The recent Colombian peace agreement, which was signed in 2016, brought about the end of a civil conflict which has ravaged the country since the 1960s. The conflict between left-wing guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (NLA) has resulted in the deaths of over 220,000 civilians and the displacement of over 6 million civilians.
The peace agreement was a monumental achievement, which generated much conversation and a Nobel Peace Prize. However, the involvement of women has been generally overlooked in this historical process.
The strong link between women and peace is irrefutable. Data collected by UN Women shows that when women are included in peace processes, there is a 20% increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least two years and a 35% increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 15 years. This realization has been supported by the passing of numerous UN Resolutions, which recognize the experience of women as more than passive civilians and notes the active role that women can play in peace-building. The contributions of women in the Colombian peace negotiations have been recognized internationally as innovative and inclusive.
Throughout negotiations, women played an active role and comprised over one-third of overall participants. Each delegation had a gender sub-commission whose role was to examine the proposed texts at each stage and ensure the presence of a gender sensitive outlook. Contributing both general and gender-specific information, women comprised 60% of experts and victims giving evidence. Women also participated as negotiators and represented their views in specific delegations composed of women who had been affected by conflict.
The participation of women in this process was crucial in ensuring that the experiences of women were noted, and their unique challenges were sufficiently addressed. They were also critical in ensuring that LGBTI groups were included in the process.
Despite this success, over 3 000 women who operated as part of the FARC rebel group have reported challenges in their integration into post-conflict society. After being given relatively equal opportunities during their time as combatants with the FARC group, these women are now expected to embrace traditional gender roles and have reported being subject to discrimination they have not faced previously.
Similarly, the statements within the peace agreement referring specifically to LGBTI groups have been met with some opposition from within Colombia. This has also seen the rise of a conservative religious movement advocating for traditional gender binary and a return to traditional gender roles, views which have further complicated the reintegration of former combatants.
So, what comes next? Too often, gender initiatives arising from peace processes end up being ignored and underfunded as part of the myth that women’s issues are separate from the peace process and can wait until later. Following the active role of women in the Colombian peace process, the proposed initiatives must receive sufficient prioritization, funding, and action to ensure a sustainable and inclusive peace.
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