Indigenous women’s inclusion in the Colombia peace process: conversation with the National Coordination of Indigenous Women in Colombia (CONAMIC)
CONAMIC is an organisation that brings together women from 10 different indigenous groups in Colombia. We formed to defend our rights in response to the needs we have in our territories for economic autonomy, political participation, enforcement of justice, rights and equality. Indigenous women in Colombia feel excluded.
To me, peace means walking peacefully throughout my territory and enjoying freedom of expression as a people.
Yana Liliana (Misak)
Outside indigenous territories, cultural and racial discrimination affects all indigenous peoples. We were disproportionately affected by the armed conflict and today we are still the targets of threats and assassinations on a weekly basis.
Threats to our indigenous male leaders challenge their ‘machismo’. Our indigenous communities are the only space men have to exercise autonomy and power. They zealously defend their authority and women’s opportunities for participation are minimal.
Historically, we women have been submissive. We have prioritised household roles over external ones. This holds back women who want to assume organisational positions. We have internalised a form of violence according to which thinking ‘we aren’t good enough’ or ‘we can’t do it’, and this has hindered us. We women have helped construct machismo. We have naturalised violence and discrimination against women. Non-indigenous women have gone through similar experiences, but many of them have had more opportunities for education and more economic autonomy than most indigenous women.
When indigenous women began to organise, some our own authorities looked at us with distrust, fearing that we might constitute a countervailing power.
Women still have not realised that what prevents their development is the patriarchal structure. Knowledge gives power. In CONAMIC’s short existence, we have joined forces with other grassroots women and created awareness. We provide external knowledge that allows us to contribute to our ancestral domains.
It is very important for us to maintain and reinforce our indigenous identity. Our objective is to strengthen the structures of indigenous cabildos (local councils), working together with the men. We women are transmitters of culture.
We strive to exercise influence on the ‘life projects’ of communities, working to provide guidelines regarding protection and safety of women and girls. ‘Life projects’ refer to the specific, internal development plans of each indigenous group. They are the roadmap that allows us to move forward, bringing harmony to our territories.
Challenges and opportunities of the peace process
The peace process offers windows of opportunity. The gender and ethnic chapters [in the peace agreement] allow us indigenous women to organise and make proposals, but we face difficulties when trying to take advantage of these opportunities. Our proposals are not acknowledged. Our main challenge is to get included in opinion and decision-making spaces, both in the structures of indigenous communities and at the national level.
Men tend to speak on behalf of women. Although the peace agreement includes a differentiated gender perspective, the government summons indigenous authorities, which are all male, to discuss guidelines concerning women, with respect to land and justice issues, without consulting us.
The gender chapter does not specify the progress that should be made regarding indigenous women. The types of exclusion and discrimination we face are different from those of non-indigenous women.
It is necessary to ‘socialise’ the contents of the peace agreements. Two years after they were signed the contents of the agreements have still not been disseminated and we have not been made aware of the opportunities they provide. We find many of the acronyms confusing. This limits our participation.
We are also finding challenges with the delegates sent by institutions to discuss ‘territorially focused development plans’, since they arrive with preconceived notions about what needs to be done. Women are summoned to village meetings and many take part. However, the structural exclusion of women impedes their actual participation.
Peace is in jeopardy because the government is not keeping its promises to the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia]. There is a risk that demobilised guerrillas return to the jungle where the indigenous population lives.
Lessons we would like to share with indigenous women from other countries
Indigenous communities have a long history of resistance to war, both within and outside our territories. We are proud of the efforts we have made to contribute to the peace agreement: we have created and participated in working groups that have influenced the negotiations.
We have taken the initiative to monitor United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and to produce specific indicators for indigenous women.
We are crossing borders in terms of interculturality, forging alliances between indigenous and non-indigenous women. These alliances allow us to exercise influence at the national and international levels regarding complex issues like mining and the defence of our territories.
When we remain silent, we are considered insignificant. Visibility earns us respect, but it also entails risks, including threats. We have no guarantees of security, but indigenous female leaders have developed great resilience.