By Blaise Lidstone White
Women, for the most part, in Colombia, have been treated in an inhumane way, that is prevalent in all aspects of Colombian society. Women lack political representation, have lesser rights and are not seen as equals. Women in Colombia face a daily struggle to be treated as equals.
In 1958, women in Colombia gained the right to vote and the right to be elected into parliament and the 1991 Constitution saw women finally being recognised as individuals. With both these milestones being so far in the past, are women’s basic rights a thing of the past too?
As Isabel C. Jaramillo Sierra, Full Professor of Law taught us, the conflict Colombia is experiencing today is part of the Colombian existence and for many, they only know life with conflict and a societal existence that is filled with pain. Whilst headways have been made in regards to women’s rights there is still a long road ahead. However, many Colombian women’s organisations are actively ensuring women’s rights are being debated and are being included in the public agenda. The only question that remains, is enough being done?
As part of the United Nations campaign designed by united nations secretary-general António Guterres to ‘Unite To End Violence Against Women’ a campaign was developed to ‘Stop sexual violence against women in the context of armed conflict’, yet why are we seeing sexual violence and sexual exploitation as a wartime weapon? After decades of conflict, the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army) signed a final peace agreement in 2016. This agreement was meant to end the conflict and ensure lasting peace. Whilst this agreement originally included 100 points on both gender equality and women’s human rights – including violence attaining to both conflict and sexual crimes. The implementation of these points has been limited. Upon further research, it has become evident that since mid-2018 only 4% of these points have been implemented. Furthermore, since the original peace treaty, exactly half of the original points relating to gender have been removed from 300 to 150.
This is not the only time women lack the same representation of their male counterparts. Women within FARC are usually unable to be promoted to commander status. There is a loophole, however, but this requires further sexual relations with male combatants. The only way a woman could be promoted or attain a position that was deemed specialized was through a relationship with a commander. Due to this, many men would make women their personal radio operators in order to sleep with them, women, who had these special relations received special privileges, including but not limited to less work and the opportunity to visit their families and children. This point was reiterated when a former female FARC combatant Yineth Trujillo came and spoke to our class.
Before Yineth Trujillo shared her amazing journey with us, I was aware of the hardships women within FARC faced, but hearing about her struggles first hand, I became even more aware of the hoops these women are forced to jump through on a daily basis. I was overcome with emotion and once again realised just how fortunate I really am. Yineth Trujilo has faced many struggles during her life both in and outside of FARC and has overcome them to become the person she is today. She at age twelve was her family’s contribution to the guerrillas and faced many struggles and human rights violations along the way, during every stage of her struggle she adopted a new name, and today shares her story as a woman of seven names. Yineth turned her life around and now actively seeks to help those who are going through similar struggles. This made me realise that if somebody like Yineth can experience so much hurt during her life but still want to help those suffering similar atrocities, then maybe there’s hope for Colombia after all.
Upon listening to Yineth Trujilo, I learned first-hand that whilst residing in camps, women are forbidden to use violence to commit violence, however, this changes as soon as one enters the field. Furthermore, women also receive differential treatment in the reintegration processes. Specifically, within FARC, women are perceived as having caring roles. These roles include a mother figure and serfs to troops. Girls as young as fourteen are attending to their every need, regardless of their demands, with many being threatened with violence if they do not comply. Women are often seen as sexual companions to FARC combatants. These women, are often passed around, without a choice to these combatants, with a former female combatant who wishes to stay anonymous has gone on record stating “The mistreatment present in the organisation, since they were obligated to have sexual relations with the commanders of this structure, which in general began upon finishing the guerrilla training.” In this sense, they are not seen as women, but they are seen as objects, to be used, if and when these combatants see fit. Many FARC commanders believe that having women present in camps reduces homesickness amongst males.
Furthermore, women residing in FARC camps are forbidden to get pregnant with FARC leaders strongly believing that pregnancy hinders a women’s ability to fight. I knew the BBC had done an article about forced abortions and Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre had gone on record in 2015 saying “We have evidence to prove that forced abortion was a policy of the Farc that was based on forcing a female fighter to abort so as not to lose her as an instrument of war,” . This was confirmed by former FARC commander ‘Karina’ “Abortions for female guerrillas are FARC policy. Even if the guerrilla does not want to abort, she is forced to do it,” but I still found this hard to believe until Yineth Trujilo showed us an insight to her past. Due to her small size and her small hands, when she was taken from her village she was forced to assist with abortions, something she did not want to do but had little choice in the matter as they threatened to kill her mother if she did not comply.
Moreover, women in Colombia are heavily affected by the conflict. This is both directly and indirectly. Many women have suffered trauma through rape and sexual assaults. Furthermore, they have lost husbands, sons, and other family members thus resulting in many social and economic challenges this was especially evident in Cartagena with many women visibly seeking employment on the streets. Women lack political representation within the current political system and changing the political system has been seen as less important than other parts of the peace agreement thus resulting in congress not pushing this agenda through when they had the chance. However, with this being said Bogota currently has a female major who is also a member of the LGBT+ community, sparking a rare glimpse of hope within dark times.