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Colombian peace referendum fails, but process still notable for women’s inclusion efforts

A historic milestone occurred last week that many thought was impossible: the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel movement signed a peace agreement, more than five decades after the start of what became the Western Hemisphere’s longest-running conflict.

The measure was then put to a referendum vote where it was expected to pass easily, but ultimately failed by a small margin. Although it’s unclear what will happen next, both sides have said they do not wish to resume the war, and peace negotiations are likely to resume.

Little about the peace process in Colombia has been easy so far, but close observers have recognized that it offers many important lessons for the future. Most notably, it has included the contributions of hundreds of women peacebuilders, who organized and lobbied for their concerns to be heard.

The peace talks took place over the course of four years, and negotiators convened a sub-commission on gender to ensure the needs of women were adequately addressed in the final agreement. The issues they brought to the forefront included: access to rural property for women, promotion of women’s participation in the political process and conflict resolution, prevention of risks specific to women, access to truth and justice, and disaggregation of data by gender. As a Phillipine government peace negotiator acknowledged, “Colombia has raised the bar in terms of women’s direct and indirect participation in a peace process.”

Studies have shown that including women in peace talks significantly increases the likelihood of agreements being sustained. At the same time, between 1992-2011, only 9% of negotiators at the peace table were women.

Women for Women International has worked with marginalized women in conflict-affected areas for more than twenty years, and we’ve seen how much they can contribute to their communities and countries when they have the skills, knowledge, support, and resources to do so. Our South Sudan peacebuilders made great strides mobilizing their neighbors to join the local peace movement, and we are currently making plans to offer advanced leadership training to graduates of our 12-month program in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo so they can more effectively advocate for themselves and other women in their communities.

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