The fifty-year-long internal conflict between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has come to an official close. This past August in Cuba, the two delegations signed a peace agreement ending the war and paving the way for future reform. This is a pivotal moment for Colombia not to be taken lightly; countless setbacks have slowed the prospect of peace during the past four years of formal negotiations for a conflict that has killed an estimated 220,000 people and displaced millions. The signed deal, which will be put to a plebiscite on October 2 for final approval, calls for a bilateral ceasefire and an end to hostilities. With a peace agreement in hand, the focus now turns to post-conflict reconstruction to strengthen institutions, rebuild civil society, and foster greater inclusion of marginalized populations.
Women have played essential roles in the peacemaking process thus far. The unique value that their perspectives as mediators, survivors and experts will add to future reconciliations should not be dismissed. Women’s essential role in the peace process is not a new phenomenon. At the national level, women in Colombia organized a National Summit of Women and Peace in 2013 to collectively demand inclusivity when they felt that they weren’t being fairly represented. In gathering 450 women and generating more than 800 suggestions, their mobilization resulted in public recognition – by both the government and FARC – of the important role women play in the peacebuilding. President Santos acted on this belief by subsequently appointing two women to the negotiating team for the Colombian government. Additionally, in 2014 the negotiations established a Gender Subcommission to incorporate women’s issues into the final accord.
More recently in 2016, women have come together under the slogan of “One Million Women for Peace” to continue to push for parity and the inclusion of a gendered perspective throughout the peace process. The movement specifically highlights the experiences and knowledge of indigenous and Afro-Colombian women, communities which have been greatly affected by the conflict.
Unfortunately, this conflict has also led to the displacement of a significant proportion of the female population in Colombia. The majority of displacement occurred in rural areas, where state power is mostly decentralized and ancestral land has been lost to natural resource wealth and seized by rebels to fund operations. With the loss of ancestral land and danger posed by violence in these regions, massive numbers of Colombians have fled to urban areas. Since the beginning of the conflict in 1964, Human Rights Watch estimates the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to be more than 6.8 million. Among refugee and IDP populations, women are the majority, facing heightened risk of sexual violence, barriers to accessing social services, and exclusion from participating in the formal labor market. During reconstruction, special attention should be paid to education, as women from rural or indigenous communities often lack the formal education necessary to secure employment in urban settings.
Having a voice at the negotiating table and beyond enables women to advocate for gender-specific policies to help catalyze inclusive, sustainable peace. In a joint statement made this July, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, and Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said that with the opportunities for change that the peace process presents, “…we must now ensure that women are included in all aspects of decision-making, with specific provisions for gender balance, and in power-sharing arrangements.”
The success of this next phase of reparations will depend upon the public, private and nonprofit sectors’ ability to address current deficits for the future. For example, with support from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the Universidad AutĢ_noma de Bucaramanga, 30 Colombian women trained in mediation and conflict resolution will serve as a network of resources to their communities across the country. Other issues at the forefront of this goal include supporting survivors, public service provision, and transitional justice reform. With these goals prioritized and with the contributions of women, LGBTQ, indigenous and ethnic communities, Colombia can begin to build post-conflict stability.