In the run up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, we have been highlighting how the UN and its Department of Political Affairs (DPA) work to include women’s participation and a gender perspective in their peace and security work (see our previous story here). Today, we take a closer look at the Colombian peace process, which gave birth to a peace agreement distinguished by, among other things, its gender sensitivity. We spoke to Devanna de la Puente, gender adviser in the UN Verification Mission in Colombia (UNVMC), who works with a network of gender focal points across the Mission’s field offices.
What is your role as a gender adviser in your Special Political Mission and what are your main tasks?
Devanna de la Puente: The Verification Mission in Colombia has the mandate to verify the implementation of the peace agreement between the Government and the the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP), related to the reincorporation of ex-combatants and security guarantees for the ex-combatants and communities. So, my role as gender adviser is to provide the required support to ensure a gender sensitive verification in compliance with the gender provisions of the Peace Agreement and in line with the different UN Security Council resolutions on gender/women, peace and security.
My role involves a wide range of functions, most importantly I provide advice, technical support and guidance to the verification teams on reintegration and security guarantees. The final peace agreement has about 100 gender related provisions, which makes it one of the most gender sensitive peace agreements signed in the world. Additionally, about 23% of FARC-EP former combatants are women, therefore there is a strong gender focus on the reintegration process. I provide the field teams with onsite support, develop guidance notes, facilitate dialogue with women´s organizations, government counterparts, and other key actors, among other tasks. It is crucial that our verification work is gender sensitive so we can reflect the impact of the implementation of the peace agreement on women and the gender equality agenda related to reintegration and security guarantees, as well as to advocate for what needs to be improved in a constructive manner at national level with the Government and through our trimestral reports to the Security Council.
The other part of my work relates to facilitating and maintaining a regular dialogue with women´s organizations, the women of FARC, Government counterparts, UN agencies and the international community. For example, we organize a regular dialogue between the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and representatives of different women´s organizations, and we promote similar dialogues at local level, so their voices and experiences are also reflected in our work. Colombia is also known for having a very vibrant and active civil society and their work and contribution has been key to reaching the peace agreement.
As important as having gender sensitive verification is for our work with external actors, it is as important to ensure gender is mainstreamed across the Mission in all of its different Units, Field offices, strategies and policies. So, I am also responsible for leading the work on mainstreaming the gender/women, peace and security agenda, working with the different units and providing the support required. For example, I work with the training unit to facilitate a module on gender/women, peace and security in the induction sessions; or with the analysis and information management unit to revise the reporting templates to be gender sensitive, and so on. We need to focus as much attention on how we address gender equality in our internal work, as much as we do in our verification work and engagement with key actors.
Despite being a lot of work, it is rewarding, particularly working with the field teams and engaging at field level with female ex-combatants, promoting dialogue and reconciliation spaces between ex-combatants, communities and government, and contribute whatever I can through my role as gender adviser. This work couldn´t be done without the support I have from the network of gender focal points across the field offices. We have ten regional offices, seven sub-regional offices and 26 field offices, with now 41 gender focal points across the field, because it is impossible for me to be in all of these areas. Luckily, we have very good and active gender focal points. I do quite a lot of support to the field, primarily giving them guidance on the work that they’re doing. I guess it’s a lot of work, but worth it [laughs].
In terms of challenges, well, here in Colombia despite having a very gender-sensitive peace agreement, a vibrant civil society, and an organized Gender Committee of the FARC, we still lack resources and greater political will for implementation. Currently, over a year after signing the Peace Agreement, about 59% of the gender specific provisions are yet to be implemented. One thing is to have them on paper in the agreement, but the greatest challenge is the implementation. There are different mechanisms which were created with the agreement, such as the High-Level Forum of Women to monitor that the peace agreement is implemented from a gender perspective. But the High-Level Forum requires resources, to have the same priority and attention which the Gender Subcomission had in the peace talks, in order to be operational and have influence at the highest level of decision making.
As mentioned, the FARC also has a Gender Committee, and the women of FARC have developed their own reintegration strategy, which addresses their economic, social, legal and political reintegration and the security guarantees. We work very closely with them at national and field level. They also have gender focal points in all 26 sites of what is known as the Territorial Areas for Reintegration and Training (TARTs). This has facilitated our coordination in gender related issues. It is quite a unique model, and reflects the important role of women in the guerrilla. Recently they have also established the gender working group at the National Council for Reintegration, which includes the FARC and the Government. As the ex-combatants transition to civilian life, women and men are also transitioning to traditional gender roles and without the required accompaniment and support, situations of discrimination and even domestic violence can arise, as we have seen in some sites. Additionally, most reintegration programmes have not included a gender sensitive approach such as provision of sexual and reproductive health, income generating activities, fostering women´s participation and leadership, and vocational programmes which capitalize on the experiences and skills which female ex-combatants have acquired.
Despite the challenges, we have observed that women are taking leadership. There is an interest for women – not only ex-combatants but also women in the communities – to organize themselves in groups or associations to promote ideas related to income generating projects, but also sensitizing their communities on gender equality and the prevention of gender-based violence. Women have also taken an active role in promoting spaces for dialogue between ex-combatants and communities, which is an important step for reconciliation. All of these efforts would require greater support and resources, as I mentioned earlier. From our side as UN Mission we make sure that our verification captures these issues, but also that we proactively and constructively advocate for changes, and that we capture these opportunities and good practices so they can be further supported.
How is including women in peace processes actually done? How do you increase participation and inclusion?
In Colombia, when the peace talks started, both delegations were almost all male. Following strong pressure from women’s organizations, on September 2014 both parties, the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP created a Gender Subcommission, which had the responsibility to review all documents of the peace process and ensure it had gender sensitive language and specific provisions. The Gender Subcommission included women and men from both delegation, and three international members. Throughout the peace process, the Subcomission invited different delegations of women from civil society, delegations of victims, representatives of the LGBTI community and international and national experts. This allowed for the inclusion of different perspectives and experiences in the revision of the peace agreement. This resulted in having a final peace agreement with over 100 gender specific provisions and also helped develop trust and coordination between the parties and civil society related to the gender/women, peace and security agenda.
This model has been unique in the world, and it is expected that other peace processes can learn from the experiences. Now, although we got women to the peace table and we got gender into the peace agreement, the challenge is the implementation. It is very important that women participated in the peace process and the negotiations, now it is equally important that women take place in the decision making and that gender remains a priority at all levels during the implementation.
What’s the greatest opportunity for your office and DPA in this field? And what’s the greatest challenge?
We have many opportunities in Colombia, particularly given the context. Some missions are working in environments that are very hostile to the issue. All of a sudden, you have Colombia, where you have the most gender-sensitive peace agreement, you have an extremely vibrant civil society, I mean, they have pushed this agenda for the past 50 years. We have very good relationships with the UN agencies, particularly with UN Women, we have a guerilla that has its own Gender Committee and their own gender programs and reintegration strategy. I feel that the opportunity is there. Colombia is where we could make this happen, to make all these beautiful resolutions real, because we have the commitment, and there is support to promote the gender/women, peace and security agenda
But then, the question now is how to ensure the same commitment and support remains for the implementation phase of the agreement particularly with limited resources and weak architecture from the government to lead the gender agenda, despite its commitment. A stronger architecture to lead this agenda and the resources to do so is needed. If not, it’s not sustainable. You might have it now for the very first months where there is so much attention to it in Colombia, but we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next year or two. And things can change. The question and the challenge is definitely how you make it sustainable.
Why is this work a priority?
If the rights, security and peace of women are not a priority, then peace itself is not a priority. We can´t think of peace when it doesn’t benefit more than half of the population, when their specific needs, interests and capacities are not at the negotiating table, including those of a different gender orientation. Peace must be inclusive to benefit all and to achieve lasting peace. Women have long in history been part of peace building, as negotiators, mediators, victims, leaders and decision makers, but they do not get the recognition for their role and contribution. We now have many resolutions of the Security Council on gender/women, peace and security, yet the implementation of them is low. We need to understand the priority of placing the voices, experiences and capacities of women at the forefront of peace negotiations and peace agreements and its implementation. We must work together, women, men, youth, LGBTI, ethnic minorities and all sectors, to achieve gender equality, to achieve equal rights, respect, security and peace. It is everyone´s business, not just women, not just gender advisers’. We can´t achieve lasting peace if there is no security for women, we can´t have lasting peace if women and girls continue to be raped and abused, understanding of course that men and boys can also be at risk. We can´t have lasting peace if we don´t give the needed priority to the voices of women on how they want peace to look like for them and their communities, to give the priority to their experiences and how their capacities can contribute to peace. It’s common sense, at least it should be, and we must continue working until it is.