The peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP guerrilla has provided a unique opportunity not only to reunite a society torn apart by conflict, but also to build a more just peace that responds to the needs and rights of both men and women. The establishment of the Sub-commission on Gender as part of the formal peace architecture has turned out to be an effective instrument for gender inclusion in the peace process. The peace agreement signed in September 2016 was by far the most inclusive peace agreement in history. When a narrow majority rejected it in a plebiscite the following October many feared that gender would be sacrificed to accommodate those who voted no. However, in the renegotiated peace agreement that was ratified by Congress and entered into force in December the gender focus is not weakened. Rather, the language is clarified and has become more precise. Experiences from Colombia offer valuable insights for other peace processes on opportunities for and challenges affecting inclusion.
The United Nations Security Council has adopted seven resolutions on the issue of Women, Peace and Security since the historic Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1325 was passed in 2000 (PeaceWomen, n.d.). These resolutions aim at ensuring women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts to maintain and promote peace and security, and to fight against conflict-related sexual violence. The resolutions attempt to ensure that women’s leadership and the protection of women’s rights are promoted in all peace processes and peacebuilding efforts. For successive Norwegian governments, the Women, Peace and Security agenda has been high on their list of priorities, underpinning the formulation of both domestic gender policy and foreign policy. Norway adopted its third National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security in 2015.
Since the adoption of SCR 1325, global support for and understanding of the need to focus on women’s participation and gender equality in peace processes have increased significantly. At the same time, however, parties to conflict, facilitators, and mediators have often failed to translate intentions into action and to secure the fulfilment of women’s participation and rights in negotiation agendas and peace processes.
The armed conflict in Colombia has lasted for more than 50 years. It has had serious humanitarian consequences and caused much suffering among the civilian population. The conflict has affected men and women differently, however. Whereas men are over-represented in the statistics of homicides, forced disappearances and kidnappings, women are over-represented as victims of sexual and gender-based violence and displacement (see Victims’ Unit, 2017). In this regard it is important to note at the outset that women and men have different roles both between and among themselves and are part of a broader conflict picture. Women are not only victims: they are also peacebuilders and peacemakers. Women are also combatants and perpetrators of violent crimes, spoilers, engaged actors, and indifferent citizens. The gender approach – i.e. including women’s perspectives in attempts to resolve the conflict – is hence in no way a soft issue.