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A sustainable peace? Participation of women in the Colombian peace process

Image credit: Luz Adriana Villa (Flickr: Creative Commons)

The extent to which women have been included in the ongoing peace process in Colombia is unprecedented. Colombian women have participated as advisers, experts, and witnesses since the negotiations were initiated. The Colombian peace process also saw the organisation of a National Summit of Women and Peace, and later, the establishment of a Subcommittee on Gender to offer inputs to the peace agreement itself. Not only has the innovative peace architecture allowed the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) to begin to heal the societal wounds inflicted by the civil war which spanned over 5 decades, but it has allowed those involved in the conflict to attempt to bring about a sustainable peace which incorporates the needs and experiences of Colombian women. The peace process also signals a significant step towards the realisation of United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1325.

The landmark Resolution 1325 highlighted the role of women in both the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peacebuilding, and stressed the importance of their equal participation and the full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Furthermore, the need to implement fully international humanitarian law that affords protection to women during and after conflict was reaffirmed. The importance of the involvement of women in peace negotiations and agreements is unquestionable. UN Women found that where women are included in peace processes, there is a 20% increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 2 years, with a 35% increase in the likelihood of an agreement lasting at least 15 years. The Resolution was passed in 2000; however, between 1992 and 2011, only 4% of signatories to peace agreements and less than 10% of negotiators at peace tables were women. Thus, despite a decade passing since the Resolution, there was no definitive shift in the involvement of women in post-conflict negotiations and peace agreements.

However, in the recent Colombian peace negotiations, one third of peace table participants were women, with negotiators meeting with women from both sides of the conflict. The landmark National Summit of Women and Peace was convened in 2013, with around 500 women from various ethnic, regional and cultural backgrounds attending the conference and participating in the peacebuilding efforts by providing valuable inputs into the peace negotiations taking place. The involvement of women in the peace process and the Summit was backed by Norway and Cuba, who, as facilitators of the initial talks between FARC-EP and the Colombian government, listed women and security as a top priority during the negotiations. A second Summit was held in September 2016, which emphasised the importance of women’s participation in the final endorsement and implementation of the peace agreement. UN Women noted that the Summit allowed for analysis of the peace agreement through a gender lens, with participants discussing how to address the challenges specific to women – such as conditions for their equal participation in land restitution and the reintegration processes. The participants also presented proposals for the effective participation of women in peacebuilding in post-agreement Colombia.

The establishment of the Subcommittee on Gender in the aftermath of the Summit was unparalleled, and formed part of the formal peace architecture in Colombia. The subcommittee – established in September 2014 following mounting pressure from women’s organisations – consists of representatives from all parties to the conflict, conferred with the objective of including voices of women and reviewing the peace agreement from a gender perspective. UN Women have stated that the direct participation of women and victims at the negotiating table had an important impact, as not only were the rights and needs of women incorporated into the agreement, but testimonies delivered by witnesses and victims highlighted the brutal nature of the armed conflict and the shattering effect on the social fabric of Colombian communities. The subcommittee was therefore a unique conflict resolution mechanism that allowed members to address the rights of women victims to the conflict. In addition, women will included in the top echelons of the justice system through the Special Jurisdiction for Peace – a set of judicial bodies which will investigate the crimes falling within its jurisdiction – which has an elected female President and 28 female justices.

Obviously, there are several challenges that lie ahead; recent weeks have seen Colombia’s peace efforts put in limo as a result of FARC-EP’s sudden departure from the upcoming campaigns. Furthermore, Colombia faces a huge challenge of facilitating the reintegration of ex-combatant women into society, given that women comprised approximately 40% of the FARC-EP forces. However, despite the current volatile context, it is clear that the extensive involvement of women in the Colombian peace process is a critical step towards the realisation of Resolution 1325 and provides a set of best practices for the international community.

Phoebe Saintilan is commencing her Master of Peace and Conflict Studies. She was previously working in New York as a Consultant in the UN Secretariat.

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