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Tanja Nijmeijer

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Alexandra Nariño (Tanja Nijmeijer) is an international combatant from The Netherlands and member of the Peace Delegation of the FARC-EP
Sunday, 28 September 2014 00:00

This is just the beginning

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Written by Tanja Nijmeijer

On September 7, the FARC-EP and the National Government officially installed the gender sub-committee of the peace talks, "to guarantee a gender perspective in the partial agreements achieved until now and in an eventual final agreement". In my view, there are two powerful arguments that support the existence of such committee.


Firstly, in Colombia there is an immense need to resolve conflict-related urgent situations of women in Colombia, like the right to truth by the victims of the conflict, land access, the right to participate in politics without being stigmatized or murdered, victim's compensation, etc.

This being true for all Colombians who suffer the conflict, it especially is so for women, who suffer its impact in a differentiated way; in the first place because of being women, but also because of the role they have been assigned by society. Although there is less direct participation of women in military corpses - 3,6% of the public force consists of women (1), while around 40% of the FARC-EP are female fighters (2) - women carry a major burden of the conflict on their shoulders, be it because of the loss of their social fabric, installations, facilities and economic and social services, or be it because of forced displacement (3), sexual violence (4), massacres or other forms of violence.

They need not only to be listened to; their most urgent needs will have to be resolved, the victims to be compensated. It is obvious though that the existing laws, institutions, mechanisms and human/financial resources don't sufficiently satisfy their existing needs for justice, truth and compensation. There are too many obstacles, too little gender-specific knowledge by public servants, too much bureaucracy (5)...

The major part of the conditions that affect women have structural causes that could be alleviated after the end of the conflict, but never resolved

Including a gender perspective in the peace accords can thus be of vital help for creating mechanisms to resolve women's most urgent problems, derived from the conflict itself.

But there is another reason for including the gender issue in this peace process: it is a possibility to make progress beyond the violations and discrimination directly derived from the conflict, since the major part of the conditions that affect women have structural causes that could be alleviated after the end of the conflict, but never resolved. As mentioned by Jenny Pearce: "The end of armed conflicts does not automatically mean the end of violence for many women as the absence of war does not necessarily mean the absence of violence in a society, and it certainly does not mean an end to conflict" (6). Ending the conflict is only a pre-requisite to start looking for solutions to gender-related violence in society. 

This is definitely true for Colombia. In 2013, 20.739 cases of sexual violence were registered; 47,01% of the cases took place within the family or relationship, while 38,64% was committed by a friend, an acquaintance or colleague (7).

In 77,58% of the total number of cases of domestic violence in 2013, the victim was a woman (52.933 cases) (8).

In Colombia, patriarchy reigns in all spheres of daily life, but we just need to observe some examples of political life to understand the nature of this reign. Although 51,3% of the population consists of women, they are only 3% of the governors, 17% of the deputies, 14% of Councillors and 10% of the mayors in the country.

These numbers show that this is a men's world, at all levels. And to modify that, significant constitutional, institutional and cultural changes are needed.

It is more and more accepted that peace processes are the opportunity par excellence, not only to be the end of a conflict, but also to be the beginning of carrying out deep transformations, that have been waiting too long for their implementation. This idea, apart from being claimed by the FARC-EP since the very beginning of the peace dialogue, has also been discussed by prominent scholars like Johan Galtung, who put forward the concept of "positive peace"; a peace not merely consisting of an absence of violence (or, as the FARC-EP puts it: the silence of the rifles), but a peace with a content of social justice and democracy (9).

This broader meaning of the concept "peace process" is fully supported by the General Agreement of Havana, which states, among others, that "It is important to amplify democracy as a condition to achieve solid bases for peace" and "Economic development with social justice and in harmony with the environment is a guarantee of peace and progress".

The final approval of the peace accord, including its gender perspective, should be given by a National Constituent Assembly, with the participation of a proportionate number of women and representatives of the community of lesbians, gays, transgenders, bisexuals and intersexuals

Indeed, the idea of this peace process being the beginning of a New Colombia is very important for the FARC-EP, also in terms of gender equality and women's rights. The final peace accord shouldn't contain vague promises of compliance of incomprehensible and often contradictory national laws regarding women's rights; it should be a historic example of the design of concrete mechanisms to improve women's living conditions, increase their participation in public life and abolish all types of violence against them in Colombia.

The final approval of the peace accord, including its gender perspective, should be given by a National Constituent Assembly, with the participation of a proportionate number of women and representatives of the community of lesbians, gays, transgenders, bisexuals and intersexuals. In a way, the lack of direct participation in this peace process by grassroots organizations and political and social movements would be compensated with it.

A final note: Deep institutional and legal transformations aren't enough to reach a society totally free of gender discrimination, machismo and sexism. We have to seek the historical roots of these illnesses in the history of society and its class division and exploitation; therefore, the elimination of the different types of violence that are based on them, requires something more than just constitutional, legal or institutional changes. It requires truly revolutionary changes that dismantle the basis of exploitation and social exclusion of all human beings.

For the moment, we could start with changes on two fronts: class and gender

But even deep changes in the economic basis of society and its political superstructure won't guarantee an automatic change in the cultural, philosophical, psychological superstructure, which - for centuries - has assigned a different role to women and men. To overcome prejudice, stereotypes and devaluation of women - and certain minorities and social groups -, requires an additional approach including class, race, gender, ethnicity, among others. It requires new men and women, with new political, ethical and moral principles and values.

For the moment, we could start with changes on two fronts: class and gender. As bell hooks once stated: "(...) there was a convergence of those issues of class and gender (...) I'm very much in favor of the kind of education for critical consciousness that says: Let's not look at these thing separately. Let's look at how they converge so that when we begin to take a stand against them, we can take that kind of strategic stance that allows us to be self-determining as a people struggling in a revolutionary way on all fronts"(10).

With this approach, at least the miserable situation of many Colombian women could be alleviated, under the premise that laws and institutions work the way they should. Unfortunately, the current Colombian society is a sad example of a failed state; there is an abundance of ambiguous laws, used by the elites whenever and the way it suits them. This is something which must be resolved in the first place. We always say: we are not expecting to bring about a revolution at the Conversation Table in Havana, we are here to claim political space for our ideas of equality and social justice.

This is just the beginning.

(1) The total amount of members of the public force in Colombia is 470.988. According to defense minister Juan Carlos Pinz?n, there are 17.000 women active in the public force (military and police), which is 3,6% of the total force. http://www.elcolombiano.com

(2) Estimates about female participation in the ranks of the FARC-EP are between 30 and 40% http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_structure_of_the_FARC-EP#Female_fighters. FARC-EP estimates that the number is approximately 40%.

(3) CONSEJERIA PRESIDENCIAL PARA LA EQUIDAD DE LA MUJER; 2012: 22: 51% of the total displaced population (4.662.600 people in 2012) in Colombia consists of women.

(4) Although most cases of sexual violence are committed within the private sphere and not within the context of the armed conflict, as many people believe, there are still a considerable number of cases of sexual violence (94 cases in 2011) committed by the public force (58,02%), paramilitary forces (27,16%) or guerrillas (14,81%). www.cladem.org/pdf/ColombiaIA_2013_cedaw.pdf

(5) Access to justice for women victims of violence is a problem, since every jurist attends appr. 340 women at the same time, while most of them don't have any specialization or specific focus on women's rights. An example of putting obstacles is decree 2734 of 2012, which states that for a woman victim of gender violence to have access to special benefits (also established by law), she should present ?a medical exam which certifies that the measure corresponds to the damage suffered by the woman and she should also ask for a risk evaluation by the police, which lasts for more than 10 days?. In a country where the public force is responsible for 58,02 of conflict-related, sexual violence and famous for its links with paramilitary death squads, this is far from clever.

(6) Pearce, Jenny: ?Sustainable peace building in the south: Experiences from Latin America In Development, women and war: Feminist perspectives?, Oxfam GB, 1997.

(7) INML and CF, magazine Forensis: Delito sexual http://www.medicinalegal.gov.co/documents/10180/188820/FORENSIS+2013+8-+delito+sexual.pdf/b733218a-c476-4215-989d-e490635af6c6

(8) INML and CF, magazine Forensis: Violencia Intrafamiliar http://www.medicinalegal.gov.co/documents/10180/188820/FORENSIS+2013+7-+violencia+intrafamiliar.pdf/dd93eb8c-4f9a-41f0-96d7-4970c3c4ec74

(9) Galtung, Johan: ?Peace by peaceful means: Peace and conflict, development and civilization?, Sage Publications Ltd., London 1996.

(10) Interview with bell hooks by Third World Viewpoint, 1995 http://soaw.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=910

Last modified on Tuesday, 15 March 2016 18:46