“Peace is not simply ending war or armed confrontation, it is bringing in social, racial, and gender justice,” said Charo Mina-Rojas, explaining some of what she hoped to convey to the UN community during her recent visit to New York. Ms. Mina-Rojas is a social worker with Black Communities’ Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras-PCN) in Colombia. She has worked for over 30 years promoting the rights, culture, and identity of Afro-descendant and minority communities in the country, and has been a part of negotiations on the peace agreement. She was in New York to speak to the Security Council during Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) month.
In the lead-up to her presentation at the Security Council, she spoke with the International Peace Institute’s Sarah Taylor on Colombia and the peace process, the role that governments have in protecting minority populations, and the importance of including gender and ethnic perspectives in sustaining peace, among other topics.
“Incorporating gender and ethnic perspectives is an important aspect of security, and having indicators and adequate resources to be able to measure how well we are incorporating them is essential. Otherwise, how will we know if our efforts are effective?” Ms. Mina-Rojas said.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
If we look at conflicts across the globe, including in Colombia, violence against women and minority groups is unfortunately rampant. One of the reasons you are in New York is to speak to the Security Council on the occasion of the 17th anniversary of Resolution 1325 during Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) month. In this connection, what do you hope to convey to the Security Council on WPS?
I hope to focus on a few areas. The first is the meaning of ending conflict and peacebuilding. Peace is not simply ending war or armed confrontation, it is bringing in social, racial, and gender justice. Injustice in these areas forms much of the actual roots of conflict. Take economic policies as an example. Policies in mining, large-scale infrastructure, or agriculture often dispossess people from resources and territory, and exact a heavy toll on communities, particularly women. Women are often sexually assaulted or raped in areas with illegal mining, they lose economic opportunities, are unable to grow crops on their land, and experience insecurity in even walking around, going to the river, or to the finca.
Another area is addressing gender injustice in a patriarchal society. It is important that the Colombia peace agreement includes gender perspectives as an intersectional issue and having a high-level body on gender is meaningful, but it needs to adequately incorporate women’s perspectives and have sufficient resources. This will allow for collective will in combating sexual violence and in bringing perpetrators to justice.
The third is the collective nature of peacebuilding and sustaining peace. There is a tendency to see all things from an individual perspective, but people exist in the context of others—a community, a family, and society itself. Incorporating perspectives from as many people as possible and especially from populations that are the most effected by violence—women, the indigenous, the Afro-descendant—is essential. The collective dimension of violence has to be understood so we see that when a leader is killed—as it happened two days ago in an indigenous community—the whole community suffers. The whole population is impacted by the killing of one single person. Then when reparations for violent acts are being negotiated, it is not just about the single person killed. That person means a process, that person means a community. What happened to that person impacts all processes in a community. That is why leaders are killed.
This also explains why sexual violence is such a powerful and damaging tool.
Yes, exactly. I can give you an example of this in Colombia. A practice for paramilitaries is to tie a woman to a post and rape and torture her for several days in front of everyone in the community. Nobody can do anything about it. Then they leave the woman to die. In areas close to the ocean, they bury the post just enough so that when the tides come up the woman drowns. That is not just violence perpetrated against the woman, it is violence against the entire community that had to see it and be unable to do anything.
Has there been any decrease in that type of violence?
It’s actually reappearing. The peak of this kind of violence was between 2000 and 2010 in areas where paramilitary groups had displaced FARC and guerillas, after which there was a decline. Then when the peace agreement was about to be signed and FARC began demobilizing, these groups started to take hold again. In places like Tumaco and Buenaventura, paramilitaries, FARC detractors, and narco traffickers work together to have full economic control and military power, and the police and army can’t do anything. The result in these areas is higher levels of violence in general, and especially against women.
What role do you think states and other actors have in addressing some of these issues in Colombia?
One role is to champion the incorporation of gender and ethnic perspectives in the peace agreement’s implementation plan. A cooperative effort was made to develop indicators and goals and I hope that the government, despite their reluctance, will include them. Incorporating gender and ethnic perspectives is an important aspect of security, and having indicators and adequate resources to be able to measure how well we are incorporating them is essential. Otherwise, how will we know if our efforts are effective?
Other governments and actors can also echo our call for ensuring real, meaningful participation for women, indigenous people, and Afro-descendant people. These populations experience much of the violence and they know what is happening in conflict areas more than the government. Including the perspectives of these populations allows for their rights, culture, identity, and voice to be heard, which is absolutely imperative when you’re talking about ending the conflict and building peace in the regions where they live.