University of Notre Dame
Kroc Institutde for International Peace Studies

Kate Paarlberg-Kvam

Colombia’s 2016 Peace Accord is a groundbreaking example of how to include women and a gender focus in negotiations and peacebuilding. This achievement is the result of years of advocacy by Colombian women, with the support of the international community. To claim a role in the peace process, Colombian women effectively made use of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which mandates that UN member states increase women’s participation in peace and security efforts and take gender and gender-based violence into account when making decisions about armed conflict and its resolution. Colombian women’s strategic use of 1325 produced an accord that both reflects and extends beyond international dialogues on Women, Peace, and Security.

Resolution 1325 was adopted 18 years ago, the result of a concerted effort by women activists around the world. Several NGOs, including groups in New York, Dakar, and London, came together to advance the Beijing Platform for Action that emerged from the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. They were supported in particular by member states in the Global South, and propelled by Namibia’s May 2000 Windhoek Declaration calling for attention to gender in the design of peace support operations. While 1325 and subsequent WPS (Women, Peace, and Security) resolutions have been criticized for their limitations, they nonetheless have served as a powerful tool. When the Santos administration in Colombia sat down at the table with negotiators from the FARC-EP in 2012, Colombian women were poised to grab ahold of 1325 and use it to pry open the door and let themselves in.

Decades of peacebuilding by Colombian women preceded the negotiations. Since the early 1990s, women joined together to hold assemblies and craft policy priorities for a peace with gender equality and economic justice. When the Pastrana administration’s negotiations with the FARC-EP fell apart in 2002, women’s and feminist groups drew upwards of 40,000 people to a march on the capital, calling attention to their demands for a negotiated solution. This activism continued throughout the decade.

In August 2012, the announcement came that the government had been holding secret talks with the FARC-EP in Oslo and would be moving forward with the help of Norway and Cuba as guarantor states. Initially, there were no women at the table and no mention of gender in the framework agreement (though the FARC team soon added Dutch national Tanja Nijmeijer). Women immediately put together a National Summit of Women and Peace, attended by 450 organizations, to pressure the government to appoint women to its negotiating team. At the same time, women combatants put pressure on the FARC secretariat.

This simultaneous and integrated pressure from all sides successfully led both negotiating teams to appoint a handful of women the following year: Victoria Sandino on the FARC team, and Nigeria Rentería and María Paulina Riveros on the government side. In 2014, the teams created their now-famous Gender Sub-Commission, which had been suggested at the National Summit of Women and Peace, with representatives from both sides as well as “experts” from guarantor states who would review the accords with an eye for the role of gender in their effects. One major source of support for these efforts came from Hilde Salvesen, the member of the Norwegian team tasked with monitoring 1325’s implementation in the talks. Norway’s explicit focus on 1325 allowed Colombian women’s efforts to be integrated into the international agenda. Another source of support came from Magalys Arocha, former head of the Cuban FMC (Federación de Mujeres Cubanas) and CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) representative at the UN, who brought her own years of experience in advocacy to the table. Because both guarantor states had vocally committed to the WPS agenda, Colombian women were able to use 1325 to legitimize their efforts with the support of the international community.

WPS resolutions are not fixed policy agendas. Their implementation is subject to constant negotiation. Women from the NGOs who crafted 1325 admit that it purposely omitted a specific vision of peacebuilding or women’s participation, in order to be more palatable to the member states whose support it required. Realizing the promise of 1325 depends upon the actions of activists in international NGOs and in local grassroots women’s groups. The role of the international community in the coming years is to continue to support Colombian women by following their lead as they work to implement and amplify the gender provisions of the peace agreement. Colombian women’s efforts have cracked the door to inclusion. Continued international support can help them open it all the way.

Kate Paarlberg-Kvam is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. She also teaches courses in Latin American history, gender studies, and international affairs at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.