The armed conflict between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dates back to the armed peasant movements in the early 1960s.
Five decades after, the protracted armed conflict saw thousands of deaths, thousands of forced disappearances, and forced displacement of nearly 7 million Colombians. An estimated 3 million women have been forcibly displaced by the five-decade armed conflict.
A significant number of women played a big part in the Colombian armed conflict as 40% of FARC’s combatants are women.
The latest peace negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC begun in 2012. In June 2016, both parties signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement. The bilateral agreement also contains a commitment by both parties to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.
The June 2016 signed agreement is a step forward towards the final peace accord. The final peace agreement needs to be approved via a referendum.
Women are instrumental in the Colombian peace process. Women worked in the Colombian peace process in the following ways:
After a year without women’s participation on the government’s side of the negotiating table, nearly 450 women from all over Colombia gathered in Bogotá during the National Summit of Women and Peace and called for the inclusion of women in the peace process.
Sixty percent of the delegation of victims that travelled to Havana, Cuba – where the peace talks were held – were women. The women survivors put forward the issue of sexual violence in the Colombian armed conflict. The women survivors recommended that sexual violence should be considered as a crime against humanity with no possibility for amnesty.
Two women from the Colombian government and one woman from FARC acted as negotiators.
Women lobbied for the creation of the Gender Sub-commission, a body tasked with reviewing and ensuring that all documents that form part of the peace process have gender-sensitive language and provisions. The sub-commission was composed of a varying number of women from the Colombian government and FARC, and three international members.
The first Gender Sub-commission was created in 2003 during the peace talks between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers. Unlike the Gender Sub-commission in Sri Lanka which only met once and did not have a major impact on the peace process, the Colombian Gender Sub-commission from December 2014 to March 2015 invited a total of 18 individuals working on gender issues, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) organizations to present their insights and recommendations. Because of this initiative, Colombia made history as the first country to address the issue of LGBTI in a peace negotiation.
The majority of the technical team members on both the Colombian government and the FARC were women.
Christine Bella and Catherine O’Rourke in the article called “Peace Agreements or Pieces of Paper? The Impact of UNSC Resolution 1325 on Peace Processes and their Agreements” published in the International and Comparative Law Quarterly Journal reported that out of the 585 peace agreements from 1990 to 2010, only 92 contained any references to women.
“Contrary to most peace negotiations in history, in this agreement women have had a significant presence and influence…,” UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said of the June 2016 agreement between the government of Colombia and FARC.
“Their success builds on to the growing evidence that women’s participation in peace processes increases the likelihood that a peace agreement will be reached, and strengthens our argument that inclusive negotiations are not just a moral imperative or a long-term aspirational goal, but an urgent operational necessity,” the UN Women Executive Director added.