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Opinion

Missing from Colombia, FARC peace negotiations: women

As the government of Colombia and the militant insurgency group FARC begin peace negotiations today in Oslo, Norway, they may finally end one of Latin Americas longest conflicts. But greater participation by all Colombians, especially women, is critical for a lasting peace.

By Nancy Sánchez and Milburn Line / October 18, 2012

Members of Colombia's government negotiating team speak at a military airport in Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 16 before heading to Oslo, Norway, for peace talks with Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). Op-ed contributors Nancy Sánchez and Milburn Line write that a broader representation of Colombians 'must be included in the negotiations to ensure a lasting peace – because Colombians caught in the conflict, especially women, are not simply victims. Many have worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation despite the risks.'

William Fernando Martinez/AP

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San Diego, Calif.

Today, the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) insurgency group meet in Oslo, Norway, to begin deliberations aimed at concluding a 48-year civil war. The Colombian armed conflict has resulted in the estimated deaths of around 100,000 people, forcibly displaced more than 5 million people, and produced as many forced disappearances as the most egregious cases in Latin America. In addition to the terrible human costs, the violence has facilitated an atmosphere for illicit drug trafficking and paralyzed the nation’s economic development.

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This is an historic opportunity to end the last cold war conflict in Latin America. While the combatants at the negotiating table may finally end the fighting, greater participation by Colombians, especially Colombian women, is critical for laying the foundation for a lasting peace.

For Colombian women the armed conflict is an everyday reality. A study of 407 municipalities between 2001 and 2009 documented 489,687 women victims of sexual violence. Every hour over the nine-year period, on average six girls and women were victims of rape, sexual slavery, abuse, and exploitation. It has become normal in the conflict areas for commanders to force women into abusive sexual relationships.

Despite this stark reality, and at great personal risk for their security, women have been at the forefront of peace and justice initiatives in Colombia. More than 16 nationally active networks and hundreds of local organizations of women work to build peace and justice across the country. Paramilitary organizations, ostensibly demobilized in a five-year transitional justice process, continue to target these organizations with threats of violence.

Women have led the struggle for land restitution and for the rights to truth, justice, and reparations for victims. Women have placed the issue of more than 32,000 forced disappearances on the national and international agenda. Women teachers defend their students from forced recruitment by armed groups. Women have recovered and buried the bodies and found ways for victims to survive in the midst of conflict. Their participation in the peace process is not a demand to be considered, it is a right they have earned.

Despite assurances from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos that women will have a defined role in the process, the parties to the negotiations have yet to define mechanisms for their meaningful involvement. Historically women have only represented 8 percent of negotiating teams, a tremendous deficiency that the United Nations has committed to reversing. Evidently, there are going to be four women (two insurgent combatants; one from the Ministry of Defense and one from the Office of the Presidency) present at the negotiations, but they are not listed as part of the five-man negotiating teams on each side.

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