COLUMBIA: Modeling Inclusion for Peace

Thursday, September 13, 2012
Columbia Calls
South America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Peace Processes
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

Last week, on Thursday, September 6, Sandra Ramírez filed into Havana‘s convention palace with five of her FARC comrades and seated herself at the table in front of a packed auditorium. The FARC had convened a press conference to discuss Colombia‘s incipient peace process.

Sandra Ramirez, FARC leader and participant in exploratory peace dialogues in Havana; photo by Adalberto Roque, AFPSandra was one of the six FARC delegates who signed the framework agreement on August 26, 2012 in Havana outlining the terms for formal peace talks between the FARC and the Government of Colombia that are set for next month in Oslo. She had appeared without speaking at a brief press conference given by the six FARC delegates on Tuesday, September 4. She was the only one of the six panelists who did not speak during the lengthier press conference two day's later; none of the dozens of reporters present asked her any questions. Press coverage that mentioned her at all noted that she was the long-time, sentimental companion of Manuel Marulanda, the historic founder of the FARC. One journalist observed that her presence likely was meant to convey the support of the older FARC sectors for a peace process. Without Sandra's voice, we can only speculate.

Two women–Lucía Jaramillo Ayerbe and Elena Ambrosi—signed the general framework agreement in Havana as witnesses for the Colombian government team, though their names have appeared rarely in the press. The government's negotiating team for Oslo at this stage formally includes no women; nor are there any women among the three proposed FARC delegates. (See my previous blog for names of the delegates named thus far). If, as rumor has it, the FARC team that helped draft the accord in Havana is sent to Oslo, Sandra Ramírez will be included–but this has yet to be confirmed.

The international guarantors, Cuba and Norway, and the accompanying nations, Chile and Venezuela, are also lining up their teams. Cuba, Norway, and Chile have been leaders in ensuring women's political participation at high levels in their respective countries, but so far the names that have been announced for their delegations to Colombia's peace talks include no women.

Finding a Balance

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos clearly has many concerns to balance as he moves a delicate peace process forward, and most consider the delegates on his negotiating team to be capable, serious, and professional. Many nonetheless are waiting to see how he and his team will engage civil society, especially women, in the process.

The swearing in on Tuesday, Sept. 11 of Luis Eduardo Garzón to a new cabinet-level post of Minister-Counselor for Social Dialogue and Citizen Mobilization shows that Santos is aware of the importance of engaging the energy and ideas of civil society as the peace process gets underway. Certainly civil society has long been in the forefront of demanding a political solution to the conflict (see earlier blog, “Approaching a Tipping Point in Colombia?”, July 28, 2012). Garzón's role could be critical in linking and creating synergies between official track one talks and broader track two civil society processes. This is one of the trickier parts of peace processes, and ensuring that civil society voices are heard will be key to both the legitimacy of the process and the implementation of future agreements, particularly in the conflicted regions of the country where the war continues to rage.

Santos has also spoken of the importance of women for the process. Yesterday (Wed., September 12), President Santos was joined by UN-Women President Michelle Bacheletin Bogota to launch Colombia's new national public policy for gender equity for women. In his remarks, Santos noted that women will have “un lugar destacado y permanente” — a distinguished and permanent place — in the peace process, since “without peace for women, there is no peace for anyone.” He promised that Lucía Jaramillo Ayerbe and Elena Ambrosi would accompany the next phase of the process.

Why Does Women's Participation Matter?

There are strong reasons to give women a prominent role in the peace process. I alluded to some of these reasons in an earlier post (see “Colombian Peace Talks on the Horizon,” August 27, 2012). First, there is no shortage of qualified women for the negotiating teams. While with a few exceptions such as Piedad Córdoba, women have not often been called on to mediate at the national level, Colombian women have been mediators at the local level for years, sometimes achieving cease-fires or other agreements with local armed actors. They have negotiated their way past armed blockades and military checkpoints, have persuaded armed actors to allow food and medicines into or out of controlled territories, and have successfully negotiated the release of hostages. They have led peace initiatives and organized national marches and demonstrations calling for a political solution to the conflict when other sectors were silent.

Second, while women are not the only ones who may be excluded from the peace table, they are unlike other excluded groups in that they are an integral part of every other sector of society. Women are members of every ethnic or cultural group, social movement, armed organization, political party, class, religion, age group, and region. They are a tremendous untapped resource with multiple identities that can help them create networks across many of Colombia's deep social divides.

Furthermore, women have been affected by the war in particular ways, though their experiences are far from homogenous. The majority of those killed in wars are male youths and men, but most of the survivors who must find ways to recompose their lives, often with added economic and care-taking responsibilities for injured or maimed family members, are women. Most of the internally displaced, usually single heads of households, are women. Sexual and gender-based violence in the context of the war have victimized half a million Colombian girls and women, according to an Oxfam-Casa de la Mujer study. All of Colombia's armed groups have employed sexual and gender-based violence (GBV), albeit to varying degrees and for varying purposes, and GBV has been a primary cause of forced displacement, according to studies by Corporación Humanas, UNIFEM, the Historical Memory Group, and others.

Third, UN Security Council resolutions have underscored the value that women bring to questions of international peace and security, and the critical importance of women's engagement in peacemaking and peace-building globally. With Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000); 1820 (2008); 1880, 1888, and 1889 (2009); 1960 (2010); and1974 (2011); normative frameworks are in place for increasing the participation of women in peacemaking. These resolutions mandate not only women's participation, but the integration of gender perspectives and analysis in the design and implementation of conflict prevention initiatives, cease-fire agreements, peace accords, DDR (demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration) strategies, reparations programs, and post-conflict reconciliation initiatives. Recent UN guidance for mediatorsunderscores the importance of addressing the issue of sexual violence explicitly in both ceasefire agreements and peace accords. The Colombian government now has an opportunity to make good on its international commitments and to be a world leader in modeling the inclusion of women and gender perspectives in its peace process.

The Gender Key

Gender has shaped the nature of the Colombian conflict and gender will be integral to its resolution. Colombian ex-combatants often cite domestic and intra-familial violence as among the key reasons that youth join armed groups and gangs, sexual and gender-based violence has been a primary cause of displacement, and domestic violence and violence in communities often skyrocket when ex-combatants come home.

Gender-sensitive agreements and policies will help ensure that this cycle is broken, that peace is sustainable, and that both women and men enjoy its dividends.Gender-sensitive approaches will make certain that verification and monitoring arrangements deal with questions of sexual violence, and that land reforms guarantee women equal access to land and land titles, as well as equal opportunities for credits, education, jobs, and other benefits. Gender-sensitive DDR programs will ensure that the differential physical, economic, and psycho-social needs of female ex-combatants and girls, as well as the needs of other girls and women associated with illegal armed groups in a variety of roles, are addressed. Gendered approaches will increase the likelihood that victims will receive due reparations and gender justice.

Understanding gendered dynamics is central to interrupting the cycle of violence that has held Colombia in its grip for so many decades, to preventing the re-incidence of the conflict, and to ensuring that peace in Colombia does not mean continued violence for women and girls. This will not be an easy task, but it is an urgent one, and it will require the engagement of all of Colombia's citizens, both male and female.

Modeling Inclusion

Issues of social, political, economic, and cultural exclusion lie at the heart of the Colombian conflict. Last month, prior to the public revelations of secret dialogues between the Colombian government and the FARC, I traveled to Cali and Bogota. There, women in labor unions, churches, indigenous movements, Afro-descent and displaced groups, academia, human rights organizations, political parties, and women's organizations, as well as demobilized female ex-combatants, all told me of the challenges they face in being heard within their organizations. They are at the table, but they feel invisible, they told me time and again. I was thinking of these women as the government and FARC negotiating teams were announced on September 6th, and as I watched Sandra Ramírez at the press conferences in Havana.

Modeling inclusion throughout both the peace process and the post-conflict peace building phases will help set the tone and tenure of the peace to come. If Colombia's leaders –men and women– can provide more opportunities for women to be heard as equals, this will be an important model for more equitable relations with other groups. Such openness to marginalized perspectives will allow the new ideas to emerge that are necessary for an effective and successful peace process. This may be another lesson that can be drawn from past peace processes not only in Colombia but elsewhere.