Colombia’s Gender Equity Index average has significantly dropped, indicating ‘troubling gaps’ in areas of women’s decision-making role in the Colombian peace process. Despite feminist civil society organizations’ efforts to protect women from sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) and promote their political participation, implementations of laws have not lived up to their promises. Women’s participation has decreased and in certain places like Choco, women’s representation in government fell from 63 percent in 2008 to zero percent in 2010. With no legislation to ensure women’s representation in popularly elected positions, women only constitute 20% of position in Congress which placed Colombia in the 91st position among 136 countries.
Colombia’s Internal Conflict:
Colombia’s armed conflict is one of the longest and most complex conflicts in history, and has caused lasting damage to the country. ‘The Violence’ is the most recent epoch that happened in 1940s, which began as a result of the fight over Colombia’s agricultural land between the Colombian Conservative Party and the Colombian Liberal Party. One of the main reasons why Colombia’s conflict background is so complex is due to the involvement of many actors and the violent strategies that have been used. It was not only the involvement of new actors but also variables like drug trafficking that further aggravated the situation in Colombia during the last five decades. The bloody confrontation between the governmental armed forces and the guerilla or paramilitary groups over land control for drug trafficking and agro-based projects in indigenous and Afro communities has led to 1,400 deaths, damaged crops, destroyed homes and violence-related abuse. Through this conflict, Colombian women continue to face SGBV mostly in rural, indigenous and Afro communities.
Legislation Is Failing Women:
On paper, women in Colombia enjoy a variety of rights as legislation and the Constitution promise protection against sexual based violence and ensure full political participation of women in the peacebuilding processes of the state. In practice, however, women there have yet to achieve full political participation and decision-making power. Colombian government, despite the support of civil society organizations, has not established a National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 and 1820, which works to translate important international commitments on the women, peace and security agenda into influential national policies. What are UNSCR 1325 and UNSCR 1820? They are two historic political frameworks passed by the United Nations Security Council on the women, peace and security agenda that stresses the importance of women’s equal and full participation in peacebuilding, and recognizes sexual violence as a weapon of war respectively.
Although the government has introduced laws and policies to improve women’s participation in the peacebuilding process and reduce sexual violence against women, the 1325 Coalition of Colombia reports otherwise. The efforts were found to be under-resourced, weakly enforced, and proposals from women’s rights groups were not incorporated. Without Colombian women being able to fully participate in all decision-making levels of the country’s peacebuilding processes, women are threatened to be left out in the post-conflict phase.
Civil society organizations have been the pioneering agents in the inclusion of women in the peacebuilding processes of Colombia. They have organized forums, UNSCR 1325 localization workshops and implemented municipal action plans to promote women’s full participation and prevent sexual based violence. However, there remains distrust between civil society organizations and the government. The government had promised to fulfill the requirements of the UNSCRs through its new policies. Inefficiency of the government was observed by civil society organizations five years after Law 1257 was implemented on 2008. Although the law focused on the prevention and protection of violence against women, there are still many municipalities that do not abide by the legislation.
What Should Be Done:
The Colombian government should welcome the creation of their National Action Plan (NAP) on UNSCRs 1325 and 1820. Having a NAP allows civil society organizations to jointly monitor the efforts put forth by the government and use the plan to make the government accountable. It also creates a good working space for governments, civil society organizations and multilateral institutions to work together to achieve full participation of women and reduce sexual violence. In my opinion, the government must also ensure that civil society organizations are protected from threats and violence of the paramilitaries that operating, especially in the rural areas. Women leaders and civil society fear voicing their concerns about the armed conflict, the constant threats against women and the problems faced by women, which greatly slows down the progress of 1325 and 1820 UNSCR agendas. Additionally, the government must work on ensuring that women leaders of the country are safe so that more young women are encouraged to participate and influence decisions.
The national government should also mainstream gender perspective in the formal and informal peacebuilding processes of Colombia, and encourage women -especially those belonging to the civil society organizations – to influence policies by allowing them to become empowered decision-makers. Participation alone does not mean that women are directly making decisions on policies. The donor community can also support and strengthen the capacities of civil society organizations, particularly to those who working in conflict-affected communities, which are the rural indigenous and Afro communities. Civil society organizations, on the other hand, can also do more by implementing more advocacy programs, with the UNSCR 1325 and UNSCR 1820 as their main policy frameworks.
Sunayana Limbu is a Master’s student in Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. Her previous work experience includes Amnesty International USA, and the UN Commission on the Status of Women to the US Department of State. Her area of interest lies in the intersection of women, civil society, peacebuilding and security. She is also interested in Asian politics, diplomacy and policy.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia