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Peace Builders. The path of the women signatories after 7 years of the Peace Accord.

Seven years have passed since the signing of the Final Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP. A pioneering agreement worldwide for its inclusion of the gender approach in a cross-cutting manner. This achievement has been possible thanks to the active role played by the women's movement, whose significant participation reached 46% at the negotiating table. Likewise, women represented 60% of the victims' delegations that traveled to Havana to dialogue with the parties involved. During these talks, they shared their experiences and the impact suffered during the armed conflict, in addition to presenting their expectations and proposals for the full restitution of their rights.

This commemoration also makes visible the different elements that today constitute challenges for women living in territorial spaces, reincorporation areas and, in general, for the actors involved in the implementation of the Agreement at the local and national levels. For example, stigmatization; security guarantees; access to land, education and health; among others.


Today, we highlight the progress made by the signatories in their different leadership and autonomy roles, which has allowed them to strengthen their presence in social, political, economic and community life in the Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation - ETCR, in urban areas and in the communities where they have arrived, where they have strengthened ties with communities and social and governmental organizations and with this they have advanced towards reconciliation.


Several peace processes around the world have shown that achieving the active participation of women ex-combatants in the negotiation stage and in the implementation of the agreements has a direct effect on the sustainability of peace, strengthening the bonds of coexistence with the host communities, strengthening the social fabric and reducing the chances of a return to arms through dissidence.


Some advances in terms of reincorporation


In the political arena, women's voices have resonated in decision-making spaces, such as gender committees, peace signatories' cooperatives and in municipal elections where they have been candidates and elected[1]. They have pushed for the inclusion of their rights as women and as peace signatories and the gender perspective in key policies, such as CONPES 3931 of 2018, through which 18 affirmative gender and women's measures were included, promoting a more comprehensive and equitable approach to peacebuilding.


Valentina Beltrán has been the Legal Representative of the Comunes party; Sandra Ramírez is a Senator of the Comunes party in the Congress of the Republic; Manuela Marín is a delegate of Comunes to the Follow-up and Verification Commission (CSIVI) -the body responsible for monitoring compliance with the Peace Accords-; Isabela Sanroque is a member of the Special Women's Instance[2], to mention a few names. Their efforts are not only individual, but especially collective. One of the main lessons learned from this peace process has been the emphasis placed by the signatories on working together. Their commitment to maintain solidarity and community associative forms for the management of their local and organizational development and also for the difficult path of sustainability of autonomous and profitable productive enterprises. For this reason, we recognize names such as the National Women's Coordinating Committee - CONAMU and the National Platform of Popular Women Peace and Territory, as well as regional expressions such as the Manuelitas of Cauca and Cali, ANAPAZ in Bogotá, Soberanas de la localidad de Bosa in Bogotá, ASMUPROPAZ in Caquetá, Dama Verde in La Guajira, who represent some examples.


The participation of women in the regional elections held on October 29, 2023 in Colombia, resulted in 6 women governors, 145 elected mayors, 81 deputies and 2,265 councilwomen. A significant increase compared to previous years where 6.3% (2019), 15.6% (2015) of women occupying local authority positions were registered, compared to 18.3% registered for this year. From these votes we highlight the election of Marisol Agatón Morera, peace signatory elected councilwoman of the municipality of Venecia in Cundinamarca. It is also important to note the influence that the peace signatories had in the construction of the National Action Plan of Resolution 1325, so that their voices, needs and interests would be included in the Plan.


Economically, the women signatories have undertaken initiatives that have not only improved their living conditions, but have also contributed to the sustainable development of the communities in which they reside. Projects ranging from agriculture and clothing to handicrafts have demonstrated the transformative potential of women's active participation in the local economy. According to information from the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, 177 mixed cooperatives of ex-combatants are currently recognized throughout the country, 45 of whose legal representatives are women. In addition, 17 organizations of peace signatories at the national level are composed exclusively of women.


In the social sphere, a positive impact on community cohesion has been observed. Women have led efforts to address problems such as gender-based violence, stigmatization, reconciliation and community reincorporation, thus strengthening the social fabric in conflict-affected territories.


Great advances with immense challenges

"After the signing of the Peace Accord, it has been good and bad for me. Good, because we started a new life, a new stage, a new process; but bad, because it has been very difficult to adapt to normal life. I think that little by little we have been assimilating, and I want to tell you that we continue with this challenge".
Luz Herminda Velandia Sarmiento, peace signatory.

Despite the significant progress made by the women signatories of the Peace Agreement in Colombia, there are monumental challenges that require immediate attention and coordinated actions. These challenges encompass various aspects that affect the daily lives and integral development of women, their families and communities in the territories affected by the conflict:


Economic Autonomy:

The lack of working and income-generating conditions that guarantee women's economic autonomy persists as a major challenge. Policies and programs that foster sustainable employment opportunities and promote female entrepreneurship are required.


According to the technical balance of the National Council for Reincorporation[3], out of a universe of 2958 women and 8208 men characterized, the majority of women 35% (1025) are engaged in care work, to a lesser extent in independent projects 15% (459) or productive projects 12.4% (369) and 49% do not receive remuneration for these activities.


Additionally, the majority of men 5368, women 1628 and LGBTI population 64, report that they depend economically on support associated with reincorporation. This evidences the lack of conditions to guarantee a dignified transition to the labor sphere for the signatories.


Gender-Based Violence:

Gender-based violence, particularly in rural settings, remains a critical problem. It is crucial to address patriarchal structural conditions and ensure that women are aware of and trust institutional routes for reporting and combating gender-based violence.


Care Load:

The excessive burden of caring for children and dependents is another obstacle. Strong institutional provision and community facilities are needed to address these needs and alleviate the pressure on women.


Stigmatization:

The stigmatization of women signatories is still present. It is important to implement strategies to dismantle stereotypes and promote social reincorporation without prejudice.


Psychosocial support:

The lack of psychosocial support is a significant shortcoming. In the Technical Assessment, we found that one of the main barriers to access is the inexistence of the institutional offer (6.5%), lack of knowledge (5.9%), limited access to information (5.8%), the institutional offer does not respond to needs and expectations (5.3%) and distrust of the institutional framework (2.7%).


Specific programs and services should be available to promote women's mental health.


Strengthening of Leadership and Organizations:

Strengthening women's leadership and organizations, both at the administrative level and in project development, is essential. This implies training, resources and institutional support.


So far, according to the Technical Balance, 1025 women are participating in collective projects and 1100 in individual projects, mostly in the livestock (1063) and agricultural (500) sectors. Of the total number of women (2,958), 1,491 are members of a cooperative.


Risk Factors:

The presence of armed groups and territorial disputes in some parts of the country represents a risk for women. To date, according to the UN Verification Mission report, 11 women peace signatories have been assassinated since the signing of the Accords and many continue to receive threats for exercising their leadership. It is essential to address these factors of insecurity to ensure the safe exercise of their leadership.


Access to land:

The lack of access to land titling and ownership limits women's economic opportunities and security. According to the Technical Balance, 65% of women work on land that is not their own and 1,633 of the total are in rural areas. Strategies to facilitate this access should be implemented to empower women in resource management.


In summary, 7 years after the signing of the Peace Agreement, the women signatories have demonstrated resilience, leadership and an unwavering commitment to building a more peaceful future, as Isabela Sanroque points out in the book 'Somos Limpal. 25 years of stories of women defenders of peace and freedom in Colombia": "it is not a regretful voice, on the contrary, all very proud, sure of their political position, but very committed to the defense of the agreement, with peace and with the struggle of women". However, more work is needed to overcome persistent challenges and ensure that women continue to play a central role in peacebuilding.

[1] In Cali, a woman signatory was elected to the Local Administrative Board and in Cauca a woman councilor was elected in Argelia, according to information from the ARN.

[2] Mechanism created by the Peace Agreement to monitor implementation with a gender perspective.

[3] Information taken from the "Balance técnico sobre avances, retos y desafíos para la implementación y transversalización del enfoque de género en el proceso de reincorporación de mujeres y personas de los sectores LGBTI" of the Consejo Nacional de Reincorporación.


With support from UN Women Colombia.

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