Are Women the Key to Peace in Colombia?
This article was originally published by Foreign Policy.
After 50-plus years, 222,000 deaths, $9 billion in U.S. aid, and 34 rounds of negotiations, one of the world’s longest civil wars might finally be nearing its end. The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym FARC) have agreed to terms for political participation, land reform, mine clearance, and stemming the cocaine trade. Colombia’s president wants an agreement signed within months. Still to be resolved, however, is the question of how to return over 8,000 FARC fighters to civilian life, often within communities that bore the brunt of the violence.
The stakes are enormous. If this process is ineffective, as it’s been in so many countries, the risk is not just that men and women from the FARC will return to the mountains to take up arms. There’s also a high chance that disaffected or underemployed ex-combatants will be recruited by drug traffickers, who added thousands of demobilized paramilitaries to their ranks after the country’s last peace process.
But perhaps the most critical factor for the viability of the coming peace is the inclusion of women in the conversation. Around the world, when armed groups lay down their weapons, women are rarely part of the equation. In Colombia, where an estimated 30 to 40 percent of FARC members are female, this would be a crucial mistake. As the parties negotiate, they must consider the perspectives of female FARC combatants — as well as women from communities where former fighters will resettle.
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