As the Colombian Government prepares to meet with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana, Cuba, later this month for the second phase of the peace talks, the role of women—and in particular Afrodescendant women—in guaranteeing a successful peace effort requires support from the international community.
Olga Amparo of Colombianos y Colombianas por la Paz noted that while it is unsurprising that women are not on the negotiating teams—women are neither part of the FARC nor in the armed forces’ top command structures—“it does expose Colombia’s democratic deficit” of female political participation. Though Colombia has adopted norms favoring women’s rights, in practice, the political voice of Colombian women has remained muffled, and exclusion of Afro-Colombian women is particularly problematic. Incorporating the perspective of Afro-Colombian women into the issues debated at the peace talks will do more than just dramatically increase the odds that the process will succeed. It will strengthen Colombia’s democracy by bridging the political gap that exists for Colombian women and ethnic minorities and stabilize this post-conflict country.
According to Ms. Amparo, a WOLA partner, the peace talks are not going to resolve all of Colombia’s chronic, systemic problems. The most likely outcome is that they result in an agreement to end the internal armed conflict and establish a series of mechanisms for how to address the underlying issues that contribute to conflict. For the latter to happen effectively, certain major challenges must be addressed. First, Colombia is a place where violence has been used for decades to resolve differences. To change that dynamic, confidence must be built among Colombians of all walks of life. Stakeholders must promote the idea that political change is possible through a participatory democratic system in which the different perspectives within Colombian society are guaranteed a voice. Second, bold efforts must be undertaken to dismantle the remnants of paramilitary and organized criminal structures. Third, civil society input—particularly by women—is necessary to help reconcile Colombian society and to contribute to constructive avenues by which to deal with difficult issues. A final challenge lies with the demilitarization of Colombian society. All sides of the conflict, and the society itself, must begin to think of order and security without arms as the way forward. Women are essential in ensuring that all of these challenges are addressed.
Both as activists and as victims, women have played an important role in raising awareness of how the internal armed conflict and violence has impacted them. With the support of the Open Society Foundations, WOLA had the privilege of conducting advocacy workshops with Afro-Colombian women in four conflict-ridden areas along the country’s Pacific Coast earlier this year. We were able to view firsthand the tenacity, resilience, strength, and political sophistication of women in the Chocó, Valle del Cauca, and Cauca.
During our conversations with Afro-Colombian women, we learned of the complexities of internal displacement, militarization, sexual violence, and mothers’ horrors of experiencing forced recruitment of their children into the conflict. More striking than the terrible stories of violence and abuses, though, was the leadership exerted by many of these women and the belief that their circumstances could change and justice could be achieved if their recommendations and efforts were supported.