“Yo nunca tuve novia, ni nunca la tendré, / Si alguna vez yo tuve, los ojos le saqué”
(I never had a girlfriend, nor will I ever have one. If I ever had one, I would pull her eyes off)
Date: 29 August 2023
Summary: In this webinar hosted by Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and LIMPAL (WILPF Colombia), the speakers discussed how masculinities in Colombia have been militarised. Also how decades of armed conflict in Colombia have profoundly impacted the country and have established a culture that has normalised violence. They also analysed the efforts of the current government in its agenda of ‘paz total’ or total peace policy.
The webinar was moderated by Angélica Pino, Program Coordinator of the Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace Programme (MMFP) at WILPF.
Diana Salcedo López, President of WILPF Colombia (LIMPAL)
Andrea Castillo, feminist, social worker and educator
Alejandro Parra , Colombian Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors
Working on militarised masculinities as an intellectual and programmatic feminist contribution to peace
Angélica Pino introduced the critical wealth of research produced by WILPF in the past three years on different themes and also on the context of the four focus countries of the programme for the period (2020 – 2022). These research reports are the basis for discussion in the series of webinars including this one with LIMPAL. She reminded the audience that the idea of working with male allies was conceptualised very early on within WILPF.
“As an example, in a 2010 meeting of the UK section, the recognized academic member of WILPF, Cynthia Cockburn, reminded her audience about the need to make a gender analysis on wars, within and through pacifist movements and also spoke of men as an unused resource that could be included in the struggle especially when they are critical of patriarchy, committed to non-violent strategies and committed to an anti-militarist and pro-peace movement,” said Pino.
Diana Salcedo López conceptualized the work of LIMPAL on militarised masculinities and said that “when we talk about anti-militarist feminism, it implies a place from which we build our discourse, but we also see the way in which feminist peace should be generated…..for us, anti-militarist feminism and feminist peace are two tools that are intrinsically related, they dialogue with each other. Also, feminist peace seeks to provide elements to guarantee that this peace, this idea of non-war, of non-use of violence as a mechanism of resolving conflicts, focused on structural inequalities of the subjects that have suffered the most oppression.”
López added that this webinar is also part of the development of our political and programmatic agenda, and that, as we will see in the development of the webinar, there are positions that are not always complicit, that are sometimes antagonistic, but that help us build that anti-militarist feminism.
Masculinities and Armed Conflict in Colombia
Andrea Castillo began by mentioning that she has been, for years, investigating masculinities and the relationship with the armed conflict in Colombia, particularly in two scenarios or in two non-state armed groups, a guerrilla group and a paramilitary group. In this regard, she said that “militarism is one of those social phenomena used by gender theory and studies on masculinities to analyze power asymmetries and hierarchies that are sedimented through violence.” She added that militarism, or militarisation, has not only been present in Colombia for more than 70 years, but it has become part of the everyday life of Colombian people
“Militarism is also part of a discourse and a practice that ultimately ends up anchoring a colonial matrix, a matrix of imposition on territories, a patriarchal matrix that makes use, for example, of the body of women and the territory of the country. In that sense, we cannot talk about militarisation without, as it were, that matrix, which is colonial, capitalist and patriarchal. The other thing is that militarisation has been legitimized and this, ultimately, has led to what has been called a moral dichotomy of good and bad, of enemies of peace, friends of peace, of victims and perpetrators, in a certain sense. If we don’t manage to overcome it from the same exercises of memory, it will be very difficult to bet on total peace,” said Castillo.
Castillo argues that militarisation has become a way of managing order and control in the country and even the presence of the state is a cause of fear and vulnerability for citizens as its situation inside this matrix makes it anchored to these dangerous discourses of defense and security.
Militarism and/or Militarisation?
Alejandro Parra argued that “militarism implies a system of values, codes, symbols and some of them are around for thousands of years, but militarisation is similar to a government policy, a decision in which state resources are committed, and dynamics are established that make it possible.” He added that the state needs to maintain a very strong level of legitimacy of militarisation, making it necessary to have the amount of public force that is available, and the investment in force, the military spending and the militarisation of the police.”
As an activist working on Conscientious Objection, and as a conscientious objector himself, Parra spoke about the mandatory military service that has existed in Colombia for 128 years. Commenting on its birth around the July 20th military parade, he said that “it is a strategy of the state to establish a false narrative around identity, as if we owed our identity to a kind of group of armed warriors who achieved independence, which is false, because it completely ignores the struggle of the Cimarrones and the Palenques peoples who declared disobedience to the crown or the struggle of indigenous communities.”
Every July 20th, the army celebrates armed warriors and this has become a tradition in Colombia. Pino added that this is reflected in the history of many countries in Latin America in which “this idealization of the wars of independence has instigated a culture of violence.”
Commenting on this, López said that “this construction of militarised subjects associated with militarisation that have been created to reinforce the control of one over the other is not done thinking about achieving peace, in reality, it is done to maintain control.” Precisely, he added, “this construction of militarisation and militarised subjects are also being transferred in Colombia by other elements, social markers, so to speak, that also go through the construction of that subject, which are of course those associated with race, class, sexual condition, gender identity, others that also involve the construction of those mandates in the construction of masculinity.”
López also built on what Parra argued by saying that to analyse the values that build the mandates of hegemonic masculinity, which of course are the basis of the militarised structure, we have to look at the channels that institutionalize it such as education, schools, universities, but also, for example, the discourses that are generated through the media, the discourses that are in the daily communication of people. This also relates to militarisation and the public policies and the allocation of resources.
“As long as we continue in a country that promotes and provides benefits for those who decide to be in a society that will want more heroes, that will want a strengthening of the military structure – not only for those benefits, but also for the idea of security and protection associated with the use of weapons, and that a person who has a uniform of the military forces in Colombia should be a symbol that will provide a level of security….we will see these kinds of values that are generated in everyday life and enforced in public policies. This is the same logic behind the idea of the ‘feminisation’ of military forces by recruiting women or the drive for even greater recruitment of people to be part of the largest army in Latin America.” said López.
The production of militarised masculinities – misogyny at the center
Castillo said that there are references of masculinity for children and for families in the paramilitaries and the military and they are idealized for defending the nation, the homeland and they are endowed with all the attributes that are socially and politically accepted because of the desirable or perceived stability it gives.
“For example, I remember in one of the interviews we did with ex-paramilitaries, and it was very engraved for me when one of them told us that in Caquetá, in a region in Colombia, for women it is a privilege to be the bride of a ‘paraco’ – a member of a paramilitary group – because that gives a a different status. They start to create cultural values that support these masculinities and they start to become desirable and this very fantasy and very misogynistic idea of the way that uniforms seduce women, cultural movements that become aspirational in that masculinity, in that desire as a reference,” said Castillo.
At the same time, the misogynistic ideology is inculcated through training that openly promotes violence against women, as illustrated by this military chant used by the Colombian army as recently as 2020, noted Parra – “I never had a girlfriend, nor will I ever have one. If I ever had one, I would pull her eyes off”.
At the end of the webinar, audience members asked questions. The speakers had an opportunity to respond to one audience member and her question was: what mechanisms are used within the military forces to promote and normalise sexual violence? Can you talk about, for example, the fights between them? And who is the most violent inside and outside the group? Is it more men?
In response, Parra noted that the research that was carried out identified several mechanisms. One of the first ones includes ‘feminisation’ as a way of humiliating or insulting soldiers. So when a soldier can’t finish the exercises he’s doing, some of the comments of his superiors include: ‘what’s the matter soldier? Should I send you to the other battalion of women? In that way, they would be insulted, they would be humiliated.
So, this feminisation as a language for humiliation, which is also profoundly degrading in relation to everything that implies for the construction of the male identity since childhood, is reinforced in these military institutions. That is why the issue of sexual abuse within the battalions is a taboo issue, which is not discussed, but it is a reality that unfortunately has not been analyzed in sufficient detail.
So, the issue that begins to grow between these men, whether in a battalion or in an armed group, is the idea that, with the slightest permission, one of the first things that should be done is to have sexual contact with a woman. And sexual contact with a woman would be through this type of ’ services’, which is not a service at all, it is a matter of sexual exploitation in what here are called the ‘casas de lenocinio (houses of indulgence), where sex exploitation is practised. There is this situation where many soldiers start to fall in love with a woman or teenager close to the battalion – precisely as Andrea mentioned – because of this ridiculous fetish that does not make sense, but that is culturally present in the territories, that the uniform implies sex appeal. So the soldier is more attractive because he has a uniform, so he can pick up his girlfriend faster, and at the same time the armed man is more attractive because he has a gun and the gun is power and a masculinity reference. And in other armed groups, in addition to having the gun, you have the motorcycle and then the motorcycle gives you status.
As a result, there are high rates of teen pregnancy; this is a direct responsibility of armed actors. And that is connected also to a very high rate of men not assuming responsibility for those pregnancies, in what is known as ‘inasistencia alimentaria’ or failure to provide maintenance, which is the second most committed crime by men in this country. There is another mechanism, in addition to the invisibilization of violence, and this is quite specific in the army and the police; when complaints of domestic violence against army personnel are filed, the institutions invent internal mediation instances that do not exist in the legal system . Parra added that in our research, we received several testimonies of women who said’I went to report to the battalion that my husband, who was a sergeant of that unit, was hitting me. And what they did in the battalion was to take me to the ‘battalion’s family affairs office’ which does not exist legally! In many of these instances, the ‘mediating’ officer is a colonel or lieutenant member of some Christian denomination church.
You can watch the full webinar here