Women, war and peace process. The Columbian case.

Seminar - Thursday, October 11th
4:30 pm
4:30 pm

Session co-organised by the seminar Global Destinies of Latin America and the Violence and Exiting Violence Platform

Maria Emma Wills talk will concentrate on the notion of a gender-sensitive peace, drawing on the Colombian experience in particular to highlight the complexities of the subject. Her recent experience at Colombia's National Centre for Historical Memory led her to focus on the role of the past, and the importance of memory in this process, as well as the notion of extending a hand and building a bridge with the other, in order to address past conflict and to move forward.

Although very few people today would deny that women have been excluded from power decision places for too long, some simplify the solution by thinking that inclusion only refers to a physical process. They believe that by bringing women – their presence – to political parties, parliaments, government, or the negotiation table, the representation of women’s interests, claims and aspirations will be guaranteed in these political arenas. This plain answer to a complex challenge is based on the false assumption that having a woman´s body by itself implies a political stance towards women’s discrimination. However, the presence of female bodies in circles of political power is far from delivering a critical mass defending women’s rights to inclusion and non discrimination, be it “politics as usual” or at more exceptional times.

With these considerations in mind, it should be clear that engendering peace processes requires more than just bringing women to the table. It alludes to a consistent effort to represent women’s interests at crucial times, when new norms and social pacts are being drawn to drive societies caught in violent dynamics towards a conviviality based on resolving conflicts through dialogue, imaginative protests, and compromise.

Vis a vis engendering peace processes, Maria Emma Wills wants to make two arguments. The first one contends that this representational process of interest building should not only revolve around present day concerns. The discriminations and exclusions faced by women are best understood when the past and the memories it evokes ,are brought into the discussion and shade light on the mechanisms that keep the inequities in place. In other words, conversations around women’s interests and aspirations should look not only to the present conditions they face, but also to their history as constructed by professional historians, as well as by women advocates, practitioners and community leaders with their personal and collective memories. This is so because looking at the past from a historical memory perspective allows for a complex understanding of the present and opens a door to imagine possible roads to achieve a more inclusive and equitable future taking into account the entrenched long-term barriers that deter change.

The second argument points at the fact that the process of consensual building of agendas should always remain alert to the perspectives left out and try to maintain bridges and conversations with sectors “on the other side of the fence”. This is so because the conversation by itself has a pedagogical value and crystallises what is at issue in a peace negotiation: the willingness of adversarial sectors to sit down around the same table to discuss and explain their opposing views.  

By Maria Emma Wills, sociologist, former Head of the National Center for Historical Memory (Colombia). Member of the Historical Commission on the conflict and its victims in the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC. Author of numerous publications on Colombian armed conflict, human rights, memory and gender. Laureates of the DEA program (FMSH), 2018.

Published at 11 October 2018