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Find here the latest news reports from the peace process, straight from Havana, Cuba. Permanently updated. 
Saturday, 21 May 2016 00:00

Historical meeting of female ex combatants

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On May 18 and 19, the Gender subcommission of the FARC-EP and the Colombian government held a two-day international meeting with female ex combatants from all over the world

to receive inputs and hear experiences referring to issues related to the third point of the Agenda, like reincorporation in civil life, decommissioning of arms, security guarantees, and what problems have been experienced, specifically by female fighters.

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Attending were ex fighters from Indonesia (Aceh), North Ireland (IRA), South Africa (ANC), Guatemala (Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG), Uruguay (MLN Tupamaros), El Salvador (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN) and there were also several ex combatants from former Colombian guerrilla organizations, like M-19, Quintín Lame, PRT and EPL.

The first day, the meeting lasted from 9 am to 4 pm. Each of them had 15 minutes to comment their experiences, interrupted by a lunch offered by the host country Cuba. Many issues were mentioned by the ex combatants, there were positive and also negative experiences.

On the second day, there was a separate meeting with the guerrilla women from the peace delegation of the FARC-EP and the ex combatants. There was an open discussion, where almost all of them took the floor to ask and answer questions, debate and discuss many aspects of reincorporation and the specific difficulties for female fighters.

One general conclusion was the need for including a gender perspective in the peace agreements and in the different programs and plans that are implemented for ex fighters. It is cristal clear that reincorporation needs to have a differentiated approach. Women are being expected by many to retake their traditional role in a patriarchal society, while within the ranks of the guerrillas, they had achieved equal roles in all aspects. Sometimes the reencounter with their families and the search for their (lost) children is really traumatic, according to the ex combatants. But also details like the lack of toilet facilities for women in the houses constructed for the ex combatants were mentioned.

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People prefer women to be seen as victims, while ex combatants see themselves as political actors, transformers of society. As Shadia Marahaban from Indonesia put it: “We were part of the war, so we should be part of peace as well”. Women need to be given space for political and social work at the local level, but also at the regional and national level.

The Colombian women emphasized the need of continuing collective life, to make collective efforts, and to continue in the areas where the guerrillas have operated. All agreed on the need for education and psycho-social care, especially for prisioners. In Colombia, there is an important organization called “Network of Female Ex combatants”, where the need for rescuing individual and collective memory is underlined. “We should appreciate and remember our past and not deny it”, said María Herminia Rojas, representative of this Network.

Present were also two female ex prisioners from the FARC, who had traveled from Colombia, where they are preparing visits to FARC-EP prisioners to explain the details of the peace agreements made until now. They emphasized on the need for making the humanitarian situation within Colombian prisons visible, nationally and internationally, especially the situation of female prisoners, who have been victims of a large series of human rights abuses in jails, ranging from rape and torture to being denied the right to see their children. Jennifer Mc Cann, ex prisoner from IRA, commented about the importance of international solidarity with Irish prisoners in the eighties and the need to demand better living conditions for prisoners in Colombia, for – she said – "this is a humanitarian, not a political issue, which concerns everyone".

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“We had changed, but society hadn’t” affirmed Patricia Castillo, ex guerrilla fighter from Guatemala. Sexism, control, violence, everything had worsened or seemed to have worsened. The problems in Guatemala started after their demobilization, she said, because the causes of the conflict started to affect again: racism, unequel land distribution and inequality. "In Guatemala, a special agreement was made for women to have access to land, because after the peace agreements, only men received land and in very exceptional cases women. Regarding political participation, the women’s participation has been quite deceptional: 52% of the population are women, while only 11% of Congress consists of women. There is only one female left-wing deputee", explained Patricia.

Better experiences came from South Africa, by Dipuo Mvelase, who was the only one who could proudly affirm that in South Africa, there is a 50% parity achieved through a decision by the ANC. Lety Méndez, from El Salvador, told that women started their struggle afterwards, when they realized that women’s discrimination wouldn’t just disappear with the victory of the guerrilla movement. Now they have a high level of women’s participation at a municipal and legislative level. “Our statutes have a non sexist language and we are the only political party with gender policies. "We have a 35% participation now and the goal is to reach 50%. It was a permanent struggle, also inside our party, but many men and women have changed their point of view. At least now it’s unacceptable to have machista attitudes within our party”, she added.

This historical meeting surely has achieved its purpose of providing inputs to the Gender Subcommission of the FARC and the government, to be able to include a gender focus in the agreements that are still pending, among which are reincorporation, bilateral ceasefire, paramilitarism and implementation and countersignature of the agreements.

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