The Colombian peace process, which was ratified one year ago on November 24, 2016, was lauded as one of the most gender-inclusive peace processes in history. Unlike in previous peace talks in Colombia, where few women were given seats at the table, the 2016 negotiations adopted the principles of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), committed to “the participation of women in conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding.”
Throughout the armed conflict, women and girls were differentially affected by violence, more likely than their male counterparts to be subjected to massive displacement, sexual violence, rape, forced labour, forced prostitutions, and enslavement.
For the political advancement of women to have a systemic impact in post-conflict Colombia, its benefits must now extend beyond Bogota to the local level, and ensure the protection, support and empowerment of women survivors in the long-term.
Towards more gender awareness
At the beginning of the years-long negotiation process, women were largely absent from peace discussions. However, vocal and consistent advocacy from women’s coalitions, civil society organizations, and the international community led to the formation of a Gender Sub-Commission in the peace talks in September 2014, consisting of five representatives from government and five from the FARC-EP.
As negotiations progressed, women sat in influential posts on major commissions, sub-commissions and working groups. Of the 40 FARC-EP representatives at the peace negotiations in Havana, nearly half were women (although most of these were involved primarily in press and communications, indicating significant room for improvement at placing women in positions of decision-making authority).
The process also engaged consultations from delegations of victims, women’s groups, and LGBTI organizations on an unprecedented level. This formal acknowledgment of the importance of female perspectives led to the inclusion of gender awareness and language throughout the 2016 Peace Agreement, including “the recognition of equal rights between men and women,” and addressing the need to ensure affirmative measures to promote equality, the active participation of women in peace-building, and recognition of the victimization of women because of the conflict.
The importance of the local level support
Although this dialogue and recognition served as a victory in itself, its successful implementation requires support at both the local and policy levels.
A key first step took place in September, with the announcement of the selected magistrates who will preside over Colombia’s transitional justice tribunals. Following an extensive selection process, 53% of the judicial appointments went to women, promoting gender equality in the top echelons of justice. This step provided clear signals that implementers of the Peace Agreement are committed to following its principles of gender parity.
In November, the Constitutional Court released sentence C-224, which highlighted that women have the status of subjects of special constitutional protection and reaffirmed the requirement for women’s participation in the national commissions implementing the Peace Agreement.
Changing culture takes time
Nonetheless, Colombia remains a deeply patriarchal society in both private and public spheres. The transformation of social gender dynamics still lags behind political discourse. Implementation of gender parity in the peace process has also been limited by the fact that, in Colombia, the majority of women’s participation takes place at the local level.
There remain high levels of impunity for perpetrators of crimes of sexual and gender-based violence and weak state response to women’s demands for reparation and criminal investigations. Systemic failure to ensure guarantees of protection for women often precludes their participation in judicial spaces and civic life.
Looking ahead, the success or failure of the Colombian Peace Agreement rests on the government’s ability to ensure security in the vacuum left by the disarmament of the FARC-EP, and to benefit all civilian stakeholders, including women, in a meaningful and representative fashion.
Lawyers Without Borders Canada (LWBC), through its project Transitional Justice and Women (JUSTRAM) funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC), is carrying out initiatives to support women’s participation in the transitional justice process in Colombia, including developing recommendations on incorporating the needs of women into the implementation of the Peace Agreement, and conducting workshops for women, girls, and vulnerable groups on transitional justice, gender rights and political participation.