Colombian woman

This article is an extract from the NOREF/Conciliation Resources publication Innovations in the Colombian Peace Process. 

Despite many years of advocacy and even a number of UN Security Council resolutions highlighting the importance of women’s participation in peace negotiations, women hardly ever obtain a seat at the negotiating table. In 2003 the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers created the first ever Gender Subcommission in a peace negotiating process. However, this commission only met once and did not have a major impact.

Following significant pressure from women’s organisations, on September 2014 the Colombian government and the FARC agreed to create a Gender Subcommission tasked with reviewing all documents issued as part of the peace process and ensuring that they contained gender sensitive language and provisions. The commission was composed of a varying number of women from each delegation, and three international members. Men from both delegations have also participated in its deliberations.

Between December 2014 and March 2015 the commission invited three delegations from civil society organisations (comprising 18 people in total) working on gender issues, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and/or intersex (LGBTI) organisations, to present their insights regarding the gender approach in the peace negotiations and agreements. The Gender Subcommission has highlighted the gender dimension of the conflict and the need to address this dimension in the peace agreement. Colombia is probably the first country ever to address LGBTI rights in a peace negotiation.

The creation of the Gender Subcommission is one of several indicators of increased acknowledgement by the negotiating panels of the relevance of women’s participation. In the negotiations in Havana men dominated both negotiating panels, and only one woman from the FARC and two from the government were appointed as plenipotentiary negotiators. However, women have led the bulk of the technical teams on both sides.

Since the peace negotiations started the FARC has made a very significant shift in its approach to women’s empowerment and gender equality. From not paying much attention to this issue, it has now become a centrepiece in the organisation’s communications strategy. It has created a Twitter and Facebook account dealing with FARC women, and has explicitly echoed some feminist language in some of its statements. Approximately 40% of its combat forces are women.

Colombia does not have a national action plan to implement UN Security Council resolutions on women’s protection and empowerment. This has not prevented civil society organisations from achieving significant progress. After  comprehensive documentation and advocacy efforts, preventing violence against women is now a mainstream concern. The main networks of women’s organisations were also successful in combining their efforts in a Women’s Summit in 2013, which allowed them to assess the negotiating agenda and make recommendations to the negotiating panels. Other parallel developments have been the empowerment of indigenous women, who have created the first ever National Commission of Indigenous Women. Women have also been able to create the first permanent dialogue space between civil society and the security sector.