Violence against women in Conflicts
About 250.000 people are internally displaced every year in Colombia, counting about 6 million affected in total. It is one of the highest numbers in forced displacement in the world, just after Syria, says the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.
Especially women and girls are affected by forced displacement that usually comes accompanied by other forms of torture, such as inhumane or degrading treatment, psychological abuse, death threats or being forced to witness torture of others, states a research conducted in 2013 by Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres. This report shows that each of the thousand women interviewed suffered an average of four violations of their human rights.
A survey held between 2001 and 2009 by Casa de la Mujer estimates that during the nine years in which the study was conducted, around half a million women in Colombia were direct victims of sexual violence. This means that every hour over the nine-year period six girls and women were victims of rape, sexual slavery, abuse and exploitation.
In 2008, Colombia’s Constitutional Court concluded in Act 092 that “sexual violence against women is a habitual, extensive, systematic and invisible practice in the Colombian armed conflict”, be it derived from forced displacement or as direct action of the armed forces of all sides. Sexual violence includes rape, forced prostitution, sexual harassment, forced sterilization or forced domestic labor.
In the same year, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1820 that condemns the use of sexual violence as tool of war.
Still, failed implementation leads to a lack of prosecution of this war crime in Colombia. Gender violence is perpetrated by all participants in the conflict including guerilla groups, paramilitary forces and the state security forces.
Women and Peace
Despite the high risk involved, Colombian women have organized and positioned themselves at the forefront of peace and justice initiatives throughout the country. UN Women reports that there are more than 16 nationally active women’s networks and hundreds of civil society groups organized by women.
So much so, that the women’s rights group Mariposas Alas Nuevas from the violence-ridden Pacific port town of Buenaventura received the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award a few days ago.
“These women are doing extraordinary work in the most challenging of contexts,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “Each day they seek to heal the wounds of the women and children of Buenaventura and in doing so put their own lives at risk.”
“We explain the path to medical and psychological care and accompany the respective complaints”, Mariposas told the newspaper El Tiempo. In addition, the organization offers workshops and teach victim’s how to achieve economic independence and get good jobs.
Gender Mainstreaming in Havana
According to UN Women figures, women account for 8% of those involved in peace negotiations and less than 4% of those who sign the peace treaties.
When Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos appointed the lawyers María Paulina Riveros and Nigeria Rentería as members of the Government’s team at the table of peace talks in Havana, he made a step towards the full implementation of Resolution 1325 of the UN Security Council on women in post-conflict reconstruction.
This decision undoubtedly is a milestone in the history of peace negotiations in Colombia, because for the first time women are at the forefront of the discussion and decision making of a peace agreement.
During the last round of peace talks a group of mostly women arrived in Havana. The delegation is the second of five groups of victims that will join the reparations discussion. Ultimately, 60 civilian victims selected by the UN and the National University will participate in the negotiations.
During this latest round of peace talks a gender sub-commission was installed in order to integrate gender perspectives in all deals reached at the table in Havana. Nigeria Rentería, who also is Colombia’s High Councilor for Gender Equality, stated that the sub-commission “seeks to guarantee inclusion, social equality and bring us closer to a treaty that represents the interests of both men and women”.
Let’s hope that Colombia will lead the way for future peace treaties.
Text: Josephine Landertinger Forero