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Q&A with Diana Salcedo on Mobilising for Feminist Peace in Colombia; the most warlike country in Latin America

Angelica Pino, Coordinator of WILPF’s Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace project, speaks to Diana Salcedo, Director of Liga Internacional de Mujeres por la paz y la libertad (LIMPAL)/WILPF Colombia, about her experience of growing up in Colombia, the power of social media campaigning, the impact of militarised masculinities on men, women and the LGBTIQA+ community in Colombia and the efforts of feminist peacemakers. 

Image credit: Diana Maria López
Angelica Pino
22 March 2024

Angelica Pino, Coordinator of WILPF’s Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace project, speaks to Diana Salcedo, Director of Liga Internacional de Mujeres por la paz y la libertad (LIMPAL)/WILPF Colombia, about her experience of growing up in Colombia, the power of social media campaigning, the impact of militarised masculinities on men, women and the LGBTIQA+ community in Colombia and the efforts of feminist peacemakers. 

Q: Colombia has one of the largest armies in Latin America and has recently begun one of the most extensive recruitment campaigns in its history. Within this context, what are the primary institutional structures that support militarised masculinities in Colombia?

Thank you for the invitation to share these important issues that exist in Colombia and radiate throughout Latin America. Yes, Colombia has one of the largest armies in Latin America which has been based on the need of the state to guarantee militarised security due to a history of long-standing conflict in the country.

Currently, we see that most support for the army recruitment campaigns comes, of course, from the military forces themselves and their work in educational institutions. The president recently decreed that enrolment at military schools will be free of charge. Given the lack of access to university education in Colombia, this will be regarded as a positive step for the most socio-economically vulnerable, whilst also increasing the appeal of entering the military forces.

Q: It’s a very complicated situation but, LIMPAL (WILPF Columbia) has done some interesting work to counterbalance these campaigns. You have a strong social media presence and you created a campaign against recruitment, called ‘Anti-Militarism Thursdays’ that have become very popular.  Tell us how this idea came about and the impact it has had.

The ‘Anti-Militarism Thursdays’ are a response to a very complex scenario arising on social networks, creating issues that were not being sufficiently addressed in the women’s or feminist agenda. In particular, the multiple forms of ideologisation being used by the military on these networks to make positive associations and legitimise links between women and the military forces.

In response, we have linked messages associated not only to the violence generated and perpetrated against women within the military, but also messages that counteract the impact of the cultural and ideological logics of militarisation they promote. For example, the use of military clothing by civilians, use of militaristic language, not only verbal but also symbolic. All these elements are linked in ‘Anti- Militarism Thursdays’ because we hope they will encourage reflection and a critical analysis of everything that involves the systems of militarisation in the country.

LIMPAL post on Anti-Militarism Thursdays

Q: That’s very interesting and closely linked with the research that LIMPAL conducted on militarised masculinities focused on the experience of boys. What did you discover about the ways in which girls and boys in Colombia are militarised in childhood, adolescence and adulthood?

We carried out research with both men and women, zooming in on how masculinities are constructed in these three phases of life. In adolescence, in particular, we realised how through cultural practices that seem normalised, such as the use of war toys, a structure of militarisation is being created in the male consciousness. We have also seen this in early childhood and pre-adolescence in the use of games associated with war and military behaviour, particularly role-playing games, video games and other traditional gaming practices that encourage competition, which in the end is one of the principles that militarisation seeks.

We saw for example that this culture has led many mothers and fathers at Halloween to like their child wearing a policeman or army costume, which are the most familiar in terms of military forces. This could be seen as a natural cultural practice, not a major problem, but when we see how this is associated, for example, with telling your son that if you have a uniform people will believe you more, or you will be more attractive to women or you will provide greater security to your community, of course all boys want to be the heroes of the story.

It’s not the same with girls. For girls the militarisation process is more symbolic, it is more about the illusion and false sense of security that military forces or militarised structures provide, whether legal or illegal. This feeling of security or stability can encourage women to become involved in relationships with men from the legal military forces or those linked to illegal armed groups that hold the same power in many of the Colombian territories.

Q: That is very interesting and leads me to my next question. In a country as militarised as Colombia, how important is the figure of the soldier hero in society? What did the research reveal about the ways in which it is supported and sustained throughout society, at the small community and national level?

The idea of the soldier hero has been created not only in the ways I have referred to in childhood, but also by communities. For example, in Colombia, it’s very common that the civil-military campaigns developed by the military forces reinforce this image of the hero man, so many people believe this is the man who will save us, the one who provides security and protection in the communities.

The media campaigns developed by governments in Latin America, particularly in Colombia, also try to create popular support for this hero figure who is saving the homeland, dedicating his life to the care of the people, of the community. Additionally, there are incentives granted by the Congress of the Republic in Colombia for promotion to different hierarchical ranks within the military forces that are accompanied by a big spectacle of awarding of medals, and other symbolic elements recognising the heroism of armed and uniformed men.

There’s also the heightening of feelings of national identity through symbols like the flag, the national anthem, the oath to the flag, which all use militarised language, further promoting the idea that the bloodshed in war comes from heroes who give their lives. As I said before, who doesn’t want to be a hero? So, the use of these tools to define masculinity is something that we as feminists are aware of and how they contribute to unequal power relations sustained by militarisation.

Q: Turning now to the issue of social norms, in what way did your research confirm or provide new thinking around existing gender norms, specifically on ideas of masculinity that associate them with violence and domination connected to militarisation?

The research shows, for example, how the educational systems promote gender norms in which men dominate ; not only by having a ‘voice’, but also in the political and public representations of a binary image created by our patriarchal and militaristic society –  so there’s the good and the bad, as well as the public and the private.

Then there are the ‘gender arrangements’ within the education system which promote not only men’s experiences as normal, but also the male voice as a sign of certainty, experience and value. We see this reinforced within our political structures, for example, who are the people in charge of the military forces? Generally, they are men, generally they are men who have been in the military forces for many years and generally they are heterosexual, white or mestizo (of mixed European and indigenous ancestry) middle class men who have managed to climb the social ladder. This often means they will do anything to maintain their status, even if it means ignoring women who may have the same ability to carry out their role. This is connected to the sexualisation of women’s bodies within the military forces and structures, both legal and illegal; a masculine and heterosexual perspective of domination over women’s sexuality. The military forces also use ‘purple washing’, co-opting the language, agendas and strategies of feminist and women’s movements, to create a sense that they recognise the role of women.

Q: It’s a very complicated and very interesting situation, the appropriation of the feminist agenda for their own purposes that is so difficult to counteract within the authoritarian and militaristic tide that is sweeping Latin America. In this system of gender arrangements, as you call it, can you tell us about your personal experience growing up in Colombia? And how would you characterise the impact of these militarised masculinities on the LGBTIQA+ and other communities in Colombia?

I think that’s a very interesting question. When I was little I wanted to be an empowered woman, someone with the power to mobilise. I even thought that entering the military forces could be an option but, although I’m of average height, I did not reach the standard height required. I think I always imagined that they were the ones with power, because I saw them in the street, I saw them where the problems were, supposedly solving them. I saw they were where the economic and political power lay, and I also knew that being who they were had benefits. I grew up in a home with economic hardship, with lots of shortages and so I saw the military as a possible route out of poverty. And I think that’s the story of many people in Colombia.

Now as an adult I identify as a lesbian woman, so my activism is focused on this as well as feminism. I see clearly the impact of the military forces on the LGBTIQA+ community because those people I saw in my childhood, who supposedly cared for and protected our communities, are precisely the ones that have the most negative impact on LGBTIQA+ people in Colombia. There is so much violence and abuse, not only physical but psychological and emotional, against this community in particular, for example trans women working in prostitution.

Q: There are many cases in Colombia and in Latin America of police abuse and abuse by the military forces against the civilian population. I heard, and believe it was also reported in the Colombian media that one of the chants that has been commonly used by the military in their training is something like, “I never had a girlfriend, nor will I ever have one, if I ever had one, I would pull  her eyes off) .” What does the use of this language in military institutions tell us?

Yes, these kinds of chants have become common. They create a sense of belonging in the military forces and illustrate how the military structure is anchored in violence against women, the objectification of women; that their bodies are for the use, enjoyment and abuse of men and that they have the power.

It’s not only that chant that you mentioned, which is provocative and encourages femicide, but also other practices. We have seen in the analysis of military doctrines in Colombia how, for example, the weapon is associated with the girlfriend. How the power held by the military structure over society, and in particular over women, is promoted. The songs not only encourage physical violence that can end in femicide, but also are a form of symbolic violence against the partners of those in the military. Combined with economic and patriarchal violence, this has caused the death of women who have not managed to escape the atrocious cycle of violence.  

Q: You have already mentioned some of the ways in which sexual violence is normalised in the country and in military institutions. You’ve explored how the military deal with cases of sexual violence. Tell us about your research.

The research arose from previous and subsequent work we have been doing with the Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors (ACOOC), where we have seen how the internal procedures within the military forces seek to dismiss these types of cases. How they strive to ensure they do not reach the public sphere precisely because they go against the hero soldier ideal, but also because they don’t want any trace of incidents of violence against women that could be used to question the military structure itself. So, of course, within all the military forces, there isn’t a single one that doesn’t have a protocol for cases of gender-based violence and violence against women, but when we have the opportunity to ask these institutions about the effectiveness and impact of these protocols, they simply say they are very effective because they don’t have cases against them.

The military forces in Colombia are among those institutions that allocate more resources to training in human rights and women’s rights. However, and this is apparent in the research we are doing with ACOOC on invisible violence, violent incidents are very common within families where a member is part of the military forces. This allows us to see that, in reality, their protocols are not effective and not saving the lives of women. Also, these protocols do not address other forms of violence not associated with sexual violence or physical violence, for example, many women in relationships with men in the military say, he has never hit me, but constantly reminds me who he is and that if I have a problem with sex or my body then there’s something wrong with me.

Q: We have talked about the formal institutions in Colombia. What happens in the armed groups? What is the situation like for women? Is there violence against them? What work is being done in this space?

As in all organisations, the processes and social structures are based on hierarchy and violence due to unequal power relations, so issues of violence against women are exacerbated and increased. We can’t say for sure about the situation in Colombia because there’s no study that deals in depth with violence occurring in these armed groups, but what we can say is that, in many cases, they follow the same patterns as the formal militarised structures. And where there are weapons and where there is a militarised system, of course there is always the possibility of this type of violence. 

An investigation is currently underway by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace to show the impact of sexual violence in the military forces and illegal armed groups, particularly in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (widely known as FARC) and against communities. Undoubtedly, the research resulting from this analysis will be fundamental to understanding the magnitude of the problem. 

Q: Now, moving on to the positive work you are doing with children and young people at the community level, for example, in schools? Have you been able to develop new strategies in those spaces based on your research?

Yes, using an anti-militarist feminist approach, we are introducing an alternative concept of power relations and positive romantic relationships with members of the security forces. We are working on reconceptualising the idea of heroism, how we can think of new heroes that are not associated with weapons, how to delegitimise the use of weapons as an option for conflict resolution, and how we modify the dialogue and daily patterns that reinforce and sustain the illusion of the greatness of the military forces. 

Of course, this is not an easy issue to address either within the educational system or in such a highly militarised country that continues to spend large amounts of the national budget to strengthen the military forces. Nor in a country where these practices of recognition and exaltation of the military figure continue to occur. However, we believe there are more and more groups generating awareness about these issues and working to construct new frameworks and a new interpretation of what it means to be a man in a militarised society.

Q: What are your thoughts on feminist peace activism in Colombia and do you see a space for creating alliances with men within this activism? How do you work with men at the local level? What are the possibilities and the challenges in that space?

Our work directly with men is very limited, as we consider working with women our main priority. However we do work with some groups of men in the territories, especially the sons of women we are working with and within mixed groups of young people linked to other issues, like human rights, environmental and cultural rights. 

We do not work directly with adult men in the communities, because we feel the patterns of upbringing and the social construction of masculinity in the country prevents us from having a dialogue that can generate real transformation. From our point of view, it is men who should generate and encourage the creation of their own spaces to reflect on masculinity, and not assume that we women have to promote pedagogical practices for the transformation of men.

We have chosen to work with some male allies, though very few in relation to the social change required. We have an alliance with the Colombian Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors (la Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia -ACOOC) who work with conscientious objectors. 

Recently LIMPAL, in collaboration with the ACOOC, launched a book called ‘Confronting Militarised Masculinities, The Social and Cultural Militarisation of Masculinities in Colombia, The Most Warlike Country in Latin America.’ The book is framed around our research but goes further in some areas related to the positioning of the political agenda around conscientious objection, not just by men, but also by women, and confronting both the daily practices of militarisation and wider militaristic systems. It also includes discussions around the link between capitalist economic systems, patriarchal systems and militaristic systems, which ultimately reproduce violence against people, and those facing the highest levels of oppression mainly turn out to be women.

Our research addresses in greater depth the different moments in a man’s life where masculinity is constructed and the consequences of the influence of militarised masculinities at an early age.  

Q: One final question, Diana as a feminist peace activist, what gives you hope, and how do you think sustainable peace can be built in Colombia?

It certainly gives us hope to see the many faces and hear the experiences of women in different parts of the country and the world who are confronting war, opposing the structures of war, military, patriarchy and power. It gives us hope to see the possibility of transformation. It’s a long road of course to democracies that will  not try to save existing structures through oppression, but build collective processes that allow us to inhabit this world with dignity. The coming together of women gives us hope, the possibility of weaving together feminist networks that confront and make visible the multiple mutations of patriarchy and militarism that seek to embed themselves into social movements and agendas.

Thank you very much Diana. It has been a pleasure to talk to you as always and to hear about all that LIMPAL is doing in Colombia. I believe the impact of your work is incredibly important for Latin America and the rest of the world as well, a feminist world.

You can read the research report titled “The Institutional And Cultural Militarisation Of Masculinities In Colombia, The Most War-Like Country In Latin America” here. It is also available in Spanish

You can also read our other report on “Militarised Masculinities in Colombia: An Analysis of Corruption, Land Dispossession and US Interventionism” here. Read it in Spanish here.

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Angelica Pino

Angelica Pino is the Coordinator of WILPF’s Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace project. 

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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. 

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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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