BOGOTÁ — U.N. Women has long been a leader in the promotion of women’s rights in Colombia. The organization has introduced innovative initiatives to include women in the response to the decades-long armed conflict. The programs created by UN Women have started a national dialogue about women’s struggles in Colombia and have provided practical measures that fight gender-based violence and low female participation in political decision-making.
Women’s Rights Included in Colombia’s Peace Treaty
The civil conflict in Colombia has lasted 53 years and left approximately 250,000 citizens dead and millions displaced. In June 2016, the Colombian government, led by President Juan Manuel Santos, facilitated a ceasefire with the FARC insurgency group. This original agreement was ultimately rejected by voters in a referendum but a revised accord began in December 2016. The new deal enforces FARC disarmament and transition into a political party.
Long before this agreement was reached, UN Women helped infuse protections for women’s rights into the peace negotiations. UN Women helped create a Gender Sub-Committee in September 2014. The Gender Sub-Committee consists of representatives from both the Government of Colombia and FARC and ensured women’s interests were represented at all peace negotiations.
According to UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the successful inclusion of women’s issues in peace negotiations “builds on to the growing evidence that women’s participation in peace processes increases the likelihood that a peace agreement will be reached, and strengthens our argument that inclusive negotiations are not just a moral imperative or a long-term aspirational goal, but an urgent operational necessity.”
UN Women Targets Gender-Based Violence
To further promote women’s rights in Colombia on a national scale, UN Women created targeted initiatives to fight persistent gender-based violence. UN Women is co-chair of the Gender-Based Violence sub-cluster, a group that promotes preventative measures against violence against women on both local and national levels.
The organization introduced rapid response protocol for violence against women in crisis settings and has trained UN agencies and other advocacy organizations in Chocó on best practices regarding prevention of gender-based violence. Additionally, a collaborative project created with the Colombian Red Cross provides livelihood solutions to female victims of violence.
UN Women has also focused on providing safe spaces for women in Colombia. The organization has promoted these spaces through a program co-created by the National Protection Cluster. Furthermore, UN Women rehabilitated two safe centers through a collaboration with UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA.
Women Peacebuilders Receive Recognition
UN Women has further supported women’s rights in Colombia through innovative programs designed to raise awareness about the contributions of women peacebuilders. In April 2016, UN Women partnered with ECHO Caracola to launch a national communication initiative designed to spread awareness about women’s peacebuilding efforts and to end violence against women. The program, funded by the Swedish Embassy, was introduced in seven provinces — Cauca, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Norte de Santander, Meta, Chocó and Nariño.
The project gathers female peacebuilders in different workshops to identify key issues and barriers that impact women. Information about women survivors and peacebuilding efforts was then disseminated via a series of radio shows. Furthermore, the program funded a scholarship for the creation of a documentary film on women peacebuilders.
UN Women Promotes Female Political Participation
UN Women, with funding from the Government of Spain, has targeted low involvement by women in politics. In 2015, the organization introduced an initiative in Nariño to increase women’s political participation, particularly in the three municipalities of Pasto, Ipiales and Tumaco.
UN Women organized a two-month candidate training course that cumulated with a diploma in Political Leadership with a Gender Perspective for participants. The course had 150 attendees — 80 percent women — prior to the 2015 elections. This election cycle resulted in historical victories for women — the country elected 5 female governors, 70 female assembly members, 134 female mayors and 2,127 councilwomen.
Colombia continues its commitment to increasing the number of women holding political office. The country signed up for the UN Women “Step it up: Planet 50-50 by 2030” initiative in 2015. By joining this program, Colombia promises to promote actions that encourage effective leadership and political participation by women and to provide opportunities for women to contribute to political, public and economic decision-making.
Ultimately, UN Women’s efforts to promote women’s rights in Colombia have contributed to increased female political representation, inclusion of women’s interests in peace negotiations and recognition of female peacebuilders as an integral part of rebuilding the country. A continuation of these innovative initiatives could catalyze additional victories in the fight for gender equality.
– Katherine Parks