On 12 April 2019, CIASE Executive Director Rosa Emilia Salamanca briefed the UN Security Council on the situation of Colombia. WILPF’s Women, Peace and Security Director Abigail Ruane and Communications Associate Genevieve Riccoboni sat down with her afterward to ask her about the situation of women and opportunities for feminist peace in the country.
See the edited text of the interview below.
What do you dream about as an activist and feminist?
That is a huge question. I dream with a recognition of feminism as a political, social and economical frame of work: a cultural frame of living; a political frame of creating change.
I really believe that all the work that feminists are doing in trying to move forward, changing ways and thinking with different issues (economic, social, political, daily life, all aspects), is bringing a new perspective about non-discrimination, equality, and real care for environment. Feminism brings refreshing ideas of politics and asks really big questions about power, power relations, and how we are trying to change the way humans behave.
So, my dream is for people to recognize that we all have a chance if we look to what feminism means today to the world.
What do you think are key priority areas for women civil society and what can the international community do to address these priorities?
You can always refer to classical priorities -- to address sexual violence, political participation etc. But the new challenge is building up new knowledge about how to share the world in ways that can protect it without destroying it, or destroying us.. This requires trying to build up another way of creative communication among women as a movement and across stages of life. Interchanging conversations among young women, middle-aged women, older women -- to renew and have perspective on what experience and innovation can create in dialogue and practice.
As an example, women are challenging the traditional economy. One of our issues now is to challenge the rational orthodox and androcentric view of the economy that is confronting and behaving so badly with the environment, humanity and other species. For feminism, we have this challenge to show that care issues that we have done are so near and close to human rights, and that we are not ashamed of what we have done. On the contrary, we want all people to do it. We must be aware that care is the basis of societies.
We need to re-elaborate what caring means for the whole world.
Those are some of the main issues. The way we do it – participating, having resistance, making proposals – are just methods. But I think those are the main issues we have to address.
What do you think is working in the way governments and UN or other stakeholders engage with women led civil society? What is not working?
I have a very specific idea of women’s participation in peace agreements or peace issues in the country: I think that everything that is done is valuable and must be linked to a transformation dynamic that implies a multilevel notion of actors. There is a dynamic for chance that you can not lose. So women on the table can be important but women in the practice are extremely important. We can not leave it only at the level of talking and not doing.
Although it is not always easy to talk and it is politically correct to say “women must be at the table” and “women must be in decision making.” There is a big gap between what is written and what is done in reality – the actions, budget, and impact these actions have on women’s lives on an everyday basis.
So, I think that this feminist revolution needs a lot of diverse resources, a lot of political will. It also needs to be done not only because it is the correct thing to do. It needs to be transcendental: to assume it is something that is so extremely important that it will really change the face of society.
However, I think we don’t see the political will. Still, commitments on women and peace are something you attach: Negotiations say, “if we name women, we are including women.” But I think there is not enough clarity that women´s theoretical and practical contributions have been developing and offering as a feminist approach - an important transformation for humanity that has not yet been adequately perceived.
But we have to understand that if we are talking about equality among people, we have to redesign the meaning of privilege, equality, redistribution. Governments need to send a message saying that change does not mean people are losing power, rather, people are winning a good living, more security, more tranquility, and a much better environment to live in.
But that is really difficult.
For example, at the Security Council briefing on Colombia this morning, the Colombian foreign affairs minister said that we have a Gender Equity Plan. We have one of the better peace processes, a gender-focused document, but we don’t have money for implementing it for a concrete impact. We can recognize there is an effort in putting out ideals of women in society. But when it comes to planning and budget it is not true. They have concrete actions and plans without money.
So the reality is far away from what change would really entail. This is still a huge challenge for change.
What do you think is needed to strengthen responsiveness to women and women civil society?
Sometimes we get tired of participating, pushing, lobbying, influencing. Because the results are very slow, too slow for concrete needs in this age of humanity, we need more active dialogue with governments that will have consequences. We need to see governments as one of the actors of society, not as the actor of society, and they have to see us as such as well. And we need to look at them and try to have gender dialogue.
And also, as civil society we have to change so much. This is part of what gender analysis and women’s rights brings: you question yourself so much. All the time you are asking about yourself: who you are; how you can recognize the patriarch that you have inside; how you can recognize the racist that you have inside; how you can recognize all the different faces of yourself and keep changing.
For the governments, because they are in power, it is even more difficult for them to recognise all the different shapes of the people who are in the government. I think we should try to find a way that we can talk -- we have tried! -- but maybe we need to insist that it is not only changing the shape of the government, it is changing the shape of the people inside the government.
How can they get to the point where they understand that they can be better people if they open their minds to understanding how they manage power? And that the way they manage power can be better? That is what we would like to know.
But at the same time, I think that people in power are sometimes so blind, that they do not want to see. We need to do something that brings some kind of innovation to open the eyes of people who are so blind; people who don’t want to change; people who think that they are in the correct place – both men and women, because we have so many women who are so patriarchal! We need to find a way to cross that line between them and us. Because there is a gap of language, a gap of everything, and we are not reaching each other.
We need to continue exploring how to reach the other in a way that others won’t feel in danger. And really find a way to listen in a more active way. But it is very difficult to talk with people who don’t want to hear. So, the challenge is how to reach people who don’t want to hear.
I think women have that problem with government, but they also have that problem with strong religious fundamentalists, and people in power, strong militaries, and strong other groups who don’t want to hear. So the challenge is to reach people that don’t want to hear us.
How do you start the conversation?
We have learned how to start the conversation. For example, this morning at the Security Council briefing on Colombia, the government officials and I were very polite with each other. That opens the door. So we are in that place. Then they open the door a little bit, and we open the door a little bit. But we have to build trust, and trust is only real when there are concrete steps that can give you the confidence to move to the next step. And that is hard.
So how can we be confident that we can open the door without danger? We need to explore more what it means from a feminist perspective to have “unimaginable dialogues” become possible dialogues.
How can we move beyond just having the civil society speakers at the Security Council to meaningful participation and ongoing civil society partnerships?
It is very important for us [women civil society] to come here to speak to the Security Council. It elevates the profile of women, so it gives us more security. It is a way of getting to people in power. If we as civil society briefers consult them, we have a chain of lobbying and advocacy -- at the international level, at the national level, at the local level.
Today, people at home [in Colombia] were watching our session. Usually they don’t look at Security Council sessions on Colombia because they don’t feel represented. But today they were seeing it and feeling that we have a chance to say something at a high level. It was quite emotional, because they were writing to me saying that was great, that was good. People must be connected, we have to keep connected. We were connected at that moment.
Briefers don’t come here just to be important. We come here because we think that this is a way to bring up the problems that we have back at home, and give them the space to be discussed in a global perspective. That leads to international support. With that international support, activists can be stronger in bringing these issues to the government. I think this is very important. I am very happy to be here. We did a consultation before I came here, I consulted everyone, because I wanted to have legitimacy.
Governments will look at me maybe in a more respectful way because they heard me talking in this kind of space. It is not a small door. It is an important door. Now we need to follow up: what were countries saying at the briefing? How can we work with those who are supporting? The [Colombian] government officially gave an invitation for the Security Council to have a mission to Colombia in July -- I was so happy! How can we look forward to this mission, prepare for the Security Council to come? We have to ensure that the lobbying we do here [in New York] makes the Security Council meet with women civil society, not just other civil society, but with our organisations, so everyone can participate. There are so many things we can do now. Yes, it was a good opportunity.
Anything else you would like to share?
We have a lot of work to do now. We want to have a meeting on what security means for women. We have to move forward on security. We are up to here [our necks] in state security! We need something new.