commission in putting the issue of sexual violence and victims rights on the peace agenda was critical.

Furthermore, in the context of recent discussions on ending the conflict, the gender sub commission invited 10 female ex guerrillas from South Africa, Northern Ireland, Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia, Uruguay and Colombia to share their experiences of reintegration.   These visits will undoubtedly shape the agreements on ending the conflict and provide elements that ensure that agreements to end the conflict address the differentiated needs of male and female ex-combatants, victims, receiving communities, LGBTI individuals, and the families of the aforementioned.  Ideally, these agreements will also address the differential needs and rights of Colombia’s Afro-descent, indigenous, palenquero, raizal, and rrom women and girls.  (Here it will be important to work in tandem with recent efforts at and around the table to review all documents from an ethnic dimension in the wake of the June 2016 visits of ethnic delegations.)

With the work of the gender sub commission, the peace accords reached thus far now presumably use more inclusive, specific, non-sexist language–an important advance in and of itself.  Furthermore, the accords recognize that war has a differential impact on men and women, and they address issues relating to the particular problems and risks that women and LGBTI individuals have faced in the context of the conflict as well as those anticipated in a post-conflict era.  The new gender-infused agreements appear to be particularly strong in addressing the need to  promote and protect the rights and lives of rural women and women’s organizations.  This is not surprising given the centrality of agrarian issues as a root of Colombia’s internal armed conflict, and the particularly harsh victimization of the peasants and their efforts to organize in the course of the war. (Recently, the Colombian government granted the first collective reparations were granted to the historic National Association of Small Peasant Farmers, ANUC.  See more here.)

Recommendations for Strengthening the Agreements on Gender

There are a number of areas where the gender dimensions of the agreements presumably might be strengthened, though I acknowledge that the full documents have not been made public and the agreements are not completely finished.  I comment nonetheless based on the documents, statements, and summaries that have been shared publicly, in the hope that the following points might merit greater attention in the final documents or in the implementation agreements to come.  I likewise invite my readers to add their own  comments and corrections.

The summary of the agreements presented Sunday gives a nod to the political roles that women play and the need for a more inclusive political culture in Colombia.  Yet there is a clear historical deficit here that the peace accords might better define and address, ideally with concrete actions and measurable goal posts.  Colombian women are half the population, yet in 2015, they held just under 25 per cent of the House and Senate seats, and occupied under 10 per cent of regional and local elected positions, such as governors, mayors, and city council officials.  The gendered peace agreements fall short of advocating or proposing measures for increasing women’s presence in such elected posts, eschewing temporary directives or quotas that have become commonplace in many countries around the world to help even the playing field for women in politics more quickly. More aggressive action seems warranted.

Likewise, there was little reference in the summaries of the eight areas highlighted to the differential needs, experiences, and capacities of women and LGBTI individuals.  Ethnic and territorial rights, which are fundamental rights for indigenous and Afro-descent populations, are not mentioned in these summaries.  There is no reference to special protections (or reparations, which presumably have not yet been fully defined) for widows young girls, or single heads of households.  Ethnicity, age, class, and marital status, among other things, matter in how a person experiences war and peace. Ideally, these will be addressed in future reviews of the accords.

Finally, it would seem that the peace agreements on disappearances were not reviewed by the gender sub commission.  Nonetheless, this might be worth doing, as they could be strengthened by inclusion of a gender component.  Complementary gender-sensitive protocols regarding investigations and documentation of sexual violence, dignified returns, accompaniment and psycho-social supports when gender-based violence is in evidence could strengthen this important set of agreements as well.

What’s Next?

The peace delegations noted that they have now incorporated the recommendations from the gender sub commission in the agreements reached in the peace process thus far on integrated rural reform, political participation, and illicit drugs. (See their statement here.)  Discussions of the remaining agenda items — victims and ending the conflict–have already included a gender perspective in their construction, they noted.  Presumably, separate  review by the gender sub commission will not be solicited but gender concerns are clearly already a part of these discussions.  The final agenda item under discussion at the peace table– the implementation, verification and endorsement of the accords–is a key area with regard to women’s meaningful and symbolic participation.

In the ceremony on Sunday, the parties noted that the gender subcommission will continue to work “so that the agreements that are reached guarantee inclusion and the exercise of rights in equality of conditions for the whole society and especially for women and the LGBTI population.” (See statement here.)  A number of areas remain on the gender agenda when the parties return to the table on July 30th.

It would appear from the statements made on Sunday that the work of the gender sub commission has contributed to a deeper understanding about the connections between historic patterns of exclusion and discrimination, and violence.  Likewise, it has offered solutions that reside in greater respect for differences, greater recognition of and protections for the rights of women and LGBTI individuals, and a recognition that inclusion and a culture of human rights are the requirements for a modern  democracy.  The key here, as always, is implementation and mechanisms to ensure accountability for the agreements reached.  Only if agreements are implemented will they help to advance women’s empowerment and women’s rights, and contribute to furthering the rights of LGBTI populations in Colombia.  The process is not yet finished, but the results thus far are promising.



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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10 Responses to Gender on the Havana Agenda

  1. Alberto Lara Losada says:

    Apreciada Ginny estas en Colombia? Me urge hablar contigo, Alberto LarA, abrazo

    Enviado desde mi iPhone

    > El 26/07/2016, a las 11:57 a.m., COLOMBIA CALLS escribió: > > >


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  4. Plar Rueda says:

    It would be interesting to include also Victoria Sandino video because she played a very important role as a leader of the Gender sub-commission


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