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Women's contribution to peacebuilding in a polarised country: Colombia. Threats and challenges

Peace Team - CIASE
Corporation for Research and Social and Economic Action - CIASE
Peace Team

Peace Team - CIASE

The wounds of war have profound consequences for those who live in the midst of the conflict. Many of these consequences are invisible but are nonetheless deep. Hence the building of peace in a country in conflict poses major challenges for society that can not be solved overnight. In the search for a sustainable and lasting peace it is necessary to understand that a long-term project is required, one which aims to understand what happened, and to identify and heal the wounds and the mistrust produced by the war. We have to recognise one another's humanity. This requires a process of demilitarisation in our ideas and our everyday lives. We have to start thinking in terms of winning the peace, and not just winning the war and putting an end to armed violence.

What does it take to achieve peace in this sense? It takes the work of all men and women; there have to be, within each of the different social, political, economic and ethnic groups in the country, individuals with the will and the ability to break stereotypes, and create relationships of dialogue and trust. The key point is that the country needs a vision for the future which speaks to the aspirations and rights of all the social and political viewpoints.

In this task, women are called upon to play a leading role. Women from various sectors, locally, nationally and internationally, have highlighted the need to build sustainable peace proposals not only for them, but from these women to society, thus breaking with the idea that women only talk about women's issues. They have also shown that due to the different way in which they have been socialised they can contribute to peacebuilding with new ingredients and tools; they have been capable of seeing that the day to day care for others and for their environment is fundamental to life. Life should be at the heart of the debate; defending it and valuing it must be a central element in the achievement of a lasting peace.

In Colombia, due to the different forms of violence and the intertwining of conflicts, society is divided, fractured, highly polarised and mistrustful. All of this is an obstacle to the development of proposals amongst people from different sectors, and to reaching agreements without having to feel that to some extent there has been a prior symbolic defeat. That is why women from various sectors of civil society have seen the need to rebuild trust in those who are different, in order to develop joint proposals and agreements on the strategies and mechanisms necessary to achieve a sustainable peace; first overcoming the lack of interest in some sectors and then establishing dialogue between women with advocacy capacity in different social spheres.

The development of peace proposals among women — in all their diversity, and with their ideological and political differences — is a real contribution to the building of a lasting peace and to the creation of mechanisms which allow peace to be understood as a process involving the whole of society and not just the armed groups. It enables processes of the rebuilding of confidence in the other side and of the generation of proposals from among women which, while maintaining their impact at local level, achieve systematic impact at a national level (in various spheres: organised civil society, business, government, minority communities, etc.) and it links in to peace initiatives, from and with women, on the international stage.

From this a number of women's initiatives have emerged in recent times, which are the result of the many efforts which have been kept up constantly, even in the most critical moments of the armed conflict.

Thus today we have many examples which, unlike in other sectors, are reaching out despite their differences and are attempting to act together both around substantive issues on the negotiating table today and around future strategic issues, such as the need to disarm discourses and deepen the exercise of democracy, with all that this implies.

With respect to the negotiating table, the women's movement has argued that although this process is an essential element for peace, it is not the only one. "The men with weapons are on our agenda, but we women are not on the agenda of the men with weapons" is a sentence which is often used to sum up the fact that for us it is essential to end the war and make a transition to a political debate in which everyone has a place and which is not dominated by arms. That is to say that the debates and struggles of the Colombian people should not be left in the hands of the armed groups.

But the opportunity presented by the negotiating table is no small matter; as we have said, it is a vital component. In this regard, we lay out below five points which Colombian women in general are asking for in the context of the negotiating table.

  1. The inclusion of women on the negotiating panels, in fulfilment of the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1325;

  2. A ceasefire during the negotiations;

  3. Fulfilment of the law on victims;

  4. Truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition for the victims of sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict;

  5. Continuity of the talks until they reach an agreement for an end to the confrontation. 

Away from the negotiating table, we women believe that there is a peacebuilding process which implies a profound ethical transformation involving everyone and which implies:

  • Recognising and overcoming the profound pain caused by all the forms of violence that have affected us for decades.

  • Rejecting the individualistic, opportunist, corrupt, even criminal practices that have been present in all areas, social spheres and groups in the country.

  • Putting into question our anger and distrust deconstructing prejudices and pre-established ideas.

  • Recognising the contributions made by all people to a shared understanding of the real situation.

  • Establishing the idea and the practice of a "fair justice" and the guarantee of non-repetition for all, which allows us to know the truth and not lose the memory of what happened.

  • Transforming our daily practices into practices which show respect for the rights of everyone.

We women in Colombia are going along a difficult path towards the building of a sustainable peace, and this will require the support and backing of the largest possible number of women worldwide; we hope we will receive that support.

The Peace Team of CIASE (Corporación de Investigación y Acción Social y Económica) consists of Rosa Emilia Salamanca G, Carolina Dávila and Valentina Paula Gamez.