Even if women often are caught in the line of fire during the ongoing Colombian conflict, women possess great potential in raising wareness for peace at the grassroots level.
Even if women often are caught in the line of fire during the ongoing Colombian conflict, women possess great potential in raising wareness for peace at the grassroots level. This states Yenly Angéllon Méndez, a Colombian author and human rights activist, which last week took part in a seminar arranged by Colombianätverket where womens roles as peace actors in Colombia was discussed.
”return the lipstick”
Yenly Angéllon Méndez explains that a large part of Colombian media, civil society organisations and even several authorities try to emit the message that women should be passive and not engage themselves in the ongoing conflict. Despite the facts that a third of the soldiers of FARC (the Colombian gerilla force) are women and that there are many prominent female leaders promoting peace, campaigns and resources are often put on making sure that women are removed from where the action takes place.The most evident example of this the Colombian Ministry of Defence’s film campaign called ”Return the lipstick”, where women are pushed to be less present in the conflict and do what they really want to do – wear make-up. The film has received severe criticism by women’s organisations throughout Colombia and intensified women’s standpoint towards peace.
women as peace actors
In the UN women are seldom included as peace negotiators, with the consequense that the decisions made does not work due to lack of influence from women and social movements. In Colombia, it is many times dangerous for a woman to stand up for peace and the resolution of conflict since the Colombian government many times assume that the individuals promoting peace are in an allegiance with FARC. Therefore, many women have had to pay the ultimate price for their peace activism. Because of this, much of the activism must be done in an informal manner, under very organised forms, to guarantee the activists’ safety, claims Yenly Angéllon Méndez. However, the movement for peace is still growing and the prevalence of peace organisations with female leaders grows more visible at a local level.
what do women contribute with in peace processes?
According to Yenly Angéllon Méndez, there are many important examples of women and women’s organisations working towards resolving the conflict. ”The work that is made is present at three levels. First is the political level, where the political situation is analysed. Second is the mobilisation level, where awareness is raised and campaigns are planned. Last is the grassroots level, where the local, outgoing peace work is implemented”.
Women also work as a source of inspiration to other women. In several cases, prominent women leaders have faced a serious family trauma, as for example the murders of close relatives or the loss of livelihood. Yenly Angéllon Méndez argues that these events ”envoke interesting processes which give women the legitimacy for themselves and others to become actors in the peace process”.
There is however a vast resistance in society towards the solutions to the conflict that women’s organisations present. There are also forces in society which argue that women’s organisations push the issues of women’s rights and peace too much, and that women’s organisations become counter-productive when they advocate for a gender perspective in all parts of the peace process. Many challenges remain, but the hope for peace in Colombia is still alive, says Yenly Angéllon Méndez, seeing women as the key factor in resolving the conflict once and for all.