Laura Izquierdo Sánchez.
Women in the shade of Peace Processes
“Representations of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth” -Simone de Beauvoir.
As Simone de Beauvoir and countless others have observed, only men have a voice in decision-making. Women are underrepresented in all top-level government positions even in those cases when they take an active part in political issues (Ann Tickner 1992, 1-9). A clear example of that is women’s presence in peacekeeping missions. They remain on the sidelines during peace negotiations, although they suffer from the horrors of the war the same as men. Not only that, but they participate in armed conflicts at the same level. The armed participation of women in liberation movements and revolutionary guerrillas, for example, is a frequent historical phenomenon. Paradigmatic cases like those of El Salvador and Nicaragua in Central America; Eritrea, Angola and Namibia in Africa; or Sri Lanka in Asia (Mendia 2009, 12-14). In spite of this, it is commonly observed that after the end of the armed conflict, the active role that women have played is not recognized. That is exactly what Colombian women experienced when peace talks began in 2012 between the Colombian government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).
The following paper will focus on the case of Colombia. It will address in particular how it is possible that women were not taken into account as relevant actors during peace talks from the very beginning, knowing that they played an active role in the FARC. And far beyond, it aims to demonstrate that the absence of women in peace processes cannot be explained in terms of their lack of experience in dialogue and negotiations.
The Peace Processes: general contextualization
According to United Nations data, from 1982 to the present, of the sixty-one agreements signed between representatives of the government and armed groups, only 4% of the signatories have been women (Women UN Papers 2010). Moreover, it is a common practice to only include women when the peace process is on track, which has led to the creation of inertias that make it more difficult to include them (Villellas, 2010, 27-34).
As Joshua Goldstein sustains, gender roles are nowhere more prominent than in war (Goldstein 2001). Women’s absence in the formal peace conversations is well known (Anderlini 2007; Pankhurst 2004; Bell 2004; Bouta et al. 2005; Chinkin 2002-2003). The sexist bias presented by the peace processes is a fact. The main actors involved are almost exclusively men, both the negotiators and the mediators (Potter 2005). Despite the fact that women have extensive experience in dialogue processes, including numerous contexts of armed conflict and post-war, there has been a deliberate lack of efforts to integrate them into formal peace processes. On numerous occasions of armed conflict and social polarization, women’s organizations have promoted the creation of spaces for informal dialogue and mediation. Women from Sierra Leone, Colombia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Northern Ireland, Uganda, Somalia, Cyprus, Israel, Palestine and many other places have carried out a constant quest to bring an end to the conflict of their countries through dialogue, which has translated into significant and valuable contributions in the transition from war to peace of these countries.
The particular case of Colombia: negotiating from the margins
Women are said to make up about 40 per cent of the FARC and between one-quarter and one-third of the ELN, the National Liberation Army. Despite everything, none of them became part of the highest positions of the organization. Not only that, but their absence during the peace talks was also remarkable, at least, at the very beginning. It was not until voices from feminist organizations made their presence felt that the process started including women.“No peace without women” was the demand to the president Juan Manuel Santos when the dialogues started. That is how a peace negotiation that started by excluding women, ended up with the creation of the Gender Subcommittee, with the appointment of two women plenipotentiaries and with almost 16% of the negotiating table composed of women.
As the following table illustrates, there is no doubt that the women’s participation has been relatively high in the latest peace agreements, compared to the past agreements carried out by the last six Colombian presidents.
However, despite all the efforts, little has been achieved, even though, in the eyes of the world, the last peace agreement has been seen as a milestone in women’s participation in Colombian peace process. As is recognized, although the scenario has improved over time, with considerable efforts on the part of Colombian women’s organizations, for the most part, women have continued to be unrecognized and undervalued partners for peace (Bouvier 2016, 19).
All the work of Colombian women and their allies in preparing the way for peace talks has become a significant precedent for the inclusion of gender perspective in the political agenda of peace negotiations. Beyond that, it could be broadened to any kind of negotiation. It is time women put aside informal negotiations to claim their rightful role in the institutional and political arena.
For a substantive representation of women in Peace Processes
Women have played multiple, sometimes overlapping, roles related to war and peace in Colombia and around the world. They have been peacemakers and peacebuilders, victims, change agents, and care providers. (Bouvier 2016, 6). Therefore, why must they still justify their participation today? Have men ever been asked about their added value to the negotiations? All of these questions hide prejudices and assumptions that obscure what the political participation actually is: a matter of justice.
Women’s political participation should not be conditioned by whether or not they have something useful to say, women’s participation is justified, more than anything else, in our commitment to inclusive and plural peace processes.
- Ann, Tickner. 1992. “Gender in international relations: Feminist perspectives on achieving global security. New directions in world politics”. Nueva York: Columbia University Press.
- Bouvier, Virginia. “Gender and the role of women in Colombia’s Peace Processes”. UN Women Background Paper. United States Institute of Peace. [Online database]. 2016 [cited 20/09/2017]. Available in https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/Gender-and-the-Role-of-Women-in-Colombia-s-Peace-Process-English.pdf
- Chaporro, Nina; & Martínez, Margarita. 2016. “Negociando desde los márgenes: la participación política de las mujeres en los procesos de paz en Colombia” (1982-2016). Documentos 29 de Dejusticia. [Online database]. [cited 20/09/2017]. Available in https://www.dejusticia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/fi_name_recurso_925.pdf
- Kronsell, A. 2005. “Gendered practices in institutions of hegemonic masculinity. Reflections from feminist standpoint theory”. International Feminist Journal of Politics 7, (2): 280-298.
- Mendia, Irantxu. 2009. “Aportes sobre el activismo de las mujeres por la paz”. Hegoa, 48.
- Castillo, Pablo; &Tordjman, Simon. 2010. “Participación de las mujeres en las negociaciones de paz: relaciones entre presencia e influencia”. Women UN Papers.
- Rehn, Elisabeth y Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. 2002. “Women, war, peace: The independent experts’ assessment on the impact of armed conflict on women and women’s role in peace-building”. UNIFEM.
- Villellas, María. “La participación de las mujeres en los procesos de paz. Las otras mesas”. WorkingPapers. InstitutCatalà Internacional per la Pau, Barcelona. [Online database]. 2010 [cited 18/09 2017]. Available in http://icip.gencat.cat/web/.content/continguts/publicacions/workingpapers/arxius/wp10_5_cast.pdf
- “Resolution of Women, Peace and Security”. [Online database]. 2000 [cited 25/09/2017]. Available in http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/wps/
-  According to the Colombia’s National Register of Victims, women constituted 51% of the victims of forced displacement, 47% of those of homicide and 82% of those of sexual violence.
- Each side was allowed up to ten negotiators, including five “plenipotentiaries” with full negotiating power, and a team of up to 30 total members. The National Summit of Women for Peace was pivotal in securing an opening for women as plenipotentiaries on the government peace delegation. In November 2013, the Government appointed two women—Nigeria Rentería and María Paulina Riveros— as plenipotentiary negotiators. (Bouvier 2016, 19-20).