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Women and LGBTI+ in the Colombian Peace Process: Implications for Turkey

This blog entry is part of the series "Gendered Aspects of Peace and War in Turkey".

Published onNov 14, 2022
Women and LGBTI+ in the Colombian Peace Process: Implications for Turkey

Women and LGBTI+ in the Colombian Peace Process: Implications for Turkey

Introduction 

This autumn marks the sixth year since the peace agreement was signed by the Colombian government and FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - Ejército del Pueblo, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army) to “put a definitive end to an armed conflict that has lasted over fifty years”.[i] The Colombian peace process was celebrated as an unprecedented example of including women’s and LGBTI+ organisations’ agenda in peace talks and adopting a gender perspective in the peace agreement. In the preamble, it is stated that the agreement:

places special emphasis on the fundamental rights of women, of vulnerable social groups such as indigenous peoples, girls, boys and adolescents, communities of African descent and other ethnically differentiated groups; the fundamental rights of the small-scale farmers, both male and female, and the essential rights of persons with disabilities and of those displaced by the conflict; and the fundamental rights of the elderly and of the LGBTI community.[ii]

The Colombian peace talks took place in Havana, Cuba (2012-2016) around the same time as the peace talks in Turkey (2012-2015). Despite some initial similar conditions and challenges, these processes followed different negotiation frameworks, which led the Colombian process to end with a peace agreement, while the process in Turkey collapsed, and the country experienced a reescalation of violence.[iii] Although the root causes and dynamics of the two conflicts differ greatly, the Colombian case is worthy of analysis to see what LGBTI+ and women's peace movements succeed through collective mobilisation and bring their demands into the mechanisms during the peace process. 

The Colombian peace process was unique in terms of how gender could be incorporated into a peace agreement’s text as a transversal gender approach.[iv] Gender provisions were so progressive in the agreement that “gender ideology” became one of the main critics of the supporters of “no campaign” in the referendum that the peace agreement was voted. Since the final agreement was signed in 2016, the implementation phase entailed both certain progress and some challenges. Among those, gender-sensitive security measures for conflict-affected populations and reparations are the areas that need improvement.[v] However, the assessment of the implementation is beyond the scope of this blog post. Rather, it focuses on the peace process itself by building on the research conducted by the DEMOS Research Association in 2017-2018.[vi]During the research, we conducted interviews in Bogotá, Cali, and Medellín in November 2017, exactly a year after the peace agreement was signed. Our interviewees were from LGBTI+ and women’s organisations that directly or indirectly took part in the peace talks in Habana. Despite being cautious about the implementation of the peace agreement, they were quite excited about, and proud of, what they had achieved collectively. A decades-long armed conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC had finally come to an end, and their collective mobilisation had been a fundamental factor in ensuring that process was inclusive and transformative.

Why was the Colombian peace process celebrated from a gender perspective? 

The first outstanding achievement during the process was women's and LGBTI+ organisations’ active involvement in peace negotiations. This took place through an unprecedented mechanism, Gender Sub-commission. For the first time in the history of peace processes, a functioning gender sub-commission was established to make sure that the peace process and the agreement adopted a gender-sensitive approach. Previously, a sub-committee on gender issues had been established in 2002 in Sri Lanka as part of the peace negotiations between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Sadly, the formal negotiations came to an end and the sub-committee could not go beyond having their first meeting. The Colombian sub-commission, on the contrary, succeeded in undertaking its task, which was to revise the already adopted partial agreement from a gender perspective. 

Another unprecedented development was that the gender sub-commission organised three meetings with women and LGBTI+ organisations in Havana between 2014-2015 and invited several delegations. The delegations included conflict-affected groups such as women farmers, ex-combatants, and survivors of sexual violence. More than half of the victims who travelled to Havana were also women.[vii] Another inspiring thing that we also observed during our field trip was how much Colombian women and LGBTI+ organisations learned from other countries’ experiences. This was also reflected in the sub-commission’s work. For instance, female ex-combatants from other post-conflict countries, including Northern Ireland and Indonesia, were also invited to Havana. This was particularly important since the reintegration of combatants was one of the issues covered in the agreement, and there was the risk that women ex-combatants would go back to more traditional roles in the post-agreement phase.[viii]

Another crucial achievement was that gender issues were not tackled in isolation from other points discussed in peace talks. Rather, each chapter of the peace agreement was reviewed from a gender perspective to make sure that all provisions addressed the gendered inequalities and injustices. For example, the Rural Reform chapter has a strong focus on gender, which recognises women as independent citizens with rights to land ownership. Thanks to the subcommission’s work, the agreement also acknowledged that the armed conflict impacted women, LGBTQI+, Afro-Colombians, indigenous communities, political and religious minorities, and people with disabilities differentially; therefore, specific tools had to be developed to address their needs.[ix]

How was it achieved? 

When the peace negotiations started in 2012, there was only one woman at the negotiation table. Given the women’s long-term efforts to pave the way for a peace process, this was a disappointing beginning. In 2013, nine women's organisations organised the National Summit of Women for Peace in Bogota, which brought together more than 450 women from 30 departments of Colombia. These women came from diverse backgrounds, including peasants, victims, indigenous, Afro-Colombians, LGBTI+ organisations, trade unions, and political parties. Experts and activists from other countries also joined the Summit to share their peacebuilding experiences. The main purpose of the organisers was to ensure women’s participation in the peace talks and the inclusion of their agendas in the discussion. The participants agreed on three key demands to be conveyed to the negotiating parties: the parties should not leave the negotiation table until they reach an agreement; the peace table should include the women at every stage, and the conflict’s impact on women and the subsequent needs and demands should be taken into account. They also put together hundreds of recommendations for the peace agreement.[x] The Summit constituted a turning point in women’s inclusion in negotiation delegations as only two months later, the government appointed two women as plenipotentiaries with full negotiating powers, and women’s participation increased on the FARC’s negotiation team as well. The sub-commission on gender was also established some months after the Summit. By February 2015, women consisted of 40% of the FARC[xi] and 20% of the government delegation.[xii] During the whole process, women took part in delegations, commissions, sub-commissions, commissions, and regional working groups. They organised and took part in forums on the peace agreement’s chapters. Through their work, they ensured women’s meaningful engagement with the peace process as empowered political actors.[xiii] The Summit was organised again in 2016 and 2021 with the aim of including women’s perspectives in the implementation process. 

What are the implications for Turkey?

Focusing on peace amid the armed conflict 

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the genders’ being key to the peace process is how it was made possible through the years-long struggle of women. Many women’s and LGBTI+ organisations had a long-established practice in peacebuilding efforts. They had played an essential role in resisting “the armed conflict and humanitarian protection. Amid the armed conflict, women organized and built spaces of peace, laying the foundations for a solution to the armed conflict through dialogue”.[xiv] The conflict’s impact on different groups was already on their agenda for a long and peacebuilding was a key theme to which they had dedicated programmes. For instance, through Las Casas de Paz (Peace Houses), the LGBTI+ organisation Caribe Afirmativo was providing space for LGBTI+ people who suffered from the armed conflict based on their sexual orientation, identity, and diverse gender expression.[xv] The strong links between gender-related work and peace work equipped these groups with the necessary knowledge and tools to take action when the peace process started. 

Coming together around joint demands for peace, establish the priorities

Thanks to this background, the organisations responded rapidly to the lack of women and LGBTI+ in the peace negotiations. They built on their existing experience, mobilised their resources, and used their national and international networks. But most importantly, they created a shared agenda and agreed on key concrete demands. It was their concerted efforts that enabled the establishment of effective mechanisms and the active participation of women. 

The alliances built among organisations and movements were also key during and after the 2016 referendum, in which the peace agreement was voted. During the referendum campaigns, the “no campaign” supporters attacked the peace agreement arguing that it promoted “gender ideology” and violated traditional family values. They won the referendum with a small margin. Both the government and FARC decided to go ahead with the agreement despite the referendum outcome but had to make some amendments to the agreement. LGBTI+ rights were at risk of being sacrificed. The joint efforts of women and LGBTI+ organisations prevented such a step backwards. 

Considering the currently increasing anti-LGBTI+ sentiments and discourse in Turkey, this proves more important than it has ever been. In parallel to the global trends towards anti-LGBTI+ legislation and criminalisation of LGBTI+ activists, Turkey has been witnessing a strong backlash against LGBTI+ activists in recent years. Only a few weeks after the state-supported anti-LGBTI+ rally in Istanbul,[xvi] on 24 October 2022, President Erdogan expressed that he wanted to make a legislative change to strengthen the institution of family. It soon became clear that this meant proposing anti-LGBTI+ constitutional amendments.[xvii] Although this could be seen as a move to consolidate his conservative voter base in the run towards the elections, it also reflects a broader socio-political climate of recent years. It also resonates with the universal rise of right-wing politics. Strengthening existing coalitions among feminist and queer movements can be the only way to counteract the targets of the authoritarian regime.  

 



[i] Colombian Government and FARC-EP (2016). Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace. Available at: https://www.peaceagreements.org/viewmasterdocument/1845 [Accessed 21 October 2022]

[ii] ibid. 

[iii]  Bakiner, O. (2019) Why Do Peace Negotiations Succeed or Fail? Legal Commitment, Transparency, and Inclusion during Peace Negotiations in Colombia (2012–2016) and Turkey (2012–2015), Negotiation Journal 35(4) 471-513.

[iv] https://kroc.nd.edu/assets/297624/181113_gender_report_final.pdf

[v] Barometer Initiative, Peace Accords Matrix, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Towards implementation of women’s rights in the Colombian Final Peace Accord: Progress, opportunities and challenges. Available at: https://peaceaccords.nd.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Towards-Implementation-of-Womens-Rights-in-the-Colombian-Final-Peace-Accord-2.pdf [Accessed 17 October 2022].Downing, C., Rivas, S., Olaya, Á. (2021) Five years on from Colombia’s Peace Agreement, gender inequality remains an obstacle to stable and lasting peace. Available at: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/wps/2021/11/24/five-years-on-from-colombias-peace-agreement-gender-inequality-remains-an-obstacle-to-stable-and-lasting-peace/ [Accessed 20 October 2022].  

[vi] Daşlı, G., Alıcı, N., Figueras J. P. (2018) Peace and Gender: The Colombian Peace Process. (Ankara: DEMOS Reserch Association)

[vii] Supra n. iv.

[viii] Chalaby, O. (2018) Colombia’s peace agreement is the world’s first to have gender at its core. Available at: https://apolitical.co/solution-articles/en/colombias-peace-agreement-worlds-first-gender-core [Accessed 23 October 2022].

[ix] Supra n. vi. 

[x] Bouvier, Virginia M. (2016). Gender and the Role of Women in Colombia’s Peace Process. (New York: UN Women)

[xi] This is consistent with the number of women fighters in the FARC. 

[xii] Supra n. vi. 

[xiii] ibid.

[xiv] Supra n. iv. 

[xv] Caribe Afirmativo, Casas de Paz. Available at: https://caribeafirmativo.lgbt/casas-caribe-afirmativo/casas-de-paz/ [Accessed 26 October 2022].

[xvi] Balkan Insight (2022) Anti-LGBT Protest Held in Istanbul Despite Pride Ban. Available at: https://balkaninsight.com/2022/09/19/anti-lgbt-protest-held-in-istanbul-despite-pride-ban/ [Accessed 25 October 2022].

[xvii] Bianet (2022) AKP to outbid opposition's 'headscarf bill' to propose anti-LGBTI+ amendment to Constitution. Available at:https://m.bianet.org/english/politics/268968-akp-to-outbid-opposition-s-headscarf-bill-to-propose-anti-lgbti-amendment-to-constitution [Accessed 25 October 2022].

* Sponsored by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung with funds of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Federal Republic of Germany. This publication or parts of it can be used by others for free as long as they provide a proper reference to the original publication. The content of the publication is the sole responsibility of Off-University. Organisation für den Frieden e.V. and does not necessarily reflect a position of RLS.

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