The United Nations remains fully committed to facilitating the participation of women in all stages of peacemaking and peacebuilding. Throughout October 2020, the UN and the international community marked the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Security Council resolution 1325, which enshrined the imperative of women’s full participation in peace efforts, from negotiations to the implementation of agreements. As part of the commemoration of this historic text, the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and its partners convened a series of events to review the state of the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Here we take a closer look at one of these discussions, which centered on lessons learned from the experience of UN Special Political Missions in Colombia in the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
The Colombian peace process and 2016 Final Peace Agreement are widely held up as model for a meaningful participation of women in peace talks. Beyond standing as a monument to the courage and leadership demonstrated by Colombians, they also illustrate how the United Nations can support Governments and other international partners in the gender-sensitive implementation of peace agreements.
2020 also marks five years since the first of two successive Special Political Missions were deployed in Colombia to monitor the ceasefire and verify implementation of specific provisions of the Agreement.
To reflect on these five years of experiences, the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) commissioned an independent study to examine the ways in which the two UN special political missions (SPMs) in Colombia have supported women’s participation in the peace process and its implementation, conducted gender-sensitive monitoring and verification of specific chapters of the Peace Agreement, and supported implementation of the broader women, peace and security (WPS) agenda. The study identifies lessons from this experience that can be applied to peace processes and peace agreement implementation in Colombia and beyond.
Over 1,050 participants across a variety of online platforms attended the launch event for the study, entitled, “From Words to Action: The Experience of UN Special Political Missions on Women, Peace and Security in Colombia” on 20 October. Opening the event, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo outlined key lessons from the experience in Colombia that show the way for other UN missions when supporting gender-sensitive verification and implementation of peace agreements:
“The experience in Colombia – committed and accountable Mission leadership, internal policies to mainstream gender across its work, and the achievement of gender parity among civilian staff – has been critical in developing a mission culture that supports women’s inclusion,” said DiCarlo during the event. To prioritize gender and women, peace and security in the mission’s work, Special Representative for Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu highlighted the importance of operational leadership on gender specific aspects in workplans, particularly at the local level.
The UN is pursuing similar efforts elsewhere, including in Yemen and Afghanistan, where the meaningful participation of women in peace processes is extremely challenging.
Civil society as Driving Force
From the early stages of talks, women from civil society were a driving force in achieving inclusive participation, securing gender provisions and, now, implementing the Colombian Peace Agreement, including by serving on dedicated technical bodies.
Rosa Emilia Salamanca, Director of the NGO Corporación de Investigación y Acción Social y Económica, who participated in the launch event, spoke of how women’s organizations gained legitimacy over time throughout the peace process and managed to include women, peace and security as an integral part of the peace agenda. But having an agreement is not enough: “The final peace accord is an agreement for all of society,” she said. “But there are so many complexities and exclusions in society that we need to generate multiple agreements within society to truly achieve it.”
The Mission’s verification work, which has focused on ceasefire monitoring and disarmament, the reintegration of ex-combatants and post-conflict security guarantees, has been immeasurably strengthened by its regular consultations with women’s civil society, both at the SRSG’s level and through strong grassroots relationships with field offices.
“We are convinced that societies that give women the space to fully participate are among the most resilient and most peaceful,” Ruiz Massieu said. “So, today, we commit to these women, to continue implementing resolution 1325, reducing the gap between their aspirations and enhancing the opportunities for them to be protagonists in peacebuilding in Colombia.”
Such experiences are exactly why all DPPA field missions consult regularly with women’s groups, and why in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the Special Envoys have established advisory boards to ensure that women’s voices are heard.
Expertise to set a foundation of inclusion
The Colombia experience highlights the importance of dedicated gender expertise being deployed early to set a foundation for inclusion in the work of a UN mission. It also reveals a need for a broader rethinking of reintegration models for women and stresses the importance of women’s direct participation in the official structures that define protection and security policies aid in ensuring attention and a differential approach to their risks and needs.
Additional initiatives in Colombia to expand the reach of gender expertise through internal training and networks of gender focal points in Mission field offices are models we are seeing in our missions in Afghanistan, Somalia and within DPPA. And in Sudan, a Senior Gender Adviser is being deployed as part of the first tranche of staff for the new UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS).
Partnerships are critical
The partnerships between the Mission, UN Country Team, Colombian Government, Member States, former combatants and women’s civil society have been critical in supporting the holistic implementation of the women, peace and security agenda, including through resourcing, capacity-building, and awareness of key issues and developments.
“When we talk about women, peace and security, it is a matter of power,” stated UN Women Interim Representative in Colombia Patricia Pacheco. “Power is shifted when gender equality is not a side conversation, but part of the larger agenda – part of budget allocation, indicators on peace, and historic milestones.”
And Gheidy Gallo, the Colombian Government Presidential Counselor for Women ́s Equity, confirming the authorities’ strong support for inclusive peacebuilding and outlining initiatives to support income generation for rural women and reinforce the security of women social and human rights leaders, stressed: “It is about an articulated joint effort.”
Financing for inclusive implementation
The UN’s experience in Colombia has shown the importance of dedicated and sustained financing, including though DPPA’s extrabudgetary contributions, to holistically support the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. “This is why financial contributions by donors are so vital, and why we are contributing over US$2 million under the Peacebuilding Fund’s Gender and Youth Promotion Initiative to catalytic projects with a focus on gender,” DiCarlo said. These projects aim to empower young women in the territories, support their participation in public debate, and strengthen their leadership in peacebuilding. Additionally, DPPA’s extra-budgetary funds are financing another 16 initiatives in Colombia to support the socio-economic reintegration of women former combatants.
Victoria Sandino, Senator of the Republic of Colombia for the FARC political party and Leader of FARC’s Gender Commission, highlighted the need to increase ambition and to allocate the necessary resources for the implementation of the gender provisions of the peace agreement, particularly at the local level. “We have seen the importance that the gender approach has had in the peace accord,” she said. “And we will continue fighting until it is achieved.”
The lessons learned in Colombia also point to ways to improve implementation of gender-sensitive peace agreements in the future, including looking comprehensively at the reintegration of women former combatants to address their security, education, and economic needs; introducing gender criteria in the selection of UN observers; and, critically, recognizing that a prevailing climate of insecurity can dampen women’s peace and political participation, and that addressing family, community, and sexual and gender-based violence must be a part of effective implementation efforts.
“I want to assure Colombia, especially the women of this wonderful country, of the continued support of the United Nations for your efforts to achieve the full implementation of the Peace Agreement and the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in public life,” DiCarlo concluded.
The full recording of the event can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4ku5Akvkcs
Opening remarks by Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo are available at: https://dppa.un.org/en/leadership-civil-society-expertise-partnerships-and-financing-key-to-support-gender-sensitive
Special Representative Carlos Ruiz Massieu’s remarks are available at: https://colombia.unmissions.org/en/srsg-carlos-ruiz-massieu-closing-remarks-words-actions-experience-un-special-political-missions
Title picture: In the department of Meta, organizations of women victims of the armed conflict and the organization of former female combatants in this department united to raise their voices against all forms of violence against women. This photograph was taken in Villavicencio, Meta, in 2019. Photo: Carlos Lesser/UN Verification Mission in Colombia