Colombia: Pushing for peace and women’s rights

Viviana Machuca (left), representing the Colombia inter-church platform DIPAZ, and Sara Lara (right), director of the human rights program of IELCO, in Geneva for the CEDAW shadow report on Colombia, meet with Rev. Dr Martin Junge (center), LWF General Secretary. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay

Lutheran church joins other civil society representatives presenting shadow report to UN’s CEDAW committee

(LWI) - Colombia’s hard won peace accords are at risk in the current political climate. That’s the view of a civil society delegation from the South American nation that presented a shadow report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in mid-February.

The shadow report, compiled by a coalition of NGOs including a network of churches known as DIPAZ, is entitled ‘Women and Peace in Colombia: in search of full rights’. It details allegations of human rights violations that continue to affect the most vulnerable women in the country, despite new hopes for justice and peace raised by the signing of a national peace agreement in August 2016.

Sara Lara is coordinator of the human rights program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO). She was part of the delegation attending the CEDAW session in Geneva and she explains the challenges faced by those working for human rights in her country today: “We hoped the FPA [Final Peace Agreement] would usher in a new era of peaceful relations”, she says, yet she notes that conflict continues in many areas of the country.

The peace accord, signed by Colombia’s government and the main guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was narrowly rejected in a national referendum, requiring a revision of the text that was ratified by both houses of Congress in November 2016.

When the original agreement was signed, Lara says, it was “a great success, because women got a role and were visible”, with victims of human rights abuses obtaining the possibility of reparations.

“When the first peace agreement was rejected”, she continues, opponents of the accord “tried to water down all language of protection for LGBT and women’s rights and some of this protection was removed.”

In Colombia today, Lara says, “it’s been like a step backwards” as conservative political and religious forces seek to undermine the peace accord and reject calls for greater protection of vulnerable women, including those who were formerly members of armed groups. The shadow report notes that ongoing violence in Colombia continues to have a disproportionate impact on women and girls in rural areas, especially indigenous and Afro-Colombians, as well as women migrants from neighbouring Venezuela.

Lara explains there has also been a set back in terms of women’s rights cutting across all social and demographic groups, as conservative groups challenge a rights-based approach to women’s agency. Within the framework of DIPAZ, the IELCO is working hard to reconcile conflicting views, so that the rights and dignity of women and sexual minorities are not perceived as a threat to faith or family life.

During her visit to the United Nations, Lara says she saw how the Colombian government claims it is making good progress towards peace and human rights and that “all institutions of the state are working for the rights of women”. But she adds that violence and discrimination continue to affect women, particularly those in rural and remote areas of the country.

Lara believes the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) can play an important role in supporting work to promote human rights in her country. In particular, she insists, it can continue to advocate for the many victims of Colombia’s long-running conflict: “In the first peace accord they were at the core of the agreements but now they are left on the side”, she says, adding that the LWF can keep the focus on them through its “spiritual and theological voice”.

During their visit to Geneva, members of the DIPAZ delegation met with LWF General Secretary, Rev. Dr Martin Junge, who underlined the vital role that the churches play as they continue to be a key part of the effort to promote women’s rights in Colombia today.