The peace in the eyes of women
On the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the Peace Agreement, we wish to highlight the testimonies of 5 women peacebuilders who are a beacon to their communities.
They all agree on something: They want to build peace from their territory and open up ways for women to remain the protagonists of reconciliation. They are human rights defenders, victims of conflict, social leaders, students, former combatants and teachers. Today, on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the Peace Agreement, the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia seeks to highlight these diverse stories.
“Women in the country have been at the forefront of the unrelenting struggle for peace for decades. No one better than them has first-hand knowledge of the impact of conflict and also the value of peace as the only way. They have never given up and are still working for peace where they are at the centre and their voices are recognized as peacebuilders,” explains Devanna de la Puente, Gender Adviser at the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.
Mariela, the teacher in Llano Grande
Out of the 23 years, she has been working as a rural teacher, Mariela López has a sad record: About two decades she has done so in the midst of war, as a victim of the conflict. Today, 5 years after the Peace Agreement between the Government and the FARC-EP, her bet is to promote reconciliation in her classroom. She does it at the Madre Laura School, located in the Llano Grande rural district, in Dabeiba, Antioquia, where the former territorial space of Training and Reincorporation was located.
Mariela López went from having 17 children to about 80 at the School in Llano Grande in Dabeiba, Antioquia.
“After we realized that Llano Grande was going to be a local zone, we thought: My God, but how is Llano Grande going to be, what will it become… How will the coexistence of my students who are one hundred per cent victims of armed conflict be, and do you know what we made? white flags,” she says.
The first encounter with the former Farc combatants was not easy after two forced displacements, the murder of her husband and the loss of several of her students due to conflict. That day, she ran to the village and began to cry.
“How do I do to talk about peace?” Mariela asked herself. “If I have not forgiven and if I do not forgive, then the one that I am hurting is myself. And I said no, this is not the attitude I should have, I have to change this attitude, I have to be prepared, I have to be strong when the time comes; and I said to myself that I did not want any family in Colombia to live what I had lived and I that I was going to contribute to whatever was needed so the peace process was a reality and to live reconciliation in Llano Grande”, she said.
(...) I do not want any family in Colombia to live what I lived and from now on I am going to contribute whatever is needed so the peace process be a reality and to live reconciliation in to Llano Grande.”
“We thought that former combatants were aggressive people because of what we had lived before. But when they arrived here, I realized they were not so bad, I also have to say, and I apologize for saying it, I think many of them are also victims,” she adds.
In Llano Grande, 5 years ago, only 17 boys and girls went to class. Today, nearly 80 children of victims of the conflict, former combatants, peasants, and the public force do so.
“As the educational process improves them, changes the way they think and act, as they realize things cannot be fixed by kicking and punching others but by means of dialogue, I think I have become stronger and have realized what Mariela is really made of and that I really am a teacher.”
Ledys, from the jungle to Medellín
Ledys Restrepo began her reintegration process in the former Vidri space, on the border between Antioquia and Chocó. After participating in the Verification and Monitoring Mechanism and the closing of this zone, she moved to Medellín.
Ledys Restrepo is part of the group of 32 women who launched the Construyendo Paz market in Medellín.
After many years in the jungle, this woman was able to hug her mother, brothers, uncles and daughter. Now, in the city, she is leading a process to empower women. “It is a stage toward becoming visible, to be seen as signatories who have placed our hope in peace and that all we want is Colombia to be in peace,” she says.
“After these five years I feel transformed, I feel more educated. We now have a cooperative, a market and other projects and initiatives that are emerging.”
“I arrived in the city at the end of September 2017 and began looking for women. We came from many regions of the country; we met and said that we were going to continue to bet on peace and would empower ourselves as women so we began to brainstorm ideas of things we could do. And it was so striking to see ourselves together at the reintegration house,” adds Ledys.
She explains that, apart from the women's market, tourism and community-based bakery projects are in their formulation stage. “Now, look at how our lives have changed after these five years. The lives of each one of us have turned around and that is such a joy!”.
“Now, look at how our lives have changed after these five years. The lives of each one of us have turned around and that is such a joy!”.
Five years from now, she looks at herself as a woman with a life plan. “I hope that people in the urban and rural areas have already understood this conflict and welcome us all peace signatories as any other citizen, I hope they look at us as their peers, without indifference.
María Isabel, a song for healing
As vocal cords warm up the various tones are mixed. The past does not matter. They are now a single voice without distinguishing whether you were a victim or a victimizer. Everyone is ready to sing, “Nothing for war” by Marta Gómez.
María Isabel Palacio, a victim of the conflict, sings to heal her wounds.
This is possible in the Reconciliation Choir of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Medellín where María Isabel Palacio, representative of the Group of Victims of Itagüí, Antioquia, is one of the 30 voices that come together each week, or when time allows, to sing songs of reconciliation, with classical or Colombian rhythms.
After living in exile and feeling that the conflict could take her life away from her, music became her salvation when she returned to Antioquia. She sings with former Farc combatants and other victims like her. While she sings, she says she feels a sort of “liberation.”
“From the first lesson, I felt my soul begin to move. The sounds of music allowed me to recognize myself, they took away from me a feeling of pain, a feeling of anguish, something that was always inside of me,” she says.
Today, 5 years into the signing of the Peace Agreement, she says she has hope. “I, who previously refused to believe in the Peace Agreement, now want to believe in it, would like all victims to sing so they could feel this liberation and transformation as it is very important to experience transformation,” she says.
“We have become strong men, wise women, women weavers, we weave, we have a social fabric, we accompany women in many ways, we have been sharing a transformation of life with them, which is important, so it is in your true and authentic willingness, with love and respect, to accompany others,” she adds.
Before I refused to believe in the peace agreement, today I want to believe in it, I would like all the victims to sing so that they can feel this liberation (...)".
Andrea, to be born again
Andrea Cañaveral began her reintegration process in the local zone of Tierra Grata, in Cesar, and from there she moved to the former Territorial Area for Training and Reintegration in La Plancha, Anorí, Antioquia. Now, her goal is to pursue a career because when she joined the guerrilla, she was in 9th grade at school.
Andrea Cañaveral wants to pursue a career.
In La Plancha, she participated in a beekeeping project with “Miel de Montaña” and now in Medellín, she dreams of working for women's rights in various gender projects.
“The happiest moment when I came back to town was to have met with my family, my sister, my mother, and my nephew, because they are my family circle, and for me, it was the most beautiful and most joyous moment in this whole process. It is very comforting to meet them after seven years of being in the ranks. Finding them, that's been the most beautiful thing,” she says.
For Andrea, the reincorporation process has many emotional ups and downs. “But it has also allowed me to go and find my own peace.” After 5 years away from arms, she celebrates living in Medellín with her family. “After the signing of the Agreement, and now that I have returned to the city, I am born again. As a person, this process of reintegration has helped me a lot to be much more human, much more sensitive to the pain of others; one understands many things and also opens up to empathy, one also opens up to peace,” she says.
She emphasizes that women advance in a certain sort of sorority. “It is very diverse what reintegrated women live after the signing of the Agreement; getting to know other women, students, indigenous women, women workers; and it is very enriching for us to encounter other women’s outlooks about the world or about life itself. Another important aspect to highlight is that women can participate from other spaces.”
Yolanda is black and Colombian
“I am a human being who is proud of three things: Being a woman, being black and being Colombian.” With these words Yolanda Perea, a victim of sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict, and woman social leader, invites reflection on the rights of Afro-Colombian women 5 years into the signing of the Peace Agreement.
Yolanda Perea insists that Colombia needs a country in peace that allows it to live the joy of its children.
I am a human being who is proud of three things: Being a woman, being black and being Colombian.”
Born in Riosucio, Chocó, mother of two children, she promotes empowerment and resilience in memory of her mother María Ricardina Perea, who was taken away by the conflict. That is why she insists that she always prefers peace to the pains of war.
“I cannot change what I am, I am a human being, I was brutally raped, and now what I am living... I do not want anyone to go through what I lived. This is why the Peace Agreement is important to me, Yolanda, and as I have always said, I prefer an imperfect agreement instead of permanent war, and from that standpoint I raise my voice with others.”
One of his favourite words is “Juntanza” (togetherness) and so through various activities, she promotes closer ties. “What we did was to get together and starting from there, we began to write, paint, and weave on fabric so that this could be a process of emotional recovery. We weave the hope that tomorrow will be better, and it is going to be better because everyone is putting their two cents in to build a better and peaceful country.”
She, with her multicolour braids, invites everyone to embrace the Peace Agreement. “For me, that is the important thing about the peace agreement and that is why I defend it, I will continue to do so; I know this will cause me many threats, but I believe that my sons and daughters deserve a better, fairer, egalitarian, and peaceful country. My fellows deserve truth and justice and above all, the guarantee of non-repetition.”
By Elizabeth Yarce Ospina
Public Information Officer - Medellín Regional Office
UN Verification Mission in Colombia