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victoria.jpgRSS Victoria Sandino Palmera

Victoria Sandino Palmera is member of the Peace Delegation and she is part of its Gender Subcommission 
Friday, 06 May 2016 00:00

Guerrilla Women Aspire to Play Prominent Role after the Agreement

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Simanca Judith Herrera, known inside the FARC as 'Victoria Sandino', is one of the 12 women interviewed for the book 'Women: peace, politics and power', recently published by Ediciones Aurora.

Jesus Anibal Suarez, director of the publisher and editor of the publication, gave himself the task of making a list of women promoters of changes and put them together in the book because he believes that "women will play a decisive role in the consolidation of the process peace "with the FARC.

El Tiempo reproduces part of the interview made for that publication by economist Chila Pineda to guerrilla 'Victoria Sandino', which entered the FARC 23 years ago and now heads the Subcommission on Gender at the peace talks in Havana.

In the daily life of the guerrillas, do you receive a special treatment because you are women?

There really is no special treatment for being women, by contrast, it is on equal terms, with the same tasks, activities, duties and rights, because those are the conditions of war. When there is confrontation, or attacks by military or paramilitary forces, there is no different treatment for women; on the contrary, where they know there is a command run by women or with the presence of women the enemies show even less mercy, perhaps because they think that guerrilla women are weak and that it will be easier to beat this command or destroy it. It is a sexist conception they have, and consider that they can not be attacked or beaten by women. So guerrilla women must have a hard training, with significant physical exercise, besides the permanent study for the construction of revolutionary consciousness and the sacrifices involved in this struggle (...).

Also read: Sexual false positives? We need the truth

We have heard that you have expressed discomfort in particular against the various versions about sexual violence. What is it about?
The issue of sexual violence has been one of the main battlegrounds of those who make opposition to dialogue or those seeking the surrender of the FARC, or see their members in prison. For this they search for alleged crimes considered crimes against humanity or war crimes which would discredit us before any international body such as the International Criminal Court or the UN. They seek not only to hurt, but also to humiliate us. (...)
It is absurd to think that those who have acquired antipatriarchal revolutionary consciousness would allow themselves or anyone in ranks or outside them being mistreated.


In various press reports you can read that you are forced to abort. Could you clarify that?
(...) We have chosen to be revolutionary fighters to produce the social, economic, political and cultural changes the country needs; that involves a series of sacrifices, such as the desire to get pregnant because of the safety hazard that this implies, not only for the child and the mother but for the whole group. Add to this that it is impossible to raise a child because of the heinous nature of the war imposed by the regime, not to mention the fact that our families, sons and daughters become military targets and are persecuted. They are being disappeared or they are “stolen”.

So we use contraceptives, but if contraceptive methods fail, or do not arrive in time, and one becomes pregnant, and if there are health conditions and military security for the woman fighter, then abortion is practiced, provided the guerrilla agrees. Indeed the latest provisions contemplate that abortion is to be carried out just before three months of pregnancy and not after that moment.
All these stories of forced abortions are supposed testimonies of demobilized guerrillas; I do not deny the possibility that some commander could have misinterpreted the rules and pressured some guerrilla, but this is not the policy of the organization.

Also read: Guerrilla combatants are revolutionary, aware and free women

In the story of one of you we read that sometimes guerrilla women leave the ranks for some periods to care for the sick and children. How is that?
When a comrade is pregnant and can not or doesn’t want to carry out an abortion, that is, when she chooses to have her baby, we seek to bring her to a safe place so she can have her baby and spend some time with her son or daughter, for the primary basic care. This depends on the security situation in the area. The problem is that many of our guerrillas have been captured before having their child or immediately after.
There is the case of 'Andrea', the guerrillas they try to capture and managed to fly from the hospital leaving her son because he was in an incubator, and the next day she sent a person authorized to get her son but it turned out that the army had baby stolen and had given it to the Institute of Family Welfare. The military demanded the presence of the mother in order to release the baby. The child was given up for adoption illegally, without allowing his family to reclaim him and less his mother, who is still in the ranks.
Another case is that of the same 'Karina', who is now at government service: they bowed her will to fight till bringing her to betray her principles by putting pressure on her with threats against her daughter. You know that a mother does anything for her children, and this happened in many situations. That is our reality, and still they seek to criminalize abortion in the guerrilla ranks. This is an achievement we won’t give up. And obviously we do this respecting the freedom of women, not against them. We know what we face and assumed the costs, when we are in this life of tireless and tough fight.

Also read: Guerrilla women have the right to know where their children are

You who have listened to different women in the Gender Subcommission, do you see validity in feminists’ struggle?
It is not only valid but necessary. We recognize the progress made by feminists, their contribution in the fight for equality and emancipation of women. That struggle has enabled momentous achievements. But we must move forward, because the struggle does not end, we have to study the history, feminist theories, discuss, meet and promote a great movement of women, not only in Colombia but on the continent. Let us not forget, however, that the fight is for the change of the social paradigm, it goes beyond the feminist struggle, although clearly feminism cannot be ignored. 


Patriarchy is a system that reproduces power relations in all contexts, movements, parties and also in private life. How power relations are in a guerrilla organization?
Our organization is hierarchical and disciplined by its nature, social relations are determined by respect and camaraderie, but as in every army, power is vertical and is determined by the degree and level of responsibilities. This does not mean that there are no patriarchal attitudes in comrades of both sexes, attitudes we are fighting against on a daily basis with our principles and revolutionary practice. First of all we are a human organization where we all arrived with defects, aspirations, deformation; but we have a revolutionary and collective consciousness, and democratic spaces that allow us to raise the issues, criticizing those who need to be corrected. With the formation of our men and women in ranks and with the population of which we are part.

How inequality against women is dealt with in the guerrilla?
When I say that in the organization women enjoy equal rights and duties, it is true and is recognized in the rules. But macho attitudes and behaviors persist, inherited from the patriarchal capitalist society from which we come. They express themselves in subtle attitudes that appear to be normal, as the case of jokes, comments or condescension and other individual expressions. I must say that the situation of one unit to another in this matter may vary. In places where the comandante or the female comandante is aware of the importance of fighting against patriarchal expressions, we see that guerrillas are much more respectful and we see many women in important tasks, all with great commitment; but where the comandantes do not feel the need to correct, it's up to the girls themselves to point out these attitudes. One thing is for sure: whenever there is mistreatment of a comrade, woman or man, it is severely punished (...).

Also read: Gender Discrimination: a FARC-EP Problem?

(...) Almost always, women, after peace is agreed, as happened in Central America, return to subordinated places of domestic life. What do you want for the future of women combatants ? What would you like to do in peace times, in addition to working for social justice?
As peace is not the end of the struggle but its evolution, it is expected that all FARC guerrilla women aspire to continue playing a leading role in the new political movement arising from the signing of the agreements. The challenge of peace is even greater and women in the FARC assume the same responsibility as we have done in the war. And of course there will be time to share with our families; the younger ones have their whole life ahead.

Do you think that peace can be made without women?
No, there can be no peace without including women, without the active participation of more than half of the Colombian population, because women - like men - have fought and yearn for a better future for our country and its new generations and because a civilized society cannot continue discriminating and oppressing women.
In addition, there is a phenomenon belonging to war, which is the product of persecution and murder of so many men who occupied popular leadership, so women on numerous occasions had to assume those roles. That is an objective reason why peace is a matter that concerns women. And for a dignified peace, towards good living conditions, it is essential to recognize women and our rights.


What impression have the interventions of the 18 women who have gone to Havana as part of the Subcommission on Gender left on you?
These meetings have been revealing. We discovered that we identify with many of them, with their struggles and aspirations; we have differences, but we listen and respect each other. Above all, we can build identities despite the differences. With the two representatives of the LGBTI population, it has been surprising to find out that there are more coincidences than differences, they are people who are very willing to contribute to change and to peace. We share with all men and women the desire for peace with social justice, for an inclusive country that respects differences.

Do you think the Subcommission on Gender will continue?
It must, that is the agreement between the parties. From our side we gave our word on it. Peace is built with everyone, men and women, with all the diversity, with women, so that is why the Subcommission must continue beyond the final agreement.


Last modified on Wednesday, 11 May 2016 20:28