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Gender focus: debates, transformations and potentialities in Colombia’s new peace accord

The new Agreement contains 90% of proposals presented by proponents and critics of the gender-based approach, a solomonic exit from the tensions between the Christian churches and women's organizations and LGBTI. Español

Thousands of Colombians march in Bogotá to support the peace agreement with the FARC. Photo: Nélson Cárdenas/SIG/dpa. All rights reserved.

On November 14, the National Government and the FARC-EP published the final version of the Peace Agreement, after the initial proposal was rejected in the referendum and a quick review process was necessary. In this context, the gender focus remained at the centre of the debate given the insistence of different religious and political sectors on changing the content and scope of it.

The Christian sectors, for example, insisted that the gender focus should be replaced with a focus on women's rights, eliminating mentions of concepts such as "sexual diversity", "sexual orientation" and "gender identity", and that the "family approach" should be incorporated  in defence of the traditional husband-and-wife family. These proposals are closely related to the debates that have taken place in Colombia since the Constitutional Court approved same-sex marriage and recognised other rights such as adoption and creating diverse families.

On the other hand, women's and LGBTI organizations hoped that the gender focus would be maintained in its entirety, in defence of the Agreement's progress in the recognition of rights as well as its active participation in the peace process.

As part of the process of revision of the Agreement resulting from the referendum, the national government met with opponents and advocates of the gender focus, receiving proposal documents side-by-side. The ultimate reconciliation of this tension between political and religious positions was the incorporation of changes and clarifications to the references of the gender approach as a basis for the peace agreement with the FARC. What were those changes and what effect do they have? What were the religious and other opposition sectors to the gender focus approach seeking to achieve? What has been gained and lost with what was modified, incorporated or discarded?

From cosmetic changes to new meanings

It was found in an analysis carried out by the Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP) that 50% of the proposals on gender-based approach were presented by the ex-Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez and the Christian churches. They sought to limit the scope of the focus only to the recognition of women's rights. On the contrary, proposals from women's and LGBTI organizations called for inclusion of people with diverse sexual identities. For his part, former President Andrés Pastrana and conservative leader Marta Lucía Ramírez proposed that the new agreement should focus on recognizing women as particular victims of the armed conflict.

It must be noted that the final text of the new agreement contains 90% of proposals presented by proponents and critics of the gender-based approach, a solomonic exit from the tensions between the Christian churches and women's organizations and LGBTI.

The changes could be divided into two types: the elimination of expressions and the replacement of terms. The first of these changes is that expressions such as "sexual diversity and diverse gender identity", "gender discrimination", "non-sexist values", "no stigmatization based on sexual orientation" "gender-based stereotypes "systematic gender violence". This was an explicit request from Christian sectors for whom the reference "which pays particular attention to the fundamental rights of the LGBTI population (among other groups)"[1] should be eliminated, in order to prevent changes to the current constitutional order via the Peace Agreement.

Regarding the replacement of terms, the substitution of "gender equality" for "equal opportunities" or "equality between men and women", stands out, as well as the replacement of "sexual diversity and gender identity" with  "vulnerable groups", “gender” for “sex”, “gender-based approach” for “specific and differentiated measures", and "gender perspective” for "affirmative action".

These changes, judging by the first reactions of the sectors involved in the debate, seemed to defuse the controversy. Women's and LGBTI organizations pushed through the incorporation of the principle of non-discrimination, as well as the continuation of the gender-based approach and the references to affirmative measures for the LGBTI population.

On the contrary, some Christian sectors continued to express their dissatisfaction with the fact that the explicit reference to "gender" was retained, which in its concept leaves the door open to so-called "gender ideology". In public communiqués have said that "although some modifications have been made in terms of language, structurally it maintains the same appearance. We suggest that if the objective of implementing the gender-based approach is to vindicate women's rights, the expression "rights-based approach" should be used[2].

What seems to be a debate on minor details in the drafting of the texts is in fact a crucial discussion on how the issues addressed in the Final Agreement are termed: the make-up of the family, relationships between men and women, recognition of rights, inclusion, equality and equity in Colombian society.

Gender studies and legal developments in Colombia have shown, for example, that there are multiple nuances between the expressions "systematic gender violence" and "violence against women". However, in the text of the Agreement, the first was replaced by the second, obviating the fact that in public policy they represent different results, especially when it comes to preventing and addressing various types of historical and structural violence. Similarly, it is not the same to recognize LGBTI persons by specifically referring to their gender identity or different sexual orientation, rather than by referring to them as part of a group so broad as "vulnerable populations".

From the above, the substitution of words or the elimination of others cannot be understood as secondary or cosmetic changes in the text of the Agreement, to that extent it is pertinent to address questions such as: What are the consequences of these seemingly "cosmetic" changes? And what challenges does the gender-based approach present in the Agreement as regards its implementation?

What's new

The gender-based approach as a legal principle continued to be one of the main guidelines of the Final Agreement. What is new is the incorporation of the principle of guaranteeing the right to equality and non-discrimination, a requirement of LGBTI organizations who were concerned that the need to adopt non-discriminatory measures for populations historically discriminated against and excluded because of their sexual orientation and gender identity was going unheeded.

The Final Agreement is committed to inclusion as a principle of social, political and democratic action, aimed at realizing the right to equality, especially for those who have been discriminated against and excluded because of their differences in sexual orientation, gender identity and ethnicity, among other conditions.

Viewed in this way, the implicit recognition of differences as a source of diversity and plurality is not accidental: these are "differences that must be protected, respected and guaranteed in accordance with the principle of equality"[3], says Luigi Ferrajoli.

Colombia's historical advances in equality between men and women, such as those of the first half of the twentieth century: property rights (1930), the right to hold public office (1936), access to education (1943, and right to vote (1954) grow from here. While progress has been made in recognizing the rights of traditionally excluded groups, discrimination and exclusions have also been maintained and/or aggravated, as unequal conditions and positions are due to historical dynamics, power, exclusion in different social, economic, labour, cultural settings, etc..

That is why gender-based inequalities and discrimination are not isolated from other forms of discrimination and are coupled with ethnic, racial, generational and/or class aspects. In this regard, studies carried out in cities such as Cali and Valle del Cauca warn of strong social inequalities facing the Afro-descendant population in terms of life expectancy for both men and women. In addition, analyses of specific rates and cumulative percentages of life expectancy also reveal that the greatest gap between ethnic groups is found among women, with Afro-descendants being at a distinct disadvantage[4].

From this perspective, it is strategic that the Final Agreement refers to both the gender approach and the principle of equality and non-discrimination. It will then be a task to ensure complementarity between one and the other, especially when it comes to tackling in a comprehensive way the relationship between discrimination and gender-based violence, as well as addressing inequalities and intersectionalities[5] that were reinforced and aggravated within the framework of the armed conflict. Recognizing these structural discriminations also leads us to reflect on the continuation of different types of violence in the public and domestic sphere during the transition to peace.

Another challenge in the implementation phase of the Agreement will be to harmonise the principle of equality and non-stigmatisation with the positions of religious sectors that at the time proposed to eliminate certain terms and paragraphs from the initial text that contributed to the recognition of discrimination based on gender . This is the case of Diana Sofía Giraldo, from the Fundación Víctimas Visibles (Visible Victims Foundation), who suggested that the reference to "promoting non-stigmatisation based on sexual orientation and gender identity" be deleted, arguing that "social stability and legitimacy of the Agreement is shown through its support for the protection of the notion of the family as comprising a husband and wife"[6].

References to the family as the basic nucleus of society embodied in the renegotiation do not explicitly mention what they refer to with the word "family," so the interpretation remains open to whether it refers to what was suggested by the Christian sectors: a family model made up exclusively of a husband and wife, or if the door is open to the recognition of diversity, as the Constitutional Court has pointed out.

What is worrying about this allusion in the Agreement is the idealisation of the family and the family environment, leaving aside, for example, the figures of violence that show that the home is in fact one of the most insecure spaces for women, boys and girls. According to the latest report by the National Institute of Legal Medicine[7], women are the most affected by partner violence (86.66%) and in 47.27% of cases, the alleged perpetrator is their permanent partner and in 29.33% their former partner. Women also remain the biggest victims of sexual violence, comprising 85.2% of registered cases, of which, in 88% of cases (16,813 cases) the alleged perpetrator was a relative, a partner or ex-partner, a friend or guardian of the victim. The average age of victims of sexual violence is 12.45 years and medical examinations for alleged sexual offenses of children in early childhood (0-5 years) increased by 12.46%. 77.81% (15,135) of cases of sexual violence occurred in the home.

From the above, a new challenge for the implementation of the Final Agreement emerges, given the references to gender-based violence, although with more emphasis on public spaces (associated with armed conflict) than on private/domestic ones and their respective connections (or continuum of violence).


What's re-used

One of the novel aspects of the Final Agreement is the incorporation of an explicit definition of the gender-based approach as follows: "recognition of the equality of rights between men and women and the special circumstances of each, especially women independent of their marital status, life cycle and family and community relationship, as a subject of rights and special constitutional protection. It implies, in particular, the need to ensure affirmative measures to promote such equality, the active participation of women and their organizations in peace-building and recognition of the victimization of women as a result of the conflict. "

This definition is an advance on the gender approach as a general principle that aims at equality of rights and the recognition of women as subjects of special constitutional protection. However, the scope of such progress may be limited because in other parts of the text the term "gender equity" was changed to "equal opportunities between men and women". In this regard, it is necessary to underline two issues:

First, guaranteeing rights in a logic of equity is not the same as creating opportunities on an equal basis. It is not enough, for example, to ensure women's access to the education system on equal terms with men, it will also be necessary to guarantee them educational quality and permanence in the system, taking into account their needs and interests. Nor can it be overlooked that "gender equity" is clearly inclusive of LGBTI persons, while "equal opportunities" narrows its scope to men and women. Hence, the two expressions cannot be equated or reduced to an aesthetic change as the Christian sectors are trying to say.

Second, this change in terminology cannot be characterized as novel or innovative. Equal opportunities policies are a well-known formula (not necessarily successful) at the global and local level that are part of the history of development models and their impact on women, and the debates of the World Women's Conferences, not to mention the universe of programmes and projects that have been implemented in Europe or Latin America, some still in progress.

Colombia is not the exception. In 1999, during the government of Andrés Pastrana, a policy of equal opportunities for women was created. Later, in 2003, the first government of Alvaro Uribe signed off on Law 823, which promoted and strengthened women's access to urban and rural work and the income generation on equal terms.

In other words, equality of opportunities between men and women has been part of our country's public policies. Also, several years ago the development of plans from equality of opportunities towards policies of gender equality began. From this process, it was learned that the former tended to address equal opportunities in the public sphere, leaving behind the relationship between discrimination and violence against women, as well as the changes that also need to be generated in the family environment so that greater access to work and education for women (productive role) comes alongside transformations in their role in reproduction and care. Otherwise, advances in employment, education or economic opportunities have costs for them, such as triple working hours, partner violence, intrafamily violence, among others.

With the gender-based approach it has been pointed out that it is not a choice between one thing or another. Policies and projects are required to meet daily needs, but also strategic interests for women and the LGBTI population.

It cannot be stressed enough that gender, as an analytical and social category and as a public policy approach, is framed in the recognition of rights and inclusion as a democratic principle. After all, contexts that reproduce patterns of exclusion and discrimination of women and LGBTI people are spaces that justify and normalize gender-based violence. To that extent, the gender approach is a two-way bet: on the one hand, for the protection and guarantee of individual rights through affirmative and reparative actions, and on the other, for equity and equality as a framework for social transformation in terms of inclusive relations.

The gender-based approach also involves differential attention to victims of war as their position is unequal in society. And to that extent, strategic actions must be taken to promote the recognition of citizenship and the transformation of social relations. One of the contributions of gender studies to the understanding and development of democracy has been the broad vision of the political, which incorporates the private sphere of social life as an element of politics and a space in which unequal relations are reproduced just as in the public sphere[8].

Returning to the Peace Agreement and by way of conclusion, it must be said that the gender-based approach remains potent although it has been transformed between the lines of the text. This transformation entailed the combination of public policy approaches that refer to differential policies, equal opportunities, gender and attention to vulnerable populations, resulting in an institutional effort to materialize these good intentions. The debates and transformations on the gender approach in the Peace Agreement come hand in hand with important challenges and potential for women's and LGBTI organizations, not only in accompanying the implementation of the agreement, but also in persevering in the objective of the gender approach and the promotion of non-discrimination as non-negotiable for peacebuilding.


[1]
                Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz. Options and proposals of the No campaign and agreements reached in the new agreement p184

[2]    Communique from  Claudia Castellanos, Eduardo Cañas, Héctor Pardo y Jhon Milton Rodríguez, spokespeople for  Pacto Cristiano por la Paz (Christian Pact for Peace) 18 Nov 2016

[3]
                Ferrajoli Luigi. Rights and guarantees. The Weakest Law. Madrid: Editorial Trotta. 1999.p.79

[4]
                URREA-GIRALDO, Fernando et al. Comparative life expectancy between afro-descendant population and white-mestiza in Cali and Valle. Revista CS, [S.l.], p. 131-167, 2015. ISSN 2011-0324. available at: <https://www.icesi.edu.co/revistas/index.php/revista_cs/article/view/1961/2769>. Date accessed: 03 nov. 2016 

[5]             Intersectionality is a concept used to understand differentiated effects of the armed conflict in diverse populations. It is understood as an analytic tool to study, understand and respond to the ways in which gender crosses with other identities and how these intersections contribute to unique experiences of oppression and privilege. In the Colombian case it has been investigated by researchers such as Mara Viveros and by the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica in different studies. See: Grupo de Memoria Histórica: La memoria histórica desde la perspectiva de género. Conceptos y herramientas. Bogotá: 2011; Mara Viveros. “La interseccionalidad: una aproximación situada a la dominación”.In: Debate Feminista, Vol 52:1-17. 2016.

[6]
                Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz. Options and proposals of the No campaign and agreements reached in the new agreement  p 133

[7]
                Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal y Ciencias Forenses. Forensis: Statistics for 2015. Chapters: partner violence and medical exams for alleged sexual offenses

[8]
                Feminist academics Kate Millet and Carol Pateman identified that the sex/gender system has political dimensions that respond to cultural and social intersections as has Judith Butler  

About the authors

Génica Mazzoldi es investigadora de la Fundación Ideas para la Paz y psicóloga de la Universidad Nacional. 

Irina Cuesta es investigadora junior de la Fundación Ideas para la Paz. Socióloga de la Universidad del Valle (Cali, Colombia) con estudios de postgrado en sociología de la misma universidad.


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