Category: Articles

Category: Articles

Rwandan government and civil society discuss the use of CEDAW to advance women’s meaningful participation in peace processes and recovery

15 June 2021

By Emem Bassey, Peacebuilding Program Intern for Africa, GNWP

“To implement something well, you have to monitor it. Monitoring helps see the gaps. Reporting on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) gives us an opportunity to reflect on the gaps in the implementation of Women, Peace and Security resolutions” –Agnieszka Fal-Dutra Santos, Director of Programs, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP)

GNWP in partnership with ISOKO Partners and Benimpuhwe, civil society organizations working in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region, organized a workshop on the synergies between CEDAW and the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) and its supporting resolutions from 31 March to 1 April 2021. The workshop was attended by representatives from the Rwandan Government, civil society, and UN entities, focused on the use of CEDAW as a complementary reporting mechanism on the implementation of the WPS resolutions. It was organized in relation to Rwanda’s report to CEDAW wherein both the Government and civil society will submit reports. The organizing of the workshop was supported by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation.  

Importance of assessment of WPS resolutions’ implementation and reporting

The workshop enabled the government and civil society participants to assess the progress in the implementation of the WPS resolutions and the remaining gaps. They also identified concrete recommendations for more effective implementation of the WPS resolutions and the National Action Plan (NAP) on WPS. Specific to civil society participants, it was an opportunity to review the draft report prepared by the government and provide their comments.

The workshop allowed participants to discuss many topics including the ways women are affected by conflicts and refugee crises; women’s roles as actors for peace; the need for women to be present in security sector institutions; the meaningful participation of women in local decision-making and conflict resolution structures; and, the need to support women both as voters and candidates in national and local elections. Importantly, the participants discussed the progress and the persistent challenges in the implementation of the WPS agenda, which should be reflected in the upcoming CEDAW report.

Analyzing the progress and gaps in WPS resolutions’ implementation

The topics discussed during the workshops were far-reaching and covered a multitude of areas. Some of the highlights of the discussions are the following: 

  • Identifying important advances to the implementation of the WPS agenda. Advances included the establishment of the national machinery for the advancement of women, the mainstreaming of gender equality across government policies and development frameworks –  including the country’s “Vision 2050” strategy, and the introduction of a quota for women’s participation in District Councils and the Executive Council in the city of Kigali.
  • The prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV) and lack of access to services for GBV victims and survivors. Rates of violence remain high despite the measures put in place by the government – such as the Gender Accountability Days (GAD), a series of activities held at the district level to raise awareness, enhance accountability for gender equality, and prevention and response to GBV. The participants emphasized that CEDAW implementation and the effective use of the media and communication channels are critical instruments to address GBV.
  • The impact of COVID-19 on WPS agenda implementation in the country, and the need to ensure that the COVID-19 recovery be gender-responsive and conflict-sensitive. The pandemic has revealed the widened gaps in social systems, and their disproportionate impact on women and girls. Across Africa, lockdown measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus have left many women with no escape from abusive partners. As a result, the cases of domestic violence and GBV increased in Rwanda during the pandemic. The participants concluded that the pandemic underscored the urgent need for full and effective implementation of the WPS agenda, to ensure that women’s rights are protected and that they participate in advocacy and lead the search for solutions.
  • The importance of involving young women and men in conversations about WPS implementation and GBV prevention. The participants recommended that gender studies be included in school curricula, in order for children to grow up with the understanding of gender equality. They also emphasized the importance of localizing the WPS agenda (see #Localization1325), to raise local government’s awareness of this international law, and ensure they can effectively contribute to its implementation and eradication of GBV. They identified concrete strategies – such as town hall meetings and dissemination of leaflets – to ensure that community members, including women and young women, are aware of the government’s COVID-19 responses including the economic packages available to them.

Crisis and Risk Communications Training

The workshop on the synergies between CEDAW and the WPS resolutions was followed by a training focusing on the importance of communication during conflicts and crises, such as a pandemic. The training was organized by GNWP, in partnership with the Rwanda Women’s Network (RWN) with support from the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation, and was attended by women and gender equality activists from across Rwanda, who have been first-responders to the COVID-19 pandemic. Building on the findings of the workshop on the CEDAW and WPS synergies, the workshop created a space for women from civil society to develop an advocacy and communications strategy that calls for a gender-specific and conflict-sensitive COVID-19 response and recovery.

During this second day of the workshop, participants identified advocacy messages around COVID-19 response and recovery and designed strategies to distribute messaging. As a follow-up to the workshop, GNWP and RWN will transform these messages into information, education and communications materials, which will be widely disseminated, and will complement civil society’s efforts to advance the implementation of WPS resolutions through CEDAW reporting and implementation.

The two workshops provided a rich space for discussion and resulted in concrete recommendations. GNWP and its civil society partners look forward to seeing them reflected in Rwanda’s State Party report and disseminated through information, education and communications materials. Stay tuned!

Background to GNWP’s work: UNSCR 1325 and the Rwandan Genocide

In Rwanda, the UNSCR 1325 was profoundly important, as it was adopted during Rwanda’s recovery from the 1994 genocide. During the genocide, Rwandan women were subjected to a mass scale of sexual violence, perpetrated by members of the infamous Hutu militia groups known as the Interahamwe. Although the exact number of women who were raped will never be known, testimonies from survivors confirm that rape and other forms of sexual violence – including sexual slavery – were a widespread practice. Such practices contributed to the genocide having a devastating impact on Rwandan women.

Despite Rwandan women being greatly impacted by the genocide, women have been leaders in reconstructing the country. Even before the adoption of the UNSCR 1325 in 2000, Rwandan women have played a central role in maintaining peace and security in their communities, country and region. Women mobilized to take care of the orphans and non-accompanied children left in their communities after the genocide. It is estimated that between 400,000 and 500,000 children were fostered or adopted by families and women-headed households.

Rwandan women worked together to rebuild solidarity and mutual understanding as a first step towards national reconciliation. For example, the Forum of Rwandese women leaders and Unity Club were formed, bringing together influential women from Rwanda to promote the message of reconciliation in communities, and foster cooperation among women parliamentarians from different backgrounds. Today, women make up 61.25 percent of Rwanda’s parliament, making it the country with the highest proportion of women in the national legislature.

Recognizing the important roles of women in peacebuilding resulted in Rwanda adopting its first three-year National Action Plan (NAP) for the implementation of the UNSCR 1325 in 2009. The second generation of the NAP, adopted in 2018 for the period 2018-2022, commits Rwanda to continue its efforts to implement the four pillars of UNSCR 1325 and other WPS resolutions: Protection, Prevention, Participation and Relief and Recovery. Effective monitoring of UNSCR 1325 implementation will be essential to ensuring meaningful participation, respect and protection of women’s rights.

Why Localized Feminist Humanitarian Action is Essential: Learnings from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

April 27, 2021 by Mallika Iyer

In August 2017, the southeastern Bangladesh coastal town of Cox’s Bazar was irreversibly changed when over 700,000 Rohingya refugees fled the Myanmar military’s genocidal campaign in the Rakhine State. The majority of Rohingya refugees live in 34 extremely congested camps with precarious access to food, health care, education, sanitation, livelihood, and shelter.

Rohingya refugee women and girls, most of whom are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, constitute 52 percent of the camp population. Living within these challenging camp conditions means Rohingya women refugees faced further marginalization due to their restricted mobility, access to information, basic services and limited decision-making power within camp management.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, further impacting on the lives of Rohingya refugees. Although humanitarian actors were able to successfully curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the pandemic intensified existing hardships for the refugees, along with the surrounding host communities in Cox’s Bazar. For example, food insecurity and levels of poverty soared dramatically, with poor food consumption scores rising from 5 to 15 percent in the refugee camps and 3 to 8 percent in host communities, meaning the prevalence of hunger increased significantly during this short period.

For the women of Cox’s Bazar, the pandemic exacerbated an already dire situation as the pervasiveness of sexual and gender-based violence and early, forced, and child marriage significantly increased within the refugee camps and host communities. This alarming uplift in gender-based violence followed a global trend coined by the United Nations as the ‘shadow pandemic’.

The lockdown measures imposed by the Bangladeshi government to mitigate the spread of the virus also disrupted critical gender equality programming in humanitarian interventions. Literacy and numeracy classes for women and girls, income generation activities, relief and recovery services for survivors of gender-based violence, psychosocial counselling, and family planning services have all been paused for over a year. Therefore, the pandemic threatened achievements that have been made in the protection of women’s rights and gender equality.

Conditions, particularly for women and girls, further deteriorated following a massive fire which broke out in Camps 8W, 8E and 9 on March 22, 2021, destroying countless homes, learning centers, women and child friendly spaces, and WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) facilities.

The pandemic also fueled tensions between Rohingya refugee and Bangladeshi host communities, exacerbated by long-existing poverty, and unequal access to – and competing demands for – resources and social services. Hate speech and anti-Rohingya rhetoric increased amongst host community members who accused Rohingya refugees of spreading the virus and humanitarian workers of unfairly prioritizing COVID-19 response and recovery operations within the camps.

Within the current context there is an urgent need for localized, feminist humanitarian action which moves beyond meeting basic needs to fostering social cohesion, community resilience, sustainable development, and gender equality. However, current humanitarian interventions do not invest in local women’s groups in Cox’s Bazar, including those led by Rohingya refugee women. Investment in women is essential to strengthen women’s roles as key actors on the frontlines of the crisis and foster a transition to self-reliance.

Most humanitarian decision-making structures remain dominated by international actors and exclusionary to Bangladeshi and Rohingya women and young women peacebuilders and activists. Without the meaningful participation and leadership of women, efforts to address humanitarian crises cannot lead to long-term peace, development and stability or adequately meet the needs of refugee and host community women and girls. Therefore, humanitarian interventions that promote gender equality and invest in the agency and needs of local women and girls are not only necessary—they are urgent and critical.

In 2018, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), in partnership with the local civil society group Jago Nari Unnayon Sangsta (JNUS), young Bangladeshi women from host communities in the Ramu and Ukhiya upazilas (districts) in Cox’s Bazar to advocate for sustainable peace, women’s rights, and gender equality. The young women have since organized themselves as Young Women Leaders for Peace (YWL) and have conducted peacebuilding and humanitarian activities in Cox’s Bazar. For example, they hold age-appropriate literacy and numeracy classes for 180 Rohingya refugee and host community women and girls, who have since been empowered to sign their names on legal documents, read important signs within the refugee camps, and access important information. Through these literacy and numeracy classes, the young women dispel anti-Rohingya rhetoric and create positive dialogues between the refugee and host communities.  In February 2021, following a year-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the YWL members were able to re-start these classes.

In December 2020, with support from Global Affairs Canada, GNWP and JNUS organized a semi-virtual (see endnote), five-day capacity building Training of Trainers to increase the YWL members’ understanding of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) and Youth, Peace, and Security agendas and enhance their peacebuilding and leadership skills. Covering sessions on areas such as leadership, peacebuilding and literacy and numeracy the workshop gave the Young Women Leaders the necessary knowledge and tools to effectively influence decision-making on peace, security, and humanitarian action and hold decision-makers accountable to their obligations under international law.

Shortly after the workshop several Young Women Leaders from the host communities and Cox’s Bazar refugee camps participated in a closed virtual briefing organized by GNWP on the Rohingya Crisis with policymakers from Bangladesh, Canada, Indonesia, and the Netherlands. The briefing created a space for young women peacebuilders from Bangladesh and Myanmar to present their seldom-heard perspectives including the challenges they confront, their priorities and recommendations, for gender-responsive and localized interventions to the Rohingya Crisis.

Notably, this briefing was one of the few spaces which represented all key stakeholder groups in the Rohingya Crisis. The briefing was created in attempt to solicit greater commitment from the international community to pursue accountability for the genocide as well as other atrocities against the Rohingya people including, sexual violence committed against women and girls.

In addition, GNWP has worked with these Young Women Leaders to help them amplify their voices in local, regional, and global humanitarian coordination mechanisms including the Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group in Cox’s Bazar, the Global Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action, and the Generation Equality Compact on WPS and Humanitarian Action.

The Young Women Leaders urged effective implementation of Bangladesh’s first National Action Plan (NAP) on United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, with a particularly focus on the Rohingya Refugee Crisis in Cox’s Bazar. The NAP serves as an important tool for responding to the gender dynamics of the refugee crisis; its ensures the meaningful participation of both Rohingya and host community women and young women in peace, security, and humanitarian action decision-making; and the investment in the economic security and relief and recovery services for refugee and host community women and girls.

To share their priorities for NAP implementation with a broader audience, the YWL members contributed recommendations to an advocacy brief published by UN Women, in coordination with GNWP, JNUS, and other civil society groups. Launched to coincide with the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, the policy brief was disseminated to local and national authorities, the Bangladeshi police, civil society, various UN entities, and the diplomatic community. The YWL members also plan to organize community dialogues with traditional and religious leaders and create media campaigns to raise awareness of the NAP and generate broad-based support for its effective implementation. 

The leadership and determination of Cox’s Bazar’s young women leaders serves as a shining example of the kind of localized, feminist humanitarian action that should be recognized, invested in, and amplified by Member States, UN entities, regional and international NGOs, civil society, academia, and private sector organizations. If we want to ensure that we are building back stronger communities and preventing further outbreaks of conflict, it is imperative that women’s voices are heard in conflict resolution. Without a more inclusive, gender-responsive approach to crisis recovery we risk not building a strong enough foundation for a stable and conflict-free future.

Endnote: Following government guidelines on social distancing, the participants, representatives from JNUS, and several Bangladeshi resource persons, convened in a training venue, wearing face masks and strictly observing proper hygiene. GNWP facilitated the workshop virtually.

More than helpless victims – Kenyan journalists use the WPS agenda to change the narrative about women in conflict

February 23, 2021 by Wevyn Muganda

“After this training [facilitated by GNWP and RWPL], I will retell the narrative of what women go through in conflicts – to show them as leaders, and not helpless victims.” – Evans Kipkura, Nation Media, Elgeyo Marakwet

Kenya launched its 2nd National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) in April 2020, at a time when the global COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for effective communication, coordination, and implementation of the WPS agenda more urgent than ever. Accurate and reliable information is critical to effective management of the pandemic and building sustainable and inclusive peace. During COVID-19, misinformation and disinformation have been a threat to both peace and security, and to gender equality. In Kenya, false or inaccurate information about the virus and how to prevent it contributed to these negative impacts. The media plays a key role in not only sharing, but also fact-checking information, in order to support crisis response, lower tensions between communities, and maintain peace.

Recognizing the important role of the media in promoting gender equality and sustainable peace, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) in partnership with Rural Women Peace Link (RWPL) and with support from the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) held a training workshop on WPS for Kenyan journalists on December 8-9, 2020. The training is part of GNWP’s ongoing efforts to engage journalists and raise their awareness and skills needed to fulfil their role in the implementation of the WPS resolutions. With support from ADC, similar trainings were also held in Georgia and Moldova in 2020, and further trainings in Armenia and Uganda are planned for 2021. The workshop in Kenya was held in a hybrid form – with most participants meeting in person, and some experts, including GNWP staff, joining via Zoom. During the workshop, 22 journalists from different counties in the North Rift and Western Kenya regions discussed the role of the media in the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 and other WPS resolutions. The workshop convened journalists working in local and national media houses, who shared their experiences in reporting the stories of women living in conflict-affected areas. They also reflected on how they can more effectively contribute to the implementation of the WPS agenda.

The workshop’s sessions included expert presentations on the UNSCR 1325 and the WPS agenda and on Kenya’s NAP on WPS. These were complemented by interactive discussions, during which the journalists spoke of the impact of their work and the challenges they encounter in reporting about women in conflict and peacebuilding. From the discussions, it was apparent that the journalists have a good understanding of the conflict and security situation across the country. From raising awareness about the female genital mutilation, to reporting on gender-based violence cases, electoral violence and ethnic conflict, the journalists have been key players in increasing awareness on the impact of conflict on women and girls in the country. With digitalization and a growing number of internet users in Kenya, there has been increased consumption of media reports over the past few years, accompanied by a rise in community and digital journalism. Civil society groups in Kenya rely heavily on the information provided by the media when working to implement and monitor the implementation of the WPS agenda and to hold institutions such as the police, and individuals who instigate violence, accountable.

The training demonstrated that despite their reporting on issues of conflict and violence, the journalists’ knowledge of UNSCR 1325, and understanding of their own role in implementing it, was minimal. Since the media remains the primary source of information for most people in the country, the journalists’ lack of understanding of the agenda translates into a lack of knowledge and broad-base support for its implementation, especially at the community level. Overall, much more remains to be done to increase the media’s role in challenging the portrayal of women as passive victims of violence in the country, and highlighting their leadership – a foundational idea behind the WPS agenda.

During the workshop, GNWP and RWPL highlighted the importance of changing the narrative, and sharing more stories of women’s participation and leadership in peace processes, peacebuilding and decision-making. To fully implement the ground-breaking WPS agenda, the media must break with the narrative of women as victims. It should provide women across all levels – especially at the grassroots – with a platform to showcase their involvement in building sustainable peace, and support their efforts by giving visibility to the impact of their work.

Workshop participants agreed that a media strategy to support the implementation of the WPS agenda through gender-sensitive reporting in Kenya is necessary to follow-up on the training’s conclusions. GNWP and its partner RWPL are committed to continuing the work with the journalists to develop and adopt such a strategy.

GNWP and RWPL will also continue to amplify the role of journalists in the implementation of WPS resolutions in Kenya through continued training and providing incentives for gender-responsive reporting. Following the training in December 2020, in January 2021, we launched the first Media and WPS competition in Kenya. The competition invites journalists and journalism students to submit publications that aim at amplifying the stories of women’s leadership in peacebuilding and conflict prevention. We cannot wait to read the stories told and continue to work jointly with the media in Kenya towards gender equality and effective implementation of the WPS agenda!

Financing for women’s organizations: The billion dollar question

December 4, 2020 by Jenaina Irani

Between 2017-2019, over $1 billion US dollars was pledged by governments and other donors in support of gender equality commitments. This is more than ever before! However, a closer look at the figures reveals that only 1% of all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) gender equality-focused funding in 2016-17 went directly to women-led organizations. Meanwhile, the proportion of bilateral aid to conflict-affected countries focused on gender equality as the primary objective has remained at only 5% since 2010, and only 0.2% of this goes directly to women’s organizations! To advance gender equality in a way that is meaningful, sustainable and tailored to specific local needs, donors must ensure that their funding is available to women-led organizations, including women peacebuilders. Failing to do so, donors contravene the very principle of inclusion and equality they seek to promote.  

COVID-19 has made the need for more reliable, sustainable and accessible funding for gender equality even more pressing. Women are more vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. The pandemic has exacerbated already dire conditions for women and girls in conflict-affected settings. The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) consultations with national and local women peacebuilders in Colombia have shown that women’s rights organizations are facing funding cuts and suspension of contracts, as donor funds are redirected to address the health and humanitarian impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. A Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund (WPHF) survey of 78 of its civil society partners found that 29% believed their organization’s existence was at risk due to the pandemic. Despite the fact that women around the world are at the frontlines of addressing COVID-19 impacts in their communities, the funds dedicated to responding to the pandemic often remain unavailable to them. This because most COVID-19 responses are not gender-responsive, and women are excluded from decision-making about them.

Transformative and normative change necessary to challenge gender inequalities requires meaningful participation of women and women-led organizations. A 2014 comparative study between EU found that when members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) were receptive to, and actively engaged with feminist groups and civil society organizations (CSO’s), they were successful in enacting structural changes, necessary for transforming unequal gender relations. The authors attribute this to a number of reasons including that the SADC framed gender equality as a goal in and of itself, rather than a means to an end. More so, women peacebuilders from conflict-affected countries contribute to sustaining peace by capacity building and addressing root causes of conflict through community mediation and development work. For example, women’s civil society in Syria contributed to the formation of committees across the country that work on reducing conflicts and building community stability.

They are also effective advocates for normative changes in their countries. The effectiveness of women’s organizations derives from the key role they play in generating awareness among local communities, and challenging gender stereotypes. Researchers analyzed data across 50 African nations between 1989 and 2014 and found that when local women and organizations form coalitions to pressure governments, they adopt gender-sensitive quotas in a comparatively effective and timely manner. The evidence for the cost-effectiveness of investing in women-led and feminist organizations is compelling. If the investment made in gender equality does not benefit local organizations and women peacebuilders, the structural change it sets out to achieve will remain elusive.

Women’s organizations also drive change by organizing and mobilizing into women’s rights and feminist movements-which have been found to be key drivers of change. A study spanning 40 years, across 70 countries found that autonomous feminist movements were the most important consistent factor in driving policy change- more than left-wing leadership, numbers of women legislators, and even national wealth. However, despite the evidence on their effectiveness, women’s movements and coordination mechanisms are notoriously underfunded. GNWP consultations in Uganda and Colombia reveal that funding for coordination and networks-building among women’s organizations, including those working on WPS, remain extremely limited.

None of the advances in women’s rights over the last century could have been possible without the existence of independent, women-led organizations and movements that begun at the grassroots level and applied pressure upward. Grassroots women’s organizations need funding, and they need it to be flexible, responsive, and sustainable in the long term. The benefits of directly funding organizations that work toward gender equality are multi-fold, and provide a clear path to where development assistance and aid should go. There’s your billion dollar answer!

See Us, Hear Us, Join Us! Women Peacebuilders in Colombia Defy COVID-19 and Promote Inclusive Peace

November 30, 2020

By Beatriz Ciordia and Cecilia Lazara

Edited by Agnieszka Fal-Dutra Santos

“We will never be seen as changemakers if the public does not see, read or listen about the work that we, as women, do in our communities”, noted women’s rights activist and a member of the Red Nacional de Mujeres (National Women’s Network; RNM) Vanessa Liévano during a Localization of Women, Peace and Security (WPS) workshop held in December 2019 in Popayán. Popayán is the capital of Cauca, one of the departments most affected by the decades-long conflict in Colombia. The workshop was organized by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) in partnership with RNM and Red Departamental de Mujeres de Cauca (Departmental Network of Women in Cauca), and with the support of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad). Liévano’s words resonate even louder today, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – a public health crisis that has had severe impacts on women’s rights, human security and peace in Colombia. The pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities, put women at a greater risk of violence, and created new challenges for the implementation of the peace agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC).

Despite these challenges, women and youth peacebuilders in Colombia have been at the forefront of the response to the intersecting health, humanitarian and security crises caused by COVID-19. RNM supported women peacebuilders to prepare and distribute food packages, hygiene and reproductive health products, such as contraceptive pills, condoms and pregnancy tests, to women and girls, the elderly, people with disabilities, refugees, and internally displaced persons. RNM collaborated with the indigenous guard to make sure that the packages reach indigenous women and girls living in remote areas. In parallel, women activists have also continued their peacebuilding work, monitoring the peace agreement implementation, translating local needs into concrete policy proposals, and advocating for the inclusion of gender-responsive provisions in local development plans.

However, illustrating the truth of Vanessa Liévano’s words, the work of Colombian women to address COVID-19 and its impacts remains largely unseen and unsupported. Against this background, women peacebuilders warn that the pandemic threatens the achievements of the women’s movement and the WPS agenda. Their message is clear: we cannot afford to back down. The implementation of the peace agreement and WPS agenda needs to continue despite the new and growing challenges. Peace simply cannot wait!

Peace in Colombia is more fragile than ever

The signing of the peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC in 2018 was a great achievement for the women’s movement in the country. The agreement, which includes more than 120 gender-responsive provisions, has been hailed internationally as an example of good practice. Its strength came to a large extent from the contributions of women—both as negotiators and civil society. However, as a 2018 Kroc Institute report points out, the implementation of the agreement has been slow, and there have been many delays, especially on the implementation of gender-responsive provisions. The delays are partly due to the failure of President Iván Duque and his administration to make progress on key elements of the agreement, including the reintegration of the former combatants and the rural economic reform.

Women peacebuilders are concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic will further slow down the already delayed implementation. They warn that resources are diverted from peace agreement implementation to emergency health response. They also urge that adoption and implementation of the development plans at the municipal, departmental and national levels must not be delayed due to the pandemic, since they are key instruments in translating the peace agreement into concrete actions on the ground. “The current crisis is being used as an excuse not to address issues related to peace. For [the government], there’s only one priority: the pandemic”, says Francy Jaramillo, a member of the Red Departmental de Mujeres del Cauca. Women who participated in a recent research conducted by GNWP stressed that pandemic was used as an excuse to channel funds away from the transitional justice institutions established under the peace agreement, including the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, making their work more difficult.

Colombia’s fragile peace is further endangered by the ongoing fighting among armed groups to control key territories. During the pandemic, the groups have moved to consolidate their power, and fighting intensified in many departments. In Cauca, armed groups imposed confinement measures on local communities. In most cases, these restrictions were more severe than those imposed by the national government. In Popayán, for instance, armed groups dictated who was allowed to leave and enter certain territories, leaving women and communities completely at their mercy. “We now have to face two crises: the ongoing, worsening conflict in Colombia, and the new COVID-19 crisis”, Jaramillo stressed.

The armed groups have also stepped up their recruitment during the pandemic. The closure of schools and daycare centers has made children and young women and men more vulnerable, and allowed armed groups to easily recruit and exploit girls and boys, who no longer have the protection of a classroom. There has also been a spike in the number of girls and women killed by firearms in rural areas, where clashes between criminal groups have increased dramatically. All of this has made the peace in Colombia more fragile than ever.

Colombian women are under threat during the pandemic

In parallel, COVID-19 has exacerbated threats faced by women and girls in Colombia, many of whom have become targets of unprecedented levels of violence, especially in rural areas. According to Indepaz, a local watchdog organization, at least 251 community and human rights leaders have been murdered in Colombia in 2020. The number of femicides increased at an extremely alarming rate  in September, when 86 women were murdered across the country—the highest monthly total since 2017. Cauca continues to be one of the most dangerous departments for women peacebuilders and human rights defenders. According to Jaramillo, since the beginning of the pandemic, 38 femicides have been registered in this department. Yet, like the work done by women peacebuilders, the attacks on women remain invisible, and many of the cases have not been reported by the media.

The lockdown measures implemented by the government have further exposed women to risk, as many of them found themselves trapped with their abusers. As a result, the domestic violence hotline (“linea purpura”) in Bogotá received twice as many reports of domestic violence during the lockdown as before. Moreover, as Colombia was put under lockdown to stop the spread of the deadly virus, many women were unable to carry out their work and advocacy. They had to give up the independence and freedom they had fought so hard for. “I don’t know if we’ll manage to make women leave their homes and become politically active again”, shared Jaramillo, adding that the situation is even more challenging for indigenous women. “Many of them tell us that, for them, there is no pandemic because they’ve always lived like this”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed the gendered digital gap and the inequalities that persist between rural and urban areas in Colombia. Due to the lack of internet connectivity in remote areas, many rural women were unable to actively participate in the advocacy for the implementation of the peace agreement, and better protection of women activists. This affected particularly indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, which had more limited access to technology, and capacity to make use of it, before the pandemic. Access to technology has become a basic right; therefore, it is essential to expand platforms to amplify the voices of women and girls at all levels.

An opportunity for mobilization and Innovation

At the same time, COVID-19 has also demonstrated the resilience of the women’s movement. Despite the challenges and the barriers in access to the digital spaces, women peacebuilders did not stop their work. According to Jaramillo, “the women’s movement has been strengthened as we resort to alternative strategies; this serves as a push for a more connected movement”. Women peacebuilders who participated in virtual convenings organized by GNWP and RNM pointed out that citizen involvement did not stop during COVID-19, and that some women feel more comfortable in the new situation, as they have the possibility to turn off their videos and express their feelings in a safe environment. “The pandemic can divide us physically, but it does not silence us”, said one of the participants of the Localization workshops in Cauca during one of the weekly virtual meetings RNM and GNWP held to monitor the progress of the peace agreement.

Women in Colombia and around the world are using the pandemic as an opportunity to call for structural changes needed to build sustainable and inclusive peace. These include:

  • Valuing women’s unpaid work

Beatriz Quintero, head of RNM, agrees that the health crisis has contributed to bringing more attention to women’s care work. “One positive side of this pandemic is that Colombians have finally started talking about women’s unpaid work”, she reflected, adding that “policy-makers must recognize the value of what has been considered a natural female task”. Additionally, feminists groups are also seizing this moment to advocate for more equitable economic policies that allow women in the informal sector to have more job security and receive pensions and other social benefits.

  • Shifting from militarized culture to human security

COVID-19 also creates an opportunity to re-evaluate global priorities. The record-high global military expenditure in 2019  has not stopped the health crisis, nor made anyone safer during COVID-19. On the contrary, the pandemic has brought to light the dangers of over-militarized cultures, including the abuse of power. Jaramillo shared that although “the military forces have always abused power in Colombia”, the distrust between the security forces and Colombian society has deepened since the pandemic.

  • Recognizing and amplifying women’s leadership

Women’s work can no longer be obscured by patriarchal narratives and approaches. As Liévano emphasized during the Localization workshop held by GNWP and RNM in December 2019, it is of utmost importance to recognize the efforts made by women peacebuilders to achieve sustainable and inclusive peace in their communities, especially during these challenging times.

At GNWP, we believe that journalists and media practitioners are critical allies in our fight for the recognition and advancement of women’s rights and sustainable and inclusive peace. They can define the way people perceive women and girls, either representing them as sex objects and helpless victims, or highlighting their agency and leadership. Unfortunately, the dominant narrative usually portrays women as passive victims in need of protection, rather than promoting their role as active agents for peace.

To challenge this perspective, GNWP and RNM, in partnership with Pacifista and with the support of Norad, launched a National Media and WPS Prize, to encourage journalists to write, film and record stories that promote women’s leadership in the peace process and showcase their relentless activism. Look out for our next blog sharing the results of the Prize!

COVID-19 gave rise to unprecedented challenges to peace, and to women’s rights, in Colombia and around the world. However, it also provides an opportunity to reflect on what type of future we hope for – and how to achieve it. Colombian women we engaged through GNWP’s Localization work want a peaceful world that has overcome unequal gender barriers, a world where women’s voices are heard, and their leadership capacity is justly recognized.

GNWP’s experience working with women peacebuilders around the world tells us that this is possible – but only if women are meaningfully included and their relentless work for just and equal societies recognized and supported. We are committed to continue our efforts towards this future. To our members and partners who are leading this change in Colombia and beyond, we say: we see you, we hear you and we are with you!


¡Mírenos, escúchenos, únase a nosotras! Mujeres constructoras de paz en Colombia desafían al COVID-19 y promueven una paz inclusiva.

30 de noviembre de 2020

Por Beatriz Ciordia y Cecilia Lazara

Editado por Agnieszka Fal-Dutra Santos

 “Nunca podremos ser reconocidas como agentes de cambio si otros no ven, leen o escuchan sobre el trabajo que nosotras, como mujeres, hacemos en nuestras comunidades”, señaló la activista por los derechos de las mujeres y miembro de la Red Nacional de Mujeres (RNM) Vanessa Liévano durante el taller de Localización sobre Mujeres, Paz y Seguridad (MPS) realizado en diciembre de 2019 en Popayán. Popayán es la capital del Cauca, uno de los departamentos más afectados por el conflicto armado de Colombia. El taller fue organizado por la Red Global de Mujeres Constructoras de Paz (GNWP, por sus siglas en inglés) en colaboración con RNM y la Red Departamental de Mujeres de Cauca, y con el apoyo de la Agencia Noruega para Cooperación al Desarrollo (Norad). Hoy en día, las palabras de Liévano resuenan aún más fuerte en medio de la pandemia de COVID-19 – una crisis de salud pública que ha causado un severo impacto sobre los derechos de las mujeres, la seguridad humana y la paz en Colombia. La pandemia ha exacerbado las desigualdades de género, ha puesto a las mujeres en mayor riesgo de violencia y ha creado nuevos desafíos para la implementación del acuerdo de paz con las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).

A pesar de estos desafíos, en Colombia, las mujeres, así como las jóvenes y los jóvenes constructores de paz, han estado a la vanguardia de la respuesta a las crisis entrecruzadas de salud, humanitarias y de seguridad causadas por COVID-19. RNM ha estado apoyando a las mujeres constructoras de paz, preparando y distribuyendo paquetes de alimentos y productos de higiene y salud reproductiva (como píldoras anticonceptivas, condones y pruebas de embarazo) a mujeres y niñas, ancianos, personas con discapacidad, refugiados y desplazados internos. RNM también ha colaborado ​​con la guardia indígena para asegurarse de que los paquetes lleguen a las mujeres y niñas indígenas que viven en áreas remotas. Paralelamente, las mujeres activistas también han continuado su trabajo de consolidación de paz, monitoreando la implementación del acuerdo, traduciendo las necesidades locales en propuestas de políticas concretas y abogando por la inclusión de disposiciones con enfoque de género en los planes de desarrollo local.

Sin embargo, como bien ha señalado Vanessa Liévano, el trabajo de las mujeres colombianas para abordar el COVID-19 y sus impactos permanece en gran parte invisible y sin respaldo. En este contexto, las mujeres constructoras de paz advierten que la pandemia amenaza los logros del movimiento de mujeres y la agenda MPS. Por tanto, su mensaje es claro: no podemos darnos el lujo de dar marcha atrás. La implementación del acuerdo de paz y la agenda MPS debe continuar a pesar de los nuevos y crecientes desafíos. ¡La paz simplemente no puede esperar!

La paz en Colombia, más frágil que nunca

La firma del acuerdo de paz entre el Gobierno de Colombia y las FARC en el 2018 fue un gran logro para el movimiento de las mujeres en el país. El acuerdo, que incluye más de 120 disposiciones con enfoque de género, ha sido aclamado internacionalmente como un ejemplo de buena práctica. En gran medida, su fuerza provino de las contribuciones de las mujeres, tanto como negociadoras así como miembros de la sociedad civil. Sin embargo, como remarca el informe del Instituto Kroc de 2018, la implementación del acuerdo ha sido lenta y ha habido muchos retrasos, especialmente en lo que respecta a las disposiciones con enfoque de género. En parte, las demoras se deben a que el presidente Iván Duque y su administración no han logrado avanzar en elementos clave del acuerdo, tales como la reintegración de los excombatientes y la reforma económica rural.

Una gran preocupación entre las mujeres constructoras de paz es que la pandemia de COVID-19 ralentice aún más la ya demorada implementación. En los últimos tiempos han advertido que los recursos nacionales se han desviado de la implementación del acuerdo hacia la respuesta de emergencia sanitaria. Asimismo, las mujeres exigen el cumplimiento de la adopción e implementación de los planes de desarrollo a nivel municipal, departamental y nacional por temor a que se retrasen debido a la pandemia. Los planes de desarrollo representan instrumentos clave para traducir el acuerdo de paz en acciones concretas sobre el terreno. “La crisis actual se utiliza como excusa para evitar abordar cuestiones relacionadas con la paz. Para [el gobierno], solo hay una prioridad: la pandemia”, explica Francy Jaramillo, integrante de la Red Departamental de Mujeres del Cauca. A su vez, en una investigación realizada por GNWP, las mujeres constructoras de paz han destacado que su trabajo resulta cada vez más difícil debido a que la pandemia se percibe como una excusa para desviar fondos de las instituciones de justicia transicional establecidas en virtud del acuerdo de paz, incluida la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz.

Paralelamente, el frágil proceso de paz en Colombia se ve aún más amenazado por los constantes combates entre grupos armados que se disputan el control de territorios claves. Durante la pandemia, los grupos se han movilizado para consolidar su poder y la lucha se intensificó en muchos departamentos. En Cauca, por ejemplo, los grupos armados impusieron medidas de confinamiento a las comunidades locales. En la mayoría de los casos, estas restricciones fueron más severas que las impuestas por el gobierno nacional. En Popayán, por otra parte, los grupos armados controlaban a quién se le permitía salir y entrar en ciertos territorios, dejando a las mujeres y comunidades completamente a su merced. “Ahora tenemos que enfrentar dos crisis: el conflicto en curso en Colombia y la nueva crisis del COVID-19”, enfatizó Jaramillo.

Lamentablemente también se ha intensificado el reclutamiento por parte de los grupos armados durante la pandemia. El cierre de escuelas y guarderías ha aumentado la vulnerabilidad de los niños, las mujeres y los hombres jóvenes y ha permitido que los grupos recluten y exploten fácilmente a niñas y niños, que no cuentan con la protección de un aula. A su vez, se ha producido un aumento en el número de niñas y mujeres asesinadas por armas de fuego en las zonas rurales, donde los enfrentamientos entre grupos criminales han aumentado de manera dramática. Todos estos hechos demuestran que el proceso de paz de Colombia se encuentra más frágil que nunca.

Mujeres colombianas amenazadas durante la pandemia

COVID-19 ha exacerbado las amenazas que enfrentan las mujeres y niñas en Colombia, muchas de las cuales se han convertido en blanco de niveles de violencia sin precedentes, especialmente en áreas rurales. Según Indepaz, una organización que realiza el monitoreo del conflicto, al menos 251 líderes comunitarios y de derechos humanos han sido asesinados en Colombia durante el 2020. Además, el número de femicidios aumentó a un ritmo extremadamente alarmante. En septiembre, 86 mujeres fueron asesinadas en todo el país, el total mensual más alto desde 2017. El Cauca sigue siendo uno de los departamentos más peligrosos para las mujeres constructoras de paz y defensoras de derechos humanos. Según Jaramillo, desde el inicio de la pandemia se han registrado 38 femicidios en este departamento. Sin embargo, al igual que el trabajo realizado por mujeres constructoras de paz, los ataques a las mujeres permanecen invisibles y muchos de los casos no son reportados por los medios de comunicación.

Las medidas de contención implementadas por el gobierno para detener la propagación del virus mortal han incrementado el riesgo de violencia para las mujeres, ya que muchas de ellas permanecieron atrapadas con sus abusadores. Como resultado, la línea directa de violencia doméstica (“línea púrpura”) en Bogotá recibió el doble de denuncias de violencia doméstica durante el encierro en comparación al período previo a la cuarentena. A su vez, a causa de estas medidas, varias mujeres activistas no pudieron llevar a cabo su trabajo de promoción y defensa por la paz. Tuvieron que renunciar a su independencia y libertad por la que tanto habían luchado. “No sé si lograremos que las mujeres abandonen sus hogares y vuelvan a ser políticamente activas”, compartió Jaramillo, y agregó que la situación es aún más desafiante para las mujeres indígenas. “Muchos nos dicen que, para ellos, no hay pandemia porque siempre han vivido así”.

La pandemia de COVID-19 también ha puesto de manifiesto la brecha digital de género y las desigualdades que persisten entre las zonas rurales y urbanas de Colombia. Debido a la falta de conectividad a Internet en áreas remotas, muchas mujeres rurales no pudieron participar activamente en la promoción para la implementación del acuerdo de paz, y una mejor protección de las mujeres activistas. Esto afectó particularmente a las comunidades indígenas y afrocolombianas, ya que antes de la pandemia tenían un acceso más limitado a la tecnología y a los recursos para su utilización. Como se puede observar, el acceso a la tecnología se ha convertido en un derecho básico; por lo tanto, es fundamental ampliar las plataformas para amplificar las voces de las mujeres y las niñas en todos los niveles posibles.

Una oportunidad para la movilización y la innovación

Simultáneamente, COVID-19 también ha destacado la resistencia del movimiento de mujeres. A pesar de los desafíos y las barreras en el acceso a los espacios digitales, las mujeres constructoras de paz no detuvieron su trabajo. Según Jaramillo, “el movimiento de mujeres se ha fortalecido al recurrir a estrategias alternativas; esto sirve como impulso para un movimiento más conectado”. Las mujeres constructoras de paz que participaron en convocatorias virtuales organizadas por GNWP y RNM señalaron que la participación ciudadana no se suspendió durante el COVID-19, y que algunas mujeres incluso se sienten más cómodas con esta nueva situación, ya que tienen la posibilidad de apagar sus videos y expresar sus sentimientos en un ambiente seguro. “La pandemia puede dividirnos físicamente, pero no nos silencia”, expresó uno de los participantes de los talleres de localización en Cauca durante una de las reuniones virtuales semanales que RNM y GNWP realizaron para monitorear el avance del acuerdo de paz.

Las mujeres en Colombia y en todo el mundo están utilizando la pandemia como una oportunidad para reclamar cambios estructurales necesarios para la construcción de una paz sostenible e inclusiva. Estos cambios incluyen:

  • Valorar el trabajo no remunerado de las mujeres

Beatriz Quintero, directora de RNM, coincide en que la crisis de salud ha contribuido a resaltar el trabajo de cuidado de la mujer. “Un lado positivo de esta pandemia es que los colombianos finalmente han comenzado a hablar sobre el trabajo no remunerado que ejercen las mujeres”, y a su vez agrega que “los legisladores deben reconocer el valor de lo que se ha considerado una tarea natural de las mujeres”. Asimismo, los grupos feministas también están aprovechando este momento para abogar por políticas económicas más equitativas que permitan a las mujeres en el sector informal tener más seguridad laboral y recibir pensiones y otros beneficios sociales.

  • Pasar de una cultura militarizada a una cultura que tenga en cuenta la seguridad humana

COVID-19 también crea una oportunidad para reevaluar las prioridades globales. El gasto militar mundial récord durante el 2019 no ha detenido la crisis de salud ni ha garantizado una mayor seguridad para los individuos. Por el contrario, la pandemia ha develado los peligros de las culturas sobre-militarizadas, incluido el abuso de poder. Jaramillo compartió que aunque “las fuerzas militares siempre han abusado del poder en Colombia”, la desconfianza entre las fuerzas de seguridad y la sociedad colombiana se ha profundizado desde el inicio de la emergencia sanitaria.

  • Reconocer y ampliar el liderazgo de las mujeres

El trabajo de las mujeres no puede seguir oculto detrás de narrativas y enfoques patriarcales. Como bien destacó Liévano durante el taller de localización celebrado por GNWP y RNM en diciembre de 2019, es esencial que se reconozcan los esfuerzos realizados por las mujeres constructoras de paz para lograr una paz sostenible e inclusiva en sus comunidades, especialmente durante estos tiempos desafiantes.

En GNWP, creemos que los periodistas y los profesionales de los medios de comunicación son aliados fundamentales en nuestra lucha por el reconocimiento y el avance de los derechos de las mujeres y una paz sostenible e inclusiva. Estos actores pueden definir la forma en que las personas perciben a las mujeres y las niñas, ya sea representándolas como objetos sexuales y víctimas indefensas, o destacando su agencia y liderazgo. No obstante, desafortunadamente, la narrativa dominante suele presentar a las mujeres como víctimas pasivas que necesitan protección, en lugar de promover su papel como agentes activos para la paz.

Para desafiar esta perspectiva, GNWP y RNM, en asociación con Pacifista y con el apoyo de Norad, lanzaron un Premio Nacional de Medios y MPS. Su objetivo principal fue alentar a los periodistas a escribir, filmar y grabar historias que promuevan el liderazgo de las mujeres en el proceso de paz y muestren su implacable activismo. ¡Estén atentos a nuestro próximo blog que compartirá los resultados del Premio!

COVID-19 generó desafíos sin precedentes para la paz y los derechos de las mujeres en Colombia y en el mundo. Sin embargo, también representa una oportunidad para reflexionar sobre el tipo de futuro que deseamos y cómo lograrlo. Las mujeres colombianas, que tuvimos el placer de conocer a través del trabajo de localización de GNWP, desean un mundo pacífico que haya superado las barreras de género desiguales; un mundo donde se escuchen sus voces y se reconozca con justicia su capacidad de liderazgo.

La experiencia de GNWP, trabajando con mujeres constructoras de paz en todo el mundo, nos dice que esto es posible – pero sólo si se incluye a las mujeres de manera significativa y se reconoce y apoya su incansable trabajo para construir sociedades justas e igualitarias. Estamos comprometidas para continuar nuestros esfuerzos para avanzar hacia este futuro. A todxs nuestrxs miembrxs y aliadxs globales que están liderando este cambio en Colombia y más allá, les queremos decir que: ¡lxs vemos, lxs escuchamos y estamos con ustedes!