WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
25 Oct 2016 | Commentary

Debunking the myths about “Gender Ideology” in Colombia


Article written by Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, WOLA Senior Associate for the Andes and Cristina Camacho, WOLA Colombia Program Intern

Colombians voted “No” in the October 2 plebiscite by a margin of less than 1 percent; a result that shocked the entire world. The plebiscite proposed the adoption of a Peace Accord between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla. Given that the result of the referendum had been foreseen as a strong “yes” by all polls and media, it’s important to understand why the “No” won. Some in the “No” campaign took advantage of the fear and intolerance that prevails in Colombian society, and convinced them that the Accord intends to impose a so-called “Gender Ideology.” This refers to the gender and differential focus that is included in the Accord – a fact that has been applauded by the international community.

It’s important to debunk the myths of this “Gender Ideology” advanced by the No camp, as no decision should be based on lies and misinformation.

Myth 1: “A Gender Ideology is being imposed by the UN”

The Accord doesn’t seek to impose any gender ideology. What it does seek, is to protect women’s and LGBTI communities’ human rights, as they have been disproportionately affected by the conflict, and have been victims of specific risks and consequences during the conflict. It was an initiative supported by the UN, that complies with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Declaration, the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and a number of other international treaties. It further complies with norms of the Colombian Constitution and Colombian national law. Both the Constitutional Court and the Penal Code have defined that cases of intolerance and discrimination related to gender or sexual orientation, are crimes deserving greater punishment. Because of this, a differential gender focus is included in the Accord, with the goal of assuring their particular needs and interests are taken into account.

Myth 2: “The Accord only incorporates the interests of feminists, and not of women with traditional roles”

The rights and interests of all women were incorporated through the Gender Sub-commission in Havana. The sub-commission was created after various civil society women’s organizations pressured for more feminine representation among the negotiators of the government and the FARC. The sub-commission served as a platform to give a voice to women victims, combatants, and foreign gender experts. It counted with extensive participation of civil society to identify the most important gender topics and integrate them in the Accord. Victim delegations, 60% of which were women, and 18 women and LGBTI organizations presented themselves to the sub-commission. Recommendations were given by Colombian experts on sexual violence and ex-guerrillas from South Africa, Northern Ireland, Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia, Uruguay, and Colombia. There was also permanent support by experts from Colombia, Cuba, Norway, and the UN . Afro-descendant and Indigenous delegations of the Ethnic Commission for Peace and Defense of Territorial Rights in Cuba also advocated for the inclusion, participation, and guarantee of human rights for afro-descendant and indigenous women.

The gender focus in the Accord is based on the opinions and recommendations given by this wide range of participants. The special provisions in the Accord focus primarily on supporting rural women and victims. Gender-specific provisions are included in points 1 (integral rural reform), 2 (political participation), 4 (drugs), and 5 (victims) in the final Accord. These points guarantee women access to land, to social, economic, and cultural rights, to political participation and representation, protection measures against gender-specific risks, access to truth, justice and non-repetition, institutional action to strengthen women’s organizations, and disaggregation of data by gender. It also stipulates the creation of a working group within the “Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence, and Non-Repetition” to reveal how the conflict affected women specifically.

Myth 3: Crimes against humanity have been left unpunished

Wrong. Point 5 of the Final Accord makes it clear that crimes against humanity cannot be amnestied within the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. On page 133, point 5, the Accord says, “There are crimes that cannot be amnestied or appealed for clemency, in conformity with the numbers 40 and 41 of this document. It is not allowed to amnesty crimes against humanity, or other crimes defined under the Rome Statute.” The gender sub-commission was able to include violent carnal access and other forms of sexual violence in the category of crimes that cannot be amnestied. Within the Investigation and Accusation Unit, a special team will be created to investigate cases of sexual violence (page 149).

Myth 4: “If men were the ones to fight the war, why include women?”

Because women have been disproportional victims of war. The Colombian Constitutional Court Auto 092 of 2008 finds that within the context of armed conflict, women have been exposed to certain gender-specific risks. These include sexual violence, enslavement to perform domestic labor, murder or forced disappearance of their economic provider, and forced displacement, among others. According to the National Information Network, women have suffered more forced displacement, sexual violence, and threats than men. They’ve suffered forced dispossession of land and homicide in equal amounts to men. Furthermore, women form 40% of the FARC ranks, which requires special consideration in the Accord as it pertains to reintegration and political participation. Some of these women have also suffered violations to their sexual and reproductive rights. Oftentimes, they were forced to separate from their children and leave them in the care of someone else. The rights and special conditions of these women must also be taken into account to guarantee a condition of equality.

Myth 5: “Our sons and daughters will be homosexual”

It is false that the Accord seeks to impose a so-called “Gender Ideology” that in any way promotes homosexuality or seeks to affect children’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Rather, they seek to create an equal and non-discriminatory environment in Colombia, where differences don’t become reasons for violence. This myth emerged from an earlier scandal tied to the ex-minister of education, Gina Parody, a lesbian woman. The publication of a document by Parody and the Ministry of Education was interpreted as a campaign by the Ministry to advance a “gender ideology” and force schools to include it in their school guidelines. This document, titled “School Environments Free of Discrimination”, is a guide written in conjunction with the UN that offers practical recommendations to schools on how to engage in discussions about sexual orientation and identity with their students, in order to prevent discrimination. The guide resulted from an order given by the Constitutional Court to review school guidelines, following the tragic suicide of Sergio Urrego – a victim of homophobic attacks . The designation of Gina Parody as a leader for the “Yes” campaign led many to associate her new role with this school guide, and believe she was still trying to impose the supposed “gender ideology.” Finally, the LGBTI population is a category of victims that has suffered specific violence and attacks by armed groups due to their sexual orientation. This is something that must be recognized and amended so that it is possible to, as William Castañeda from “Caribe Afirmativo” says, “Reach a society free from discrimination and with equal rights for everyone.” In this sense, Colombia is an example for the rest of the world.

Myth 6: “The Accord promotes abortion”

The Final Accord does not even include the word “abortion.” The gender focus, as it has been explained, seeks to guarantee equal rights and standard of living for women and LGBTI communities. It is possible that sexual and reproductive rights of women are included under the guarantees to protection and prevention of gender-specific risks, or economic, social, and cultural rights. Nonetheless, the Accord makes no mention of abortion.