Image: Flag of Colombia / Peter Angritt / Wikimedia Commons
The people of Colombia are in shock. The South American nation, a country with widespread corruption, inequality and an entrenched drug trade, has rejected the peace agreement between its government and the FARC, with 50.2 per cent voting against it. The government and the FARC have both agreed to honour the ceasefire until an agreement has been reached.
The people, desperate to repair a 52-year conflict, their economy and global reputation have been left in a state of uncertainty. But while a vote against peace may seem unfathomable to the rest of the Western Hemisphere, the Colombian people have hope that something good will come of this, and yes, gender equality is one of them.
Who are the FARC?
- The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) are Colombia’s largest guerilla rebel group, which has fought the Colombian government in the longest-running armed revolt in the Western Hemisphere.
- The group, founded in 1964, aims to instill equality for small farmers and land workers in Colombia, where colossal chunks of land are owned by a very small percentage of the country’s wealthy.
- The FARC took up arms after the landowners (seeing the group as a threat) sent the Colombian army in to forcefully disband them in. They proceeded to carry out their quest for equality in the jungle, isolated from urban life, carrying out attacks causing over 220,000 deaths, around 80 per cent of those lives civilian.
- Peace negotiations began in 2012, aiming to put an end to the 52-year conflict, allowing FARC fighters to re-enter society and form a political party.
If Colombia had voted “yes” to the agreement, FARC rebels would have been forced to turn in their guns, give land back to farmers, and receive a monthly stipend that would have allowed them to reintegrate into society. The FARC were to receive a political voice and receive lenient punishment for crimes committed throughout the conflict. This was, for “no” voters, a step too far.
But in Colombia’s efforts to build a new country, a new conversation will be opened up which will address the overwhelming marginalisation of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, anchored by post-Spanish Colonialism.
“Colombia is stuck because of this war. Now that we are beginning to be at peace with las Farc, Colombia can finally start to develop as a country. [The referendum] has opened the eyes and the consciousness of the people, making them aware of the differences that unite us,” said Natalia Saa, a 20-year-old economics student from Cali, and a “yes” voter.
On its journey to peace, the inclusion of gender perspective in the treaty is crucial to its success. If Colombia’s efforts to build a new country are to be effective, the reintegration process must address the deep-seated social problems that helped to fuel the conflict in the first place. Among those is overcoming the marginalisation of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The legitimisation of men and women as warriors has fueled machismo, and has even resulted in members of the LGBTQ+ being forced to undergo social cleansing.
The fact that initial attempts to include women in the peace negotiations were thwarted says a lot about the current state of gender equity in the country. A mere 12 per cent of parliamentary seats are held by women. One in 10 Colombians agree that, “an adequate education for girls is one that develops their role as mothers and wives”. I am yet to meet a Colombian man who was taught how to cook growing up; that was reserved for their sisters.
After an incredible effort from 16 nationally active women’s organisations, and hundreds of civil society groups (including Afro-Colombian women’s groups), the Colombian government and the FARC announced in 2014 that a sub-commission on gender would be included in the peace process, paving the way to the inclusion of gender perspective in the treaty – a huge win for the country.
Among the eight thematic areas which will be given significant consideration as part of the negotiation process: the public recognition and countering of stigmatisation of women’s political work; promotion of women’s participation in the conflict resolution; guarantees of the economic, social and cultural rights of women and “persons with diverse sexual orientations and identities”.
Although the initial referendum failed, there’s still a long way to go, and it’s not over yet. Bringing peace to Colombia is sure to be a massive undertaking. So watch this space.
Colombia, we believe in you!