Women Lead Colombia to Peace after Five Decades of War


Originally published in Warscapes.

Charo Minas Rojas has a long history of challenging Colombia’s patriarchal society. In 2014, she led a group of Afro-Colombian women on a 350-mile march from the Cauca region to Bogotá followed by a sit-in that eventually forced the government to recognize their land rights against illegal mining.
Recently she was at it again. At the peace talks in Cuba between the government of President Manuel Santos and the Colombia Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), Rojas said she broke into the negotiations demanding that women, Afro-Colombians and victims have a seat at the table since they were among the most affected by the half-century-long conflict. 

“One of the biggest crimes in war is keeping crimes against women invisible,” Rojas said in an interview following a United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women panel in New York some months later. 

Rojas, along with many other Colombian women activists, is working to make these gender-based crimes visible to end violence in their country. 

Colombia has been a dangerous country for women, where physical and sexual violence were used as weapons in war. Since 1985, the Colombian government’s Victim’s Unit has registered over 17,500 female victims of conflict-related sexual assault, reportedAmnesty International. The National Network of Information, a Colombian government tool that enforces the “victims and reparations” law, has registered 2.5 million women victims. The conflict in Colombia rendered 6.3 million people internally displaced with the majority being women, according to The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, a nonprofit in Switzerland that tracks global internal displacement. 

But Colombian women have also been agents of change. They have been active organizers to end the armed conflict since the 1960s and consequently have had hands-on education in democracy, says Dr. Mary Roldán, Chair of Latin American History at Hunter College who specialized in Colombian history.

“This was the result of decades of women getting increasingly involved, at first because the war touched them in the most intimate way: their children were threatened,” Dr. Roldán said. “But then they built this into a broader civic movement.” 

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