One of WILPF ‘s strengths is the wonderful development in building bridges between the work done at the grassroots level and the international policy and advocacy work. WILPF’s success in this endeavour arises from building capacity at the local level empowering and enabling women and girls to raise their perspectives, concerns, and rights both at local and international arenas.
International Collaboration for Women’s Participation in Colombia’s Peace Negotiations
WILPF Sweden cooperates and collaborates with WILPF Sections, supporting local capacity building in countries such as Nigeria, DR Congo and Colombia. As the International Coordinator of WILPF Sweden, I am able to see first hand, the amazing work that WILPF does in these countries.
In early December of last year, Ester Harrius and I travelled to Colombia to take part in WILPF’s work there and forge closer ties between our Sections. We were especially excited at the timing of our trip due to the development of the on going peace negotiations. Colombia is the focus of many politicians and organizations around the world and in the weeks prior to our trip, we attended many seminars, meetings and parliamentary debates in Sweden regarding Colombia and the situation of the human rights defenders in the country.
Although there has been uncertainty surrounding whether the Swedish government would continue its aid assistance to Colombia, Sweden now focuses on promoting the peace process. During our trip, we had the opportunity to meet with the Swedish Embassy’s equality officer who discussed the political and social work Sweden has done to ensure the participation of women in Colombia’s peace negotiation.
WILPF Colombia’s Work with Resolution 1325 and Mujeres Lideresas
WILPF Colombia is working hard to increase female participation. They are co-founders of “Coalition 1325 Colombia”, which is a network of organisations that work together on lobbying the government to develop a National Action Plan for the implementation of the UNSC resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
Katherine Ronderos, President of WILPF Colombia, explains, “There are many good laws and policies in Colombia but unfortunately they seem to be dispersed at the moment of their implementation, they are distributed across different programmes, public policies and laws that make it extremely difficult and complicated for us, civil society, to monitor and hold governments accountable. We hope that a National Action Plan (NAP) for UNSCR 1325 will be a tool to harmonize everything in one single instrument. WILPF Colombia understands the resistance that exists at the national level towards a NAP 1325 so we have now changed our strategy. Now, we focus on supporting local governments in their efforts to develop local action plans”.
A large part of WILPF Colombia’s local work with UNSC resolution 1325 is about increasing the political participation of women and increasing their awareness of their rights. In Cartagena, we saw how WILPF Colombia evaluated their members’ developments on a personal level in the past year, their analysis on how the political context has changed within the country and what this means for WILPF’s work and women’s rights in general.
Much of WILPF Colombia’s work is also about educating women to become so-called Mujeres Lideresas, or women who know their rights and can pass the knowledge on to others. Many of these women have started organisations in their villages to empower others by sharing their knowledge through workshops and meetings.
One Mujer Lideresa said to us,* “Through WILPF, I found out that I had rights that I did not know I possessed – not only political but also private rights. WILPF was our mother. Now we have a better understanding of our rights and laws, but not only that, we also demand these rights. We are very proud.
“We are here thanks to all the women who have worked with this before us and who continue to work for us. WILPF is the oldest peace organization for women. We have always wanted peace. You fall in love with the organization. Through the activities we do in WILPF, we strengthen not only ourselves but also our families and societal structures”.
Mujeres Lideresas: Agents of Change
Most of the Mujeres Lideresas participating in WILPF Colombia have been victims of the armed conflict. They have been forcedly internally displaced in Colombia, forced to flee their villages. Many of these women are now settled in Cartagena’s suburbs where they are often ostracized and despised by the rest of society.
One woman told us,* “I’ve had so much pain in my stomach, but did not understand why, it is only now I realize that it is the stomach that collects all the pain, and it was only after WILPF’s workshops that I realized the weight I had carried in my stomach. The pain has been a normal state since becoming internally displaced persons (IDPs), but now I understand that it is not normal and have received the right tools to process the pain”.
WILPF Colombia works to influence politicians on a national and international level. In October, Rosemary, a Mujer Lideresa, travelled to Geneva to participate in the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She said, *“I met several women who told stories that I can recognize myself in. It made me realize that we are not alone in this. Women throughout the world are working to gain their rights”.
Partaking in the work of WILPF Colombia’s work was both intense and instructive. Even though it hurt to hear what these women (Mujeres Lideresas) went through, it was incredibly inspiring and uplifting to see their strength and motivation. Thanks to WILPF, these women can begin to address their pain and change the situation in their county by helping others, by getting their voices heard nationally and internationally and by demanding their rights.
*Our own translation from Spanish to English
Tove Ivergård, International Coordinator, WILPF Sweden