By Cassandra Atlas
The stage is set for a new round of peace talks to begin in the seemingly intractable internal armed conflict that has gripped Colombia for nearly fifty years.
In the fifth attempt since the 1980s, peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will start next week in Norway and continue in Cuba in the coming weeks, possibly with the National Liberation Front (ELN), another of Colombia’s longstanding guerrilla factions, joining its counterparts at the negotiating table.
By all accounts the moment is ripe for a political settlement to Colombia’s perpetual conflict. Despite carrying out successful attacks over the last year, including a midday car bombing in a busy commercial center in Bogotá, the FARC appears to be weak militarily.
While the Colombian government continues to maintain a military advantage over the country’s illegal armed groups, the ability of the FARC to execute attacks in the capital without interference suggests that the potency of Government intelligence and military capability are also open to debate. The current stalemate creates a glimmer of hope that a negotiated solution to this conflict may finally be reached, but a lasting peace in Colombia requires more than an agreement reached by those who sit in positions of power.
Sustainable, positive peace in Colombia necessitates a process that grows from the bottom up. The active and meaningful participation of civil society in this decisive process is essential, and among civil society, the voices and influence of Colombian women are elemental.
Colombian women have been among the populations most affected by the country’s longstanding internal armed conflict. Of the nearly 4 million Colombians who have been displaced as a result of war, close to 50% of all displaced households are headed by women, the large majority of whom are indigenous or afro-Colombian.
Displaced women and girls have found themselves the subject of widespread and systematic campaigns of sexual and gender-based violence, as they have been forced to contend with broken social structures, rampant insecurity and the responsibilities they bare to protect themselves and their families.
Colombian women and girls have been targeted by illegal armed groups, forcibly recruited, coerced into sexual servitude, and blatantly used as weapons of an unwanted war. These abuses have been met with insufficient responses by the Colombian government and such clemency has allowed for a culture of impunity to flourish in which human rights violations against women have become tolerated and naturalized.
Despite the challenges they face, Colombian women have shown resilience. They have long been leaders in civil society and in the country’s sustained movement for peace and they now have a critical role to play in formal peace negotiations.
The presence of Colombian women will ensure that often-ignored social and political concerns are central topics at the negotiating table. Women will not only give voice to the other women who have endured this brutal conflict, but to other marginalized groups, representing the will and needs of victims and civilians who have been regularly excluded from formal peace processes.
Women’s presence and participation in peace negotiations has been recognized and legally enshrined by the international human rights community in statutes such as UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and it is clear that women are amongst the most essential components to developing a peace in Colombia that is inclusive and permanent.
And so indeed the moment is ripe, not only for another exclusive round of talks to begin between old foes, but for a new process toward the achievement of peace to unfold, which opens a space at the table up to those who have borne the brunt of war. Any other peace will simply just not do.