They were in Bogota to take part in a seminar organised by our Colombian partner, CIASE, on what it means to be a young female peacebuilder in Colombia right now. They described the different ways in which they are supporting peace in their country, and shared some of the barriers they have faced.
The current trend in international policy to focus on the prevention of extremist violence, often leads to young people being portrayed as a threat to be managed. Yet I saw the great determination of these young women to act for peace, as well as their vision and ideas to achieve this. As Colombia undertakes the challenging task of implementing a peace deal signed in 2016, we’re working with CIASE to ensure that the views and opinions of different sectors of society are included, particularly those of young women.
Indira, who is 25 and is a former combatant of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was one of the speakers at the seminar. She joined the FARC when she was just 16. Since the war ended, she has been using theatre as a powerful tool to share the story of ex-combatants. She feels that many young combatants are viewed simply as victims of recruitment, but many joined for political reasons. She is also hoping her art will tackle some of the gender stereotypes that the media is using to describe female combatants.
I also met Lorena, who is a lieutenant in the Police Unit for Peacebuilding (UNIPEP), also known as the “Peace Police”, who shared her story at the seminar. She worked with the United Nations and former members of the FARC in the Llanos del Yarí region of Colombia to support the process of disarmament and demobilisation as laid out in the peace agreement. She was the only woman to represent the police during the process.
The voices of young women like Indira and Lorena are too often missing from discussions on Colombia’s continuing peace process. But like many young women, they are working hard to defend the peace process which they still have hope in. The peace agreement was a milestone for their generation, and the young women I met had very clear visions of what a peaceful Colombia could look like.
It is crucial that we work with young women to support them in building long-term, sustainable peace in their communities, and to ensure greater participation of young women in peace processes.
This work has been funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), as part of a wider project, "Including the Future", looking at ways to ensure youth inclusion in peacebuilding.