The inclusion of female FARC members in mine action activities could give a much-needed boost to Colombia’s current demining efforts while also supporting the reincorporation of ex-combatants.
For over half a century, Colombia has grappled with an internal conflict producing the largest internally displaced population in the world.[i]
With the current negotiations between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) accelerating towards a much anticipated peace deal, non-state armed actors will soon need to embark on the complex and long-term process of leaving aside their weapons and transitioning into new non-violent activities.
As one of the most mine-affected countries in the world,[ii] Colombia faces an immense challenge in establishing a safe and stable post-conflict environment. Indeed, humanitarian demining is key to peacebuilding in Colombia, as demonstrated by the pilot projects launched in mid-2015.
These ongoing pilot projects, announced at a time when public support of the peace process was significantly low, champion a collaboration between members of the FARC-EP and the Colombian Armed Forces (coordinated by Norwegian People’s Aid – NPA) to clear previously inaccessible hotspots of contamination by landmines, so that communities can once again use the land without fear of being injured or killed.[iii]
The success of the pilot projects, as well as the experience of other countries like Afghanistan, have shown that Colombia’s mine action sector has the potential to provide a wealth of opportunities for both male and female former combatants. In the context of a peace process that has been accompanied by strong political will for a gender-sensitive approach, there may be significant benefits to bridging mine action with the reintegration of an estimated 40% of female FARC members that are soon to lay down their arms.[iv]
Negotiating Peace: A Gender Equality Perspective?
While past Colombian peace processes have generally excluded women, the Colombian Government and the FARC have become particularly vocal on gender issues and their commitment towards women’s inclusion in the context of the current peace talks. President Juan Manuel Santos voiced his support for women’s inclusion as early as September 2012, affirming that “women will have a permanent and prominent place in the peace process” and that “there is no peace for anyone if there is no peace for women.”[v]
Since the launch of the FARC’s “Mujer Fariana” website[vi] in 2013, the FARC peace delegation and female FARC combatants have increasingly spotlighted the role of women in the organisation and re-affirmed their policies on promoting gender equality within their ranks. In the 4th National Guerrilla Conference in 1970, the FARC recognized combatant women’s equality in their rights and duties.[vii]
The general conclusions of the 9th Conference in 1993 further indicated that women “like men have the same rights” and that the “women in the guerrilla force are free.”[viii] Beyond the provisions enabling female guerillas to attain the same ranks as men, the FARC has also voiced its commitment to gender equality through the lens of its broader social equality agenda, advancing a Marxist feminist discourse on women’s discrimination in Colombian society.[ix]
Moreover, the FARC has underscored its support for the inclusion of women in the peace talks, expressing their “political will to promote the participation of Colombian women and [their] own militants in the peace process”[x] and asserting that “women are unquestionably the guarantee of society and the soul of peace.”[xi]
In comparison to past peace processes in Colombia, this vocalized commitment to women’s inclusion from both the Colombian Government and the FARC signals an expansion of political will for a gender-sensitive process. More importantly, this political will has translated into practice.
From Rhetoric to Reality: Women as Agents of Peace
In a joint communiqué on September 11, 2014, the negotiating parties announced that “[t]he inclusion of a gender approach in a peace process such as this one has no precedents in the world, and sets a milestone in the construction of the agreements already reached and yet to be reached.”[xii]
When the peace talks began in October 2012, there were no female negotiators at the formal peace discussions. Following the mobilization of Colombian women’s movements though a National Summit of Women and Peace in October 2013, President Santos appointed two female negotiators to the government’s delegation. The recent rounds of peace talks speak to the growing influence of women in the political arena.
In the Global Study on the Implementation of UNSCR 1325, UN Women reported that women now comprise nearly one-third of the delegates in Havana and over half of the participants in the various public consultation forums organized for the peace talks.[xiii] Women also constituted around half of the victims’ delegations that presented to the negotiation table between August and December 2014. Most notably, a sub-commission on Gender was established in September 2014 with the mandate of ensuring a gender perspective in all the negotiations and agreements.
The four draft agreements of the peace process to date (on land reform, illicit drugs, political participation and victims) evidence the success of women’s advocacy efforts and reinforce the commitments of the negotiating parties to a gender-sensitive approach.
Although the gender focus in the first agreement on land reform is rather limited, the subsequent three agreements indicate a “differential,” “gender” and “territorial” approach to their implementation, and explicitly include provisions related to women, girls, boys, indigenous women, Afro-Colombian women, LGBTI populations, and other groups. The agreement on political participation includes a full section recognizing:
[T]he important role that women play in the prevention and solution of conflicts and in the consolidation of peace, as well as the necessity to promote and strengthen women’s participation in public life, especially in the context of the end of the conflict, where their leadership and participation on an equal footing in the process of making public decisions, and in the formulation, implementation, evaluation and monitoring of government policies are necessary and essential to achieve a stable and lasting peace.[xiv]
The agreement on victims has an especially prominent focus on gender issues and reinforces the State’s responsibility to guarantee and protect the rights of all, including women, boys, girls, the LGBTI population and other groups.[xv] Overall, the gender approach across the tentative agreements has evolved in parallel with the increasing presence of women in the peace process.
While the implementation of these agreements will ultimately test the substance of the Colombian Government and FARC’s discourse on gender, these commitments present opportunities for engagement with gender and diversity issues in the post-conflict implementation process, particularly as they pertain to mine action.
Towards a Gender-Inclusive Demining Process
In continuation of these positive trends towards a gender-inclusive peace process, the integration of female FARC ex-combatants in mine action can have many beneficial impacts both on the demining process and the weapons abandonment and reincorporation process that has yet to be finalized.
Firstly, female FARC members can play an important role in the non-technical surveys carried out as part of the demining projects. Despite the existence of a national database on landmines, the actual scope and size of Colombia’s mine contamination is unknown.[xvi] Poor quality information and a lack of a national diagnostic, the tactics used by armed non-state actors to lay mines, limited access to conflict-affected areas, and the displacement of local communities has generated additional challenges for identification of contaminated zones.[xvii]
Female ex-combatants could contribute valuable knowledge on the location and nature of contamination. The presence of female former FARC combatants in non-technical survey teams can also ensure better access to all sources of information in contaminated zones, thereby enhancing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the decontamination efforts.
Secondly, incorporating FARC women into demining teams should also be prioritized given the roles they held within the conflict and the verbal commitments made to gender equality by both negotiating parties. The ability to hold high-ranking positions in the FARC and challenge gender norms served as a motivation for many females to join the FARC. Accordingly, the Institute for Inclusive Security observes that job training programs for female FARC members should continue to promote their equality and should leverage their non-traditional skillset.[xviii]
Including women on an equal footing in demining teams could also serve as an avenue to reinforce the FARC and the Government’s pledges to advancing gender equality in the post-conflict period. As the Institute for Inclusive Security notes, including women in reintegration processes “enables FARC members to sustain narratives about commitment to gender equity and fairness that could translate into votes during elections.”[xix]
Finally, it is worth exploring the benefits of engaging female FARC members in mine action in terms of their reintegration. Scholars have documented some of the specific challenges that female FARC members have faced within the conflict and that need to be taken into account in the design of post-conflict rapid response and reincorporation programs.
Female FARC members are more likely to face stigma from their communities than men as a result of their deviation from prescribed gender roles and some members may have difficulties coping with what they experienced as part of the group.[xx] A visible role in mine action activities may help to position FARC women as positive agents for peace and re-build trust between the FARC and conflict-affected communities, and importantly empower them to build positive futures.
In the draft agreement on illicit drugs, the Government of Colombia and the FARC committed to carrying out a nationwide mine clearance programme upon signature of the final peace accord and emphasized that “the protection of communities, the guarantee to the right to life and the well-being of the rural population… necessitate demining.”[xxi]
For Colombia to meet its obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty to clear and destroy all antipersonnel mines by March 1, 2021, a concerted effort by all relevant actors will be essential. To maintain commitments to a gender-inclusive peace and to ensure an effective demining process, the participation of women in all implementation processes for the peace agreements, including those pertaining to humanitarian mine action, will be crucial to ensuring an inclusive and durable peace.
Tetyana Belitska is a Programme Assistant at GMAP (The Gender and Mine Action Programme) she holds a Master in International Affairs with a specialization in Conflict and Peacebuilding from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
GMAP works to improve the way that mine action and human security actors incorporate gender and diversity into their operations, and help these programmes to deliver more effective, efficient, inclusive and gender-responsive activities. GMAP has worked in over 25 mine-affected countries around the world, conducting gender and diversity assessments, providing technical assistance, and developing capacity of humanitarian disarmament actors. More information about GMAP’s work.
- [i] “Colombia has more internally displaced persons than Syria,” (Colombia Reports)
- [ii] Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor, “Colombia”
- [iii] Gobierno Nacional y FARC-EP, “Joint Communiqué #52”
- [iv] FARC-EP Peace Delegation, “For a New Colombia without Gender Discrimination”
- [v] Translated from “‘Las mujeres tendrán un lugar muy destacado y permanente en este proceso’ de paz: Santos” (El Mundo)
- [vi] Mujer Fariana (FARC-EP)
- [vii] Translated from Mujer Fariana, “Las mujeres y las FARC-EP, una constante histórica de valoración y respeto”
- [viii] Ibid.
- [ix] Luna Nariño, Delegación de Paz de las FARC-EP, “Feminismo fariano a la luz de la luna”
- Lucía Simón, “Patriarcado no es (sólo) machismo”
- [x] FARC-EP Peace Delegation, “For a New Colombia without Gender Discrimination.”
- [xi] FARC-EP Peace Delegation, “Women are the soul of the peace”
- [xii] Gobierno Nacional y FARC-EP, “Joint Communiqué”
- [xiii] UN Women, “A Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325, 2015, 46″
- [xiv] Translated from Gobierno Nacional y FARC-EP, “Borrador Conjunto, Participación política: Apertura democrática para construir paz”
- [xv] Gobierno Nacional y FARC-EP, “Acuerdo sobre las Víctimas del Conflicto”
- [xvi] Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor, “Colombia.”
- [xvii] Ibid.
- [xviii] The Institute for Inclusive Security, Engaging Women in Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration: Insights for Colombia.
- [xix] Ibid, 3.
- [xx] Ibid, 4; Andrea Méndez, Militarized Gender Performativity: Women and Demobilization in Colombia’s FARC and AUC (Thesis, Queen’s University, August 2012): 137.
- [xxi] Translated from Gobierno Nacional y FARC-EP, “Borrador Conjunto, Solución al problema de las drogas ilícitas”