Increasing the visibility of women's role in peacebuilding in Colombia

For Colombian women, ending violence against women is a precondition for peace. For decades, they have underlined this ask in their peacebuilding efforts, but their work remains less visible. A new programme supported by UN Women and partners seeks to bring women’s contribution and perspectives to the forefront.

Crossposted from UN Women.

“Only bullets don’t kill us, indifference does too,” says Maryerlis Angarita, a rural leader from Montes de María, Colombia, who started telling women’s stories of the war after her mother disappeared.

For decades now, Colombian women have insisted that they don’t want others to make peace for them, they want to be at the table, making peace. However, their leadership and contribution to peacebuilding remain largely invisible and under-valued.

Diana, an indigenous woman displaced by violence, participates in crafting the strategy in the city of Villaviencio, where she lives with her family. Photo: Consorcio ECHO Caracola/David Fayad

“Women in this country have been the main actors building peace, supporting survivors and searching for the disappeared,” says Vera Grave, member of the International Peace Observatory in Bogota, who participated in a video project supported by UN Women, titled “1325: Mujeres resueltas a construir paz”.

In April 2016, UN Women started a programme in partnership with ECHO Caracola and with generous funding from the Swedish Embassy, to design a communication initiative to raise visibility and awareness about women’s contribution to peacebuilding and ending violence against women. The initiative will be launched at the national level and in the seven provinces of Cauca, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Norte de Santander, Meta, Chocó and Nariño, which are deeply impacted by the conflict. It is expected to be replicated throughout Colombia.

Two women leaders look at a map while discussing how to support peace strategies in various communities. Photo: Consorcio ECHO Caracola/David Fayad

The programme brings together women peacebuilders from different regions in a series of workshops where they share their experiences, identify key issues that affect women and barriers to ending violence against women. With this information, the participants go on to select appropriate communication tools and develop key messages for advocacy. They will also develop and disseminate eight radio series to narrate women’s life stories and contribution to peacebuilding in their respective regions. Furthermore, the programme will provide a scholarship to produce a documentary film on gender and peacebuilding, and build partnerships between women’s organizations, state institutions and the media.

 “This workshop gave us the opportunity to listen to each other, tell our stories and heal wounds…We joined forces to organize ourselves as a group and plan what we can do to have the most political impact…[in the peace process]. What we learned in this workshop will help us tell others what happened, so that it doesn’t happen again,” said Luz Elena Galeano from Movimiento de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado (Movement for the Victims of State Crimes).

Women peacebuilders from different regions encourage men to work towards ending violence against women during a workshop. Photo: Consorcio ECHO Caracola/David Fayad

Highlighting the challenges of reintegration of male and female former soldiers into the communities and the role that women play in mitigating them, Ángela Salazar from the organization Alianza Iniciativa de Mujeres Colombianas por la Paz says, “We don’t see them as guerrilla or paramilitary fighters but as our neighbour’s child.”

The plan is to organize eight workshops this year, between April and August, to strengthen women’s role in peacebuilding and to amplify their voices in the media. Five of these workshops have been completed, bringing together more than 73 representatives from women’s organizations, 20 state representatives and 39 local media representatives. The next workshops will take place in Quibdó, Cúcuta and Pasto.

After participating in the workshops, media representatives have committed to cover more stories on women’s peacebuilding and connect with women’s organizations to source relevant information. “Most media look for sensationalism in women’s stories. As journalists, we have to improve our understanding and perspectives. This workshop made us more aware,” shared William Patiño from the newspaper Diario del Cauca.

Leaders and journalists discuss the role of women in media during the peace process of Colombia. Photo: Consorcio ECHO Caracola/David Fayad

According to Paula Arenas, content adviser in a national television channel, Señal Colombia, “stories exist, they are there to be told. However, the difficulty is to find and identify someone who wants to tell the story with a gender perspective.”

The manner in which women’s stories are told is also important, the participants noted. “Women are visible, but as victims. Then people think ‘poor woman, we have to guarantee her rights’…but it must not be like this. We cannot reduce women to victimhood. We have to change our language so that we can change public perception of women,” stressed Shima Pardo, a participant from Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres, an organization that supports women peacebuilders.

For UN Women, transforming public attitudes about women and preventing violence against women is essential for lasting peace in Colombia. “If women cannot enjoy a life free from violence, how can we talk about peace," asks Silvia Arias, UN Women Coordinator of Women’s Citizenship for Peace, Justice and Development Programme. “The workshops and meetings have created a space for dialogue between women's organizations, state institutions and the media to make the peace process participatory and inclusive, and to make women’s contributions visible," she adds.