Since the 1960s, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Farc), the country’s largest rebel group, have been at war. The government claimed it was fighting for order and the rights of all citizens. The Farc claimed it was fighting for the well-being of the poor, since the government had taken increasingly hostile stances towards the low-income, rural agrarian class. Both sides of the conflict have faced multiple accusations of having violated human rights.
Last year, Colombia’s Congress passed a peace accord with the Farc that received backlash from citizens who felt that the new deal was too lenient on the rebel group, which has been accused of murder, kidnappings, and a host of other atrocities. For many members of the Farc, the deal offers a new beginning as members of society following their participation in reintegration programs that will properly prepare them for the peaceful transition.
Many of the women in Farc, who make up a third of the 7,000 total members, intend to use their new roles as civilians to better society’s treatment of women in the country. According to Al Jazeera, more than 54,000 women in Colombia suffered sexual violence between 2001 and 2009, with less than 18 percent of these women reporting the violence. This may largely be due to a broken justice system that fails to punish attackers. This is illustrated by the fact that in 98% of sexual crime cases in Colombia, no accused offender was ever convicted.
Many of the women in the Farc do not need to see such statistics to know the startlingly high level of violence women are likely to face in parts of Colombia. Margot, a member of the Farc since she was 17, said to The Guardian, “In Colombian society – look at how they kill women, look at how they rape women – they are like slaves to their husbands. Whereas here in the Farc, we do have rights.” She references that, in the Farc, women often work alongside men and serve equal roles. Women are permitted to join combat ranks, carry heavy artillery, and serve the cause in the same ways as men.
Similarly, Victoria Sandino, a Farc commander and co-chair of the Gender Subcommission, feels that what people believe is acceptable treatment of women in Colombia is actually unacceptable. “We need to work to change the mentalities of Colombian men and to develop new masculinities,” Sandino said. “We need our men – our husbands, our companions – to be well-educated so that they recognize women’s potential, making it possible for us to adopt new roles in society.”
As is common with members of the Farc, both women dismissed allegations about sexual violence made by women who have left the group. Sandino even suggested that the women might have fabricated their claims. Moving towards a more just society, which acknowledges claims of violence against women, will be challenging if the women in charge are reluctant to support each other whenever such claims arise.
Some of the issues these women plan to fight for are access to education, equal pay, and freedom from abuse. Though they have made statements that seem to contradict their stance on violence against women, their willingness to raise awareness of the problematic treatment of women in the country is encouraging.
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