A year later, the government of Juan Manuel Santos finally appointed two women to the government’s team for peace negotiations with the FARC in Havana.
They are María Paulina Riveros, current head of the Interior Ministry’s human rights work, and Nigeria Rentería Lozano, the president’s senior advisor for gender equity. This is the first time that any woman has been named among the government’s five lead negotiators.
Riveros has been a liaison for the Interior Ministry with ethnic communities on human rights issues presented before the Organization of American States’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Renteria is Afro-Colombian. She was the regional director of the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare for the country’s most impoverished state, Chocó.
Riveros and Renteria have a great responsibility to uphold rights for all women in Colombia.
Armed groups, not excluding state authorities, use physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women in order to gain and exercise territorial control. Women are targets or victims because of their role as daughters, wives, mothers, partners, or sisters of armed actors.
Women are most often the victims of massacres, homicides, acts of torture, attacks, and home searches. Women are also the primary victims of kidnappings, personal humiliations, and sexual slavery, and women are used to “infiltrate” the enemy.
State figures confirm that four out of ten displaced (internal refugee) families are headed by women. The most vulnerable amongst the displaced are Afro-Colombian women who are victims of racism, ridicule, and stigmatization by the receiving communities. The Afro-Colombian women are often under-educated and have a tougher time finding jobs.
Indigenous women are as equally vulnerable. They have a cultural tie to their ancestral lands, and feel their community is endangered if they are displaced from this land.
At least one-third of the FARC are estimated to be women, and some 35 to 40 percent of demobilized FARC combatants are women. Forced abortions are the main reason for desertions.
The FARC’s Sandra Ramírez, 48, was the “compañera sentimental” (read: wife or long-term lover) of FARC founder Pedro Antonio Marin, alias “Sureshot.” Recently in Havana, an interviewer asked her, What of the estimated 35 to 45 percent combatants who are women. What of the reported sexual abuse within the group?
Sandra Ramírez said, “Since we began, the guerrilla are combatants, we have equality in rights and chores. Women and men share everything. .. I want to say, in all daily activities, men and women participate equally. .. This development makes us have mechanisms to show that women are able to do everything. That women can do the same things as men, because we, too, go to battle. … This dilutes the machismo … I have not heard complaints of sexual abuse from women. Women choose to be a nurse, a web site developer — according to her abilities. She is free to be what she wants to be. … free that she is not attached to a husband .. because to have a husband, she is not free to do a mission or a chore.” (Abbreviation mine.)
The FARC’s Victoria Sandino Palmera, another FARC commander currently in Havana, seems to better accept reality. Sandino Palmera said, “ … I don’t know who said it, but some say that war is a man’s game. I don’t think it’s really that way. It is so grueling, bloody, violent and rough, that no one imagines that women are involved in it. It hasn’t been easy within the organization either. Of course since the FARC’s beginning, women have been involved, though not as many as we see today. The women had other responsibilities, like working as nurses, or in the kitchen, in communications, among other responsibilities. But women began gaining a space in combat, in the high command, and here we are today. It has been an internal fight as well because there is definitely sexism among the men and women in the organization. It’s not easy for women and men to be in the ranks together. We come from a sexist society, and within a military structure it is especially difficult to carry forth these changes. … There is a lot of criticism from other women, who think we are, I don’t know, who think we make independent decisions regarding the conflict and peace. But this is a collective organization where all the fighters are committed and the female combatants in particular. But simply being here in Havana, where we make up nearly half of the delegation, we are 13 of the 30 present, it is an important recognition. And of course we are putting forth our best efforts in this process.” (Abbreviation mine.)
It seems the first challenge faced by the government’s female negotiators is to get the FARC’s female negotiators on board about the importance of accepting the position of victims many women face in Colombia, to get them to broaden from Marxist ideology to the realities faced because of gender.
High-ranking women in Colombia’s military must do their part, too, behind the scenes, by bringing forth women’s issues to the military men at the peace table in Havana.