Since the signing of the peace agreement in Colombia, we have been actively supporting the participation of conflict-affected women and marginalised groups in its implementation. Together with our project partners, we are committed to ensuring that their experiences and concerns are included in the transition to a sustainable, peaceful society.
The peace agreement signed at the end of 2016 between the FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - Ejército del Pueblo) and the Colombian government was supposed to end one of the longest armed conflicts after more than 50 years, one which had cost the lives of over 450,000 people. Women were affected in several ways: they took part in the war as FARC combatants and thousands of them experienced sexualised violence from both parties to the conflict. The war is over, but the violence continues.
The peace agreement started the process of addressing the root causes of the conflict: unequal land distribution and political participation, and trafficking in illicit drugs. The peace agreement created the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence, and Non-Repetition, with the Truth Commission as one of three institutions created for this purpose. In 2018 the Truth Commission began its work to highlight the causes of the conflict and expose its painful reality. In 2022, the Commission concluded its work by handing over its reports. The period of transitional justice following the conclusion of the peace agreement is a crucial phase in Colombia to ensure the role of civil society in building a peaceful society, just as it is in our project countries Nepal and the Philippines.
Women's participation in the peace process
The Colombian peace agreement is an international model for the inclusion of marginalised populations and for women's participation. It is the first peace agreement in the world to integrate effectively a gender approach and one of the most progressive in terms of the rights of women and the LGBTIQ community. The women's and LGBTIQ movements played a significant role in the inclusion of these aspects during the peace negotiations.
At the beginning of the official talks in Havana in 2012, only 5% of the negotiators were women. Thanks to the mobilisation and lobbying of women's organisations, a gender sub-commission was established in 2014. Among other things, it was tasked with reviewing all documents published as part of the peace process for gender-sensitive wording and ensuring that they contained gender-specific provisions. In 2015, 20% of the members of the government negotiating team and 43% of the FARC-EP delegates were women.
Gender aspects weakened
The women's and LGBTIQ movements were able to exert influence at various stages of the peace process. Thanks to them, the peace agreement integrates a gender approach and includes an entire chapter on gender. The agreement also integrates ethnic and gender perspectives. For example, it explicitly refers to a woman's right to land ownership, contains special provisions for women's political participation and states that there will be no amnesty for crimes of sexualised violence.
This gender-sensitive approach was highly controversial in the run-up to the referendum on the peace agreement, which took place in October 2016. With 50.2%, the voters voted against it. As a result, the Colombian government and the FARC signed a revised peace agreement, which was ratified by Congress in November 2016, thus ending the conflict. Consequently, the gender perspective and in particular the rights of LGBTIQ persons were weakened in the final agreement.
Violence against activists continues
Nevertheless, the agreement serves as a model. But it faces major challenges in its implementation. Violence has increased in the areas formerly controlled by the FARC-EP. The causes: an increase in drug trafficking, the formation of criminal groups, legal and illegal mining and the continued presence of armed and paramilitary groups. The Colombian state is responding with an increased military presence in the contested areas. This new militarisation is leading to on-going armed confrontations, massacres, new displacements, the restriction of civilians' space for movement and an increase in targeted killings and gender-based violence. Activists, civil society actors and human rights defenders in particular are operating at great risk.
Since 2016, hundreds of conflict-affected women have participated in Women's Peace Tables, which we have run together with our project partners Comunitar and Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres, a feminist network organisation. They filled a gap that our partners have identified time and again: in rural areas especially, women are not aware of the legal opportunities offered to them by the peace agreement. They also lack the resources and networks to demand their rights in joint advocacy work. Indigenous, smallholder, Afro-Colombian and mestizo women are largely excluded.
The Women's Peace Tables (WPT) were held in cities and in remote areas. In these protected spaces, women worked through their experiences of violence and resistance and, as a collective, formulated demands and strategies for a new social order. Truth Commission staff were present to record the testimonios of the women who were willing to speak about their experiences of the war. In this way, they became part of the official reports of the Commission and thus of Colombian history.
Protecting what has been achieved
The Truth Commission’s mandate ended in July 2022 with the submission of various reports. Among them was the report "Mi cuerpo es la verdad" ("My body is the truth") about the experiences of women and LGBTIQ people during the conflict, to which we were able to contribute together with our partners. Now it is vital to protect what has been achieved and to promote the concerns of civil society, especially women's organisations, in the processes of conflict transformation.
The WPTs continue to serve the goal of women actively shaping conflict transformation and peacebuilding processes and contributing to a peace that reduces structural violence.
An important component of the first project phase until mid-2021 was an exchange of knowledge and experience between our partners in Colombia, Nepal and the Philippines. The exchange began in 2019 with a first face-to-face meeting and reached an interim conclusion in 2021 with the joint development of the publication "From transition to transformation: strengthening women's effective participation in peacebuilding and transitional justice processes". This project will be continued from 2023 in the project "From exchange to change".