Defeating militarization, gaining hope: women as political actors

By Rosa Emilia Salamanca

Due to the armed conflict in Colombia, the effect that militarization has had on our society is profound. We have lived for so long in situations where the military has been dominant that it has become natural. However, in the path in which we have been advancing in the recognition and defense of human rights we have identified that the militarization of the country has been the way in which the national elite has made use of weapons for their own benefit, deepened social inequality, political exclusion, concentration of land, and very low income redistribution.

During the decades of the 1960s to 1980s, many social and political sectors influenced by the great socialist revolutions of the world, believed that structural changes were to be made through the use of weapons as in other countries in the world, and thus in Colombia more than five guerrilla groups arose between rural, urban, semi-urban, and indigenous sectors. During this period, State repression by armed forces was mainly focused on workers, farmers, students’ movements and characterized by extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearance and imprisonment of left wing militants or political parties.

Photo: Spacio Libre
Photo: Spacio Libre

The guerrillas also installed their own military mentality: political retention, kidnapping, extortion, murder, reproducing the war which has always been present in Colombia. At the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, the drug trafficking problem emerged and with it the mentality of the use of weapons for individual causes without any political premise, but rather with the premise of business, of easy money. There was a rupture of any ethical structure which although complex, was still present in the midst of confrontations.

Changes in the world, the fall of the Berlin wall and reflections from various political currents and new social movements, including the feminist movement, began to severely question this form of confrontation. Some of the main guerrilla groups of the country left weapons and warfare during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

However two of the most important guerrilla groups in the country, the FARC and the ELN continued their exercise of armed confrontation, in a setting in which drug trafficking is a new factor and also the emergence at the end of the 1990s of right-wing paramilitary groups as a way of dealing with guerrillas. This setting progresses into even more complex levels with the rise of global interests in both the agro-extractive business and the mining and energy business, which adds new elements and the interest in large scale exploitation with the need of land for that implementation.

The conjunction between paramilitaries and drug trafficking lords and its armed expression has shaped the most violent, inhumane and cruel moments that the country has lived. The guerrillas also began to see a source of income in drug trafficking to sustain the warfare. Thus, the control of illicit crops and the corridors of illegal marketing and general expressions of illegal economy became new targets, and many times and in many ways almost the main confrontation between the different groups.

With these elements, the internal armed conflict deepened and began to affect much more of civil society. This is a conflict where the civil society has been the main target. Forced displacement, enforced disappearances, extra judicial executions, permanent threats to human rights defenders, kidnapping, terrorist actions, political genocide in a population of forty-seven million inhabitants, where seven million are victims and this number continues to grow. This complex conflict with multiple actors shows us a polarized society, with militarized hearts and minds in permanent war. The search of the enemy everywhere has made us a society that understands the use of force as a necessary tool to guarantee security in a strongly patriarchal society.

Of the seven million victims of countless crimes and multiple actors, 75% are women of different conditions and age. One woman could have been the victim of forced displacement, victim of direct sexual violence, victim of forced recruitment, and symbolic violence, among many other perverse combinations. Violence against women has been a weapon of war. Women have been used scandalously as instruments to damage the enemy, and the enemy has not always been the armed opposition; many times the enemy has been the community itself, which did not obey the orders distributed by the legal or illegal armed actors.

The violent acts against women regardless of the harm placed on them, seek to intimidate an entire community with terrifying impacts. In this environment, the Colombians have been victims of multiple forms of violence, in a continuum that exists throughout society materialized in all the social dynamics and exacerbated by the contexts of today’s conflict. The militarization of our minds and hearts has been deep. Our culture has become violent and we naturalize everything: death, violence against women, the physical or symbolic disappearance of the other, and the crisis is huge in our society. Everything can be justified. The militarization of our society has made it ill, and we are a society in need of intensive care.

However, in every crisis there is hope and a different way of looking at life. Despite the thought that although this is a huge tragedy there are ways to get out of it. If the current peace process with the FARC succeeds and negotiations with the ELN are achieved, there will be an opportunity for the social, cultural and economic changes that we need to defeat the structural causes of our conflicts.

In this sense, the task of the institutions and civil society is immense. More than rebuilding a country, we have to build one that we have never had: a democratic, just and inclusive country. Us women, who have been empowered significantly through the past decades, we recognize ourselves as strategic actors for such renovation. We have achieved (despite the hostile environment) important multilevel organizational levels. Our discourse and practice of lobbying and advocacy, has allowed us to have significant legislative achievements. Today we have a number of laws in the fields of political participation, sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict, integral violence against women and victims expressing our achievements as a movement.

We are now looking at the peace process and negotiations between the national government and the FARC with an inter-locution that we have gained, and the achievement of having affected in the decision of having women participate in the process.

Undoubtedly, the challenges are to achieve a peaceful environment and to have these laws and public policies taken to the local level and practiced every day. This requires political will, institutional seriousness that is to be respectful of women’s rights and with sufficient resources. For example, an objective to be met is for the Colombian Government to accept and have a national plan of action on resolution 1325 and related resolutions implemented and coordinated intra-State and at all levels with strategies of protection, prevention and participation of women.

The international, national and local political world has to understand that women, in addition to victims, are political, social and cultural actors, who in the majority of cases we are tireless weavers of peace for our societies. Our experiences today are sources for the theory of non-violence and reconstruction policy throughout the world. As subject of rights we are central in the resolution of these conflicts and the construction of a society whose values and principles are totally different to the ones that are currently in practice. Among the new values and principles, we can name non-discrimination for any reason, a resounding NO to the use of arms as means to exert power over others; a resounding NO to a military jurisdiction that leads or amnesties that will lead to impunity on responsibilities over what has happened. The practice of democracy as a setting of the confrontation of ideas in the public debate, the defense of everyone’s human rights, and a resounding NO to the continuation of the militarization of our minds, our bodies and our hearts.

Women in today’s world are part of the solution not the problem. Our voices in every corner of the globe must be heard.

Rosa Emilia Salamanca’s work is dedicated to strengthening the participation of women and civil society in decision-making processes in Colombia. She has worked with indigenous communities, feminists and a number of women’s organizations. Ms. Salamanca is Executive Director of Corporación de Investigación y Acción Social y Económica (CIASE) in Colombia, a member of the Women, Peace and Security Collective for Reflection and Action, which calls for a transformation towards a more peaceful Colombian society.


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