President Santos of Colombia is due to begin peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia People’s Army (FARC), next week in Oslo.

The talks are being billed as historic. But in terms of providing women with a voice and ensuring a gendered dimension to the negotiations, they will be far from it.

Despite President Santos’ confirmation to UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, during her visit to Colombia in mid-September, that he was committed to ensuring a female presence at the negotiation table, the women are nowhere to be seen!

This should perhaps not come as a surprise. The 2011 Monitoring Report on Colombia’s compliance with Resolution 1325 – created by the 1325 Working Group – reported a total absence of women from any governmental peace talks or armed groups in recent decades.

It is absolutely imperative that women be included in the upcoming Oslo Peace Process. If we look back to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accord between Israel and Palestine, the issues that were left unresolved were those that did not include women in the negotiations.

And the excuse certainly can’t be made that women cannot be found to participate in the negotiations.

Our very own WILPF Colombia have been working on conflict related issues for decades, precisely because we firmly believe that women know intimately the causes and consequences of conflict, and women are aware of the social and structural changes needed to transition from a country of conflict to a country where human rights are respected.

In fact, in our October 2012 internal newsletter, WILPF International Update, we were proud to mention that the women of WILPF Colombia were getting ready to take an active role in the upcoming conversations, to ensure women’s rights are included in the process and in the outcomes.

The 1325 Working Group (including Red Nacional de Mujeres, Alianza Iniciativa de Mujeres Colombianes por la paz, and WILPF Colombia amongst many others) recently sent an open letter to President Santos demanding women’s inclusion in the peace talks and their consequences.

Women’s organisations are now uniting to create ‘Women for Peace’, a new movement with the following proposals:

  1. To continue to carry out actions which contribute to the achievement of peace.
  2. To gain women’s voice and legitimacy as political actors and spokespersons in the peace negotiations and peace process.
  3. To help elevate the level of dialogue among women on subjects such as legal frameworks for peace and transitional justice.
  4. To design and implement mechanisms to strengthen and/or construct strategic alliances with social and political sectors.
  5. To elaborate and strengthen the women’s agenda in order to influence the general agenda agreed upon by the government and the insurgency.
  6. To develop and strengthen ‘Women for Peace’ in the national and regional spheres.

We have seen from the examples of previous peace agreements, Bosnia to mention just one, what happens when women are excluded from peace agreements. It is THE transformative moment when there is a possibility for real and lasting change. For that to happen the voices of women from all races, classes, and backgrounds, must be heard.