#VAWIP Blog Symposium: Colombia

Colombia: Institutional violence versus political equality

by Sofi Ospina

Sixty years ago, 41% of women voted for the first time on the first plebiscite for peace that gave legitimacy to the ‘National Front’, in which the liberal and the conservative parties agreed upon to share power, as an attempt to put an end to the fratricide bloodshed of the “Violence” period.  On 1st December Colombia will be commemorating the 60th anniversary of women’s vote but this relative long history of participation as voters has not yet translated into political equality. Elected women represents only 20% in the National Parliament, less than 10% as provincial governors and less than 15% as mayors in the municipalities and as city councillors.[i] This low representation contrasts with other Latin American countries for example Bolivia (47,2% in the Senate and 53% in the Low Chamber). Even though there exist some legislation to promote women’s political participation, as the quota law and the Law 1475/2011 that rules political parties, there remain many barriers that prevents their participation mostly nurtured by the sexism embedded in political parties male-dominated leadership: lack of training for female militants, lack of funding to their political campaigns, not access to media, etc.

A study released in March 2017, undertaken among elected women, showed that 63% of the respondents (N=166) were victims of political violence. The major reported form of political violence is psychological, mostly exerted by their male peers, even from their same political party. The acts reported were in the form of dismissal of their arguments, threats against their children or relatives, rumours of infidelity, physic and verbal abuse. The most frequent was to restrict their voices, including by turning off the microphones while they were addressing the floor. These acts of violence were considered by themselves as ‘the natural price they have to pay for being elected women. As result of these acts some of them resigned from office or abandoned politics for ever. [ii]

This year with the implementation of the peace agreement with the FARC insurgency, the level of political violence against human rights defenders, social activists and demobilized ex-combatants have increased as the territories formerly controlled by the FARC have been taken over by right-wing militias and the State is not yet ensuring security in those areas as has been agreed. Between 2016 to September 2017, 200 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed in Colombia.[iii]   In our region, South-West Colombia, many social leaders (both women and men) have been killed in 2017 mostly among Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples. Last month, threats of political violence were reported by the Executive Director of the Union Patriotica, who received death threats by right-wing militias both to herself and the members of her party, if the UP were to contest the 2018 elections.[iv]  The second chapter of the peace agreement encompasses measures by the State to the protection of social activists, human rights defenders and opposition leaders and to neutralised right-wing militias.

This second chapter focuses on political participation and includes a political reform. It establishes 16 special circumscriptions for peace to represent the rural citizens of 170 municipalities (15 million people) that have been affected by the armed-conflict. This is a window of opportunity to political equality, as each list to contest these post-conflict seats should be composed by a man and a woman whose names should be put forward by mid-December. The chances for a woman to be elected in these constituencies will be slim due to the rampant machismo; however, as women political activists, we are vigilant and working hard to ensure there will be some rural women elected on 11 March 2017. For this political reform, women political activists proposed to the special electoral mission the adoption of the zipper system (50% women and 50% men alternately in party lists) for the forthcoming elections 2018 /2019. Unfortunately, the national parliament postponed this proposal to be enacted in 2026. This is another form of institutional violence against women politicians and activists working towards political equality in the electoral law just ad-portas of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of women’s vote in Colombia.

Sofi Ospina, Red Nacional de Mujeres Valle del Cauca, Colectivo de Mujeres Pazíficas Cali, Comisión de Igualdad de Genero y Empoderamiento de las Mujeres Partido Alianza Verde.

[i] http://lasillavacia.com/silla-llena/red-de-las-mujeres/historia/y-de-la-paridad-que-63377

[ii] http://colombia.nimd.org/publications/mujeres-y-participacion-politica-en-colombia-el-fenomeno-de-la-violencia-contra-las-mujeres-en-politica/ and https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/politica/el-63-de-las-mujeres-que-hacen-politica-en-colombia-son-victimas-de-violencia-de-genero-articulo-684343

[iii] https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/investigacion/la-lista-roja-de-defensores-de-derechos-humanos-articulo-713488

[iv] During the late 80s and 90s about 3.500 leaders and militants of the UP, composed mainly by different ex-combatants of the insurgency, were killed by right-militias and the military.

 

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