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Colombia: The Road to Demilitarisation

From 30 July to 1 August 2019, LIMPAL Colombia took part in the seventh International Conference ‘Antimilitarism in movement: Narratives of resistance to war’. It was a conference that addressed the necessity to challenge militarism, forced recruitment and peoples’ displacements.

Image credit: WILPF
WILPF International Secretariat
29 October 2019

When you wander through the vivid and colourful streets of Colombian cities today, you can hardly imagine that not too long ago, this country was considered one of the most dangerous ones in the world. 

Elizabeth Santamaría was only 13 years old when she was forcibly recruited by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). She is one of thousands of Colombian girls and women who have been forced to fight in leftist guerrilla groups during more than half a century of war. But even in times of violence and war, Elizabeth Santamaría knew militarisation was not the answer.

“Although it is true that I did not know what was good and what was bad, I was always leaning towards more social issues, for peace,” she said.

Today, Elizabeth Santamaría is an activist in WILPF’s section in Colombia – Liga Internacional de Mujeres por la Paz y la Libertad (LIMPAL) – where she supports and empowers ex-combatant women. 

Antimilitarism in Movement

From 30 July to 1 August 2019, Elizabeth Santamaría took part in the seventh International Conference ‘Antimilitarism in movement: Narratives of resistance to war’. It was a conference that addressed the necessity to challenge militarism, forced recruitment and peoples’ displacements.

Man reading and taking a photo of LIMPAL's Manifesto anagin Militarisation.
Photo Credits: LIMPAL

Antimilitarism is a global movement of activists rejecting all forms of military armor. The movement believes that patriarchy, capitalism and neoliberalism are the drivers of war, and militarism and the arms trade are the enablers. For this reason, disarmament and demilitarisation are the key to peace.

The conference was organised by War Resisters’ International, a global network of grassroots antimilitarist and pacifist groups. With the aim to develop alternatives to the growing militarisation in Latin America and globally, War Resisters’ International was dedicated to creating an event whose effects would last beyond the conference itself.

A significant focus was placed on the formation of relationships based on mutual understanding, shared analysis and future cooperation. During the three days, civil society activists, human rights defenders and feminists were able to connect and exchange their experience with militarism and pacifist peace mechanisms.

One of them was Diana María Salcedo Lopez, the President of LIMPAL. “Antimilitarism must not only dialogue with multiple feminisms, but also with all forms of resistance,” she said at the conference, referring to the female combatants who saw their joining in armed forces as a form of resistance to the system.

Colombia: The Big Player in the Military Game 

Colombia was chosen as the location for the conference, due to its particular history of militarisation. A historical moment in 2016 led to a change of dynamics in the question of militarisation occurring in the country.

On 22 June 2016, the Colombian government signed a promising ceasefire with the largest guerrilla movement in Colombia,  named Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). While for the people the peace agreement meant hope for a life free from violence, guerrillas and eventually also from the military, the Colombian Government interpreted it more as a reason to expand military expenditure and recover territories taken over by FARC. 

Amongst other reasons, this is why Colombian public forces keep growing, both in terms of budget and people. In fact, military expenditure in Colombia has reached over 10,000 million USD, which equals around 3.2% of the Gross Domestic Product in 2018.

Today, Colombia has the third largest total available active military manpower in the Americas, only to be surpassed by the United States and Brasil. 

One Step Closer to End Militarisation

We are facing constant growth of military expenditures in the world. But on the bright side, we are also finding an ever-growing pacifist movement, every year more organised, more connected, and more efficient. 

Events like the Antimilitarism in movement: Narratives of resistance to war’ are fundamental to tackling the growing militarism in the world. Thanks to War Resisters’ International, 165 activists from over 30 countries came together in Bogota to share their stories, build a platform for pacifist means and set an end to the permanent influence and penetration of militarisation in society.

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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