As the peace process with FARC inches along in Colombia, a question remains unasked: after the war, what will the future look like for women?
This question was the focal point for a series of events at Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá May 2 and 3, bringing together women grassroots leaders, Colombian cause lawyers, government officials and international scholars to imagine a Colombia after the war. From the viewpoint of transitional Justice (Ruth Rubio); social suffering (Lucie White) and suffering after war (Veena Das), and the Colombian conflict (Angélika Rettberg, Camila De Gamboa, Donny Meertens and María E. Wills).
Panelists were invited to imagine a future for women after the war, based on the premise that as academics committed to social justice, we have a high stake in ensuring women’s transformative and redistributive concerns are part of the post-conflict. And, more poignantly, that should the process fail to achieve peace for women, this be a failure of the will, not of the imagination.
Generally the experts were cautious. In the case of Colombia, even imagining an end to war is difficult. While a peace agreement between the government and the FARC guerrilla may be signed this year, such agreement will not mean an end to violence. The current war is only part of a long-lasting conflict that has torn apart several generations, and that today increasingly finds its expressions in illegal natural resource extraction practices, shady business deals, and the ubiquitous, armed presence of organized crime.
While the country is developing fast, inequality levels remain among the highest in the world, and murders and death threats against social movement leaders, trade unionists, human rights defenders and other visible community leaders and intellectuals remain part and parcel of Colombian social and political life.
At the same time, Colombia is a constitutional democracy with a strong administrative state, and far-reaching legal protection mechanisms for vulnerable groups, mechanisms that are used actively by a plethora of grassroots organizations in their struggle for social change. It is also the scene of rapidly changing institutional mechanisms for both responding to the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and, if the government has its way, to ensure a transition to peace.
In 2011 the government and Congress adopted land-breaking legislation (Law 1448 of 2011) to repair victims of armed conflict, which, like the many Constitutional Court decisions which address the matter, take women’s concerns seriously. This legal framework replaced that of internal displacement as the official response to the humanitarian crisis, transforming the category of internally displaced people to a broad category of “victims” of different crimes by different perpetrators under the 2011 victims law, all entitled to reparations in the truth/justice/reparations mantra of transitional justice.
Yet, the new system has met significant difficulties in implementation. These arise in part from the usual problems with setting up a new national agency with insufficient resources to deal with an enormous vulnerable population. They also arise from the persistent reprisals by illegal armed actors against potential beneficiaries and, increasingly, against officials of the victim’s relief programs.
In this context, hope is hard to muster, even in the protected hallways of the elite Universidad de los Andes. And while there is a substantive amount of civil society activism on feminist issues, most of this activism focus on making sexual violence, and its victims, visible. Few activists, if any, are asking difficult questions about the transformations (including redistribution of resources) that a peace process, with its ensuing transition, might bring for women, especially for the rural women who have born the enormous weight of war. Hence, we must keep asking the question: After the war; what future for these women?
Julieta Lemaitre and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik