The Colombian Election: What does it mean for gender equality?

A conversation with the National Coordinator of La Ruta Pacifica, Marina Gallego Zapata, on what the recent Colombian election means for peace and equality.

This is the first election of left-wing president and a black woman as vice president. Why are these such significant victories for Colombia?

This election result is very significant as it’s the first time the Left in Colombia have come to power in the 200 years of this republic, so it’s a very new situation that has created a lot of hope in the population, especially in territories most affected by the armed conflict. The fact that Francia Márquez was elected – a black woman who comes from and represents these regions and communities – demonstrates that in Colombia things are moving. People in these regions feel it’s possible for their agendas to be taken into account by this alternative government, whose agenda is to overcome gaps in inequality between the centre and the periphery, which is not peripheral at all but is super important – the Pacific Coast, the Atlantic Coast, the south of the country. The whole border region is still affected by the armed conflict, so the idea of a government that can implement the peace agreement with the FARC and agree a peace deal with other armed groups generates lots of hope in these regions and the country in general, to overcome the conflict and have the possibility of true peace. Of course, there will always be conflicts but for the country to be able to dedicate itself to working on issues of inequality, economic, social and cultural problems, and for security to play just a small part like in other countries, that’s very important for us as Colombians. 

Was gender equality a central issue in the election campaign? What changes do you hope this result will bring for Colombian women? 

The theme of gender equality became important mainly in the second round when it became clear that women could be decisive in the vote but I must say the issue still was not at the centre of the campaign, nor is it at the centre of this government’s agenda or of the other candidate. So, we still have work to do but the expectation is that in this alternative government we will advance. Maybe we won’t be able to achieve everything that the feminist movement wants but there will be advances. So, the expectation is, with the peace agreement too, the issue of women’s rights will have a big push in these 4 years. This is also in the recommendations of the Truth Commission that have just come out, and in the new president’s agenda and the new congress that was also just elected, and there is a number of congresspeople that can act as a critical mass so we can start to see these important changes. 

What do you think this victory will mean for the implementation of the Colombian Peace Accords and the achievement of the SDGs? 

Part of the commitment of the new President and congress is to achieve complete peace in Colombia, a vital impulse that had diminished with the last government. The agreement has elements about inequality in general, territorial equality and a focus on the most excluded and vulnerable populations. I think that the peace agreement is an adequate instrument that is already approved constitutionally, so it’s really about political will and prioritizing the agreement so the conditions of these regions and populations most affected start seeing changes, and the elements of the conflict that still persist are addressed. The SDGs will have importance too and we must advance in the achievement of these, especially in terms of land reform, education, justice and peace, and hunger which is a commitment of the new president – to eradicate hunger and become self-sufficient in agriculture. And of course, for gender equality which I think will have an important push as it is part of the broader agenda to overcome inequalities and there will be a Minister of Equality which we will advocate with to ensure women are at the centre of this equality. 

How do you hope this result will impact the work of La Ruta Pacifica and how do you hope to work together with the government over the coming years? 

La Ruta has been working for 25 years to become a visible actor in terms of peace. I have just been elected to the monitoring committee of the recommendations of the Truth Commission which is closely linked to the peace agreement and the reforms that the government is proposing so we think there will be a favourable environment to push for La Ruta’s agenda in general and the peace agreement and recommendations of the Commission which is an effort La Ruta has been closely engaged with.  Also, in the new Congress there are some women who support some feminist issues and some who have declared themselves feminist; I think that’s also an important opportunity. So, in this sense we think these 4 years will be like a reaping of the harvest for all the work La Ruta has done to become a visible and important actor in the country. 

Read more about the work of La Ruta and peace in Colombia:

La implementación del Acuerdo de Paz, un camino de oportunidad para Colombia y el mundo frente al avance de la Agenda 2030 y los ODS

Colombia: Using data to tell the story of gender inequality

What does the 2022 SDG Gender Index reveal for Colombia

Advancing Gender Equality: Leveraging the Sustainable Development Goals as we mark International Human Rights Day 2020

By Aarushi Khanna, Regional Coordinator Equal Measures 2030 and Paula Trujillo, Policy and Advocacy Advisor 2030

Sai Jyothirmai Racherla (Sai) Deputy Executive Director of ARROW, EM2030’s regional partner in Asia — does not see universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights as mutually exclusive but rather mutually reinforcing and complementary. On this International Human Rights Day, we spoke to Sai. In this conversation, she tells us about the opportunities and experiences of feminist organizations engaging in international, regional, and national human rights mechanisms and frameworks to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and ensure accountability for women’s and girls’ rights.

According to Sai Jyothirmai Racherla the right to decide if or when to become pregnant — or whether to continue a pregnancy or not — is a fundamental human right which cannot be fulfilled unless duty bearers ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Similarly, preventable maternal deaths are a violation of the right to life, and reduction of maternal mortality ratio is a key SDG indicator

For ARROW, the Agenda 2030 and human rights frameworks are inextricably linked. Achieving the SDG goals will pave the way to fulfilling, defending, and protecting all human rights to ensure the SDC principle of “leaving no one behind” which clearly leans on non-discrimination and equality.

“Despite resistance and difficulties [towards women and girls’ rights in the current political climate] these spaces have upheld gender equality and SRHR through persistent efforts of women, youth and LGBTIQ advocates” she explains.

ARROW — alongside with their partners including youth-led, youth serving, women led, LGBTIQ, and CSOs from across the Asia Pacific region — have engaged with the SDG process prior to its adoption in 2015. Together with other women’s rights organizations, they have worked tirelessly to contribute to the progressive gender equality-focused, sexuality-affirming language of the resolution, the goals, targets, and indicators. Together with partners, they engage at all levels in the SDG processes such as the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) and the monitoring of the SDG Goal 5 on gender equality progress in 19 Asian countries.

Equally, EM2030’s regional partner in Asia engages regularly and systematically with the Human Rights Council (HRC), where they have seen affirmative responses around gender equality and SRHR. For example, the Violence Against Women (VAW) resolution in June 2015 had progressive SRHR and gender equality language and was the first ever UN resolution incorporating the term “comprehensive sexuality education”. Likewise, Sai notes, the 2018 UN annual resolution on Discrimination Against Women and Girls (DAWG) played an important role in calling for the development and enforcement of policies, good practices, and legal frameworks that respect the right to bodily autonomy “a crucial concept around SRHR, including on abortion, since the Beijing Conference”.

But where do data and evidence play a role in engaging with these mechanisms and processes? For ARROW this role is clear: their key strategy as an advocacy organization is to monitor governmental commitments to women’s health using rights-based and gender-sensitive indicators both in line with the SDGs and the human rights framework. ARROW uses data and evidence to measure progress, gaps and challenges around gender equality and SRHR in their countries of interest. This information helps hold governments accountable for their commitments made in international, regional and national norms, law and policy contexts. For Sai “data and evidence-based advocacy is crucial to the development of laws, policies and programmes [to advance gender equality]”.

So, what do organisations need to effectively use these mechanisms and galvanize the advocacy opportunities they represent?

“We need to establish [for example] formal communication [channels] between the HRC and the SDG annual follow up and review processes. Both processes should link up with each other to ensure human rights are protected, fulfilled, defended and respected for all equally and equitably and development is ensured in all its diversity and inclusiveness” she explains.

Human rights and sustainable development frameworks offer complementarities that can be harnessed. ARROW’s experience shows that these mechanisms are windows of opportunity that are being used by feminist organizations to support their national and regional advocacy strategies for the advancement of gender equality. Data and evidence collected locally and nationally are powerful tools that reflect the living reality of women and girls taking into account all their intersecting identities and therefore influence the design, implementation and monitoring of gender sensitive policies, laws and budgets that guarantee their human rights.