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WOMEN IN THE FARC
Transcript of WOMEN IN THE FARC
Why do they join?
“A woman perceives injustice through every pore in her body; from the moment she is born, she is discriminated against.”
(Stanksi 2005, p. 139)
Women in the FARC
Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, Ejército del Pueblo,
the FARC– EP or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, People’s Army is Latin America’s oldest and most powerful leftist guerilla group.
It is often said the FARC began out of La Violencia, a period of vicious civil warfare between the Liberals and Conservatives that began in 1948. There was “no bloodier time in Colombian history… La Violencia left a scar on Colombia that would take decades to heal, and to many, still remains in the consciousness of daily life.” (Maddaloni 2009, p. 9). During this period, many rural squatters and peasants formed self-defense groups to protect their land from larger state landowners, later taking up arms and forming “independent republics”. (Dudley 2004, p. 10) In 1964 after the end of La Violencia, the Colombian government sent troops into areas such as Tolima, Quindío, Caldas, Risaralda, Huila, and parts of Cauca, Cundinamarca, and Meta to disarm the republics and to bring them back under state control (Méndez 2012 p. 73). In 1966, after the Communist guerrillas had regained their strength, they reorganized as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and later became a people’s army in 1982, adding Ejército del Pueblo to their name.
The FARC has been affected by Colombia’s changing political, economic, and social landscape. A primarily rural movement it is presently concentrated in the south and east of the country (Eccarius–Kelly 2012, p. 236). Similar to the Colombian Communist Party (PCC), the FARC initially pushed a “highly nationalistic, Marxist- Leninist platform of massive redistribution of land and wealth, state control of natural resources, and a substantial increase in social welfare” (Stanksi 2005, p. 138). Today this ideology has become more elastic and can be described as a mix of agrarianism, Marxism and ‘Boliviarism’. What began as a small peasant guerrilla army has transformed into a powerful, armed movement that poses a serious challenge to Colombia’s political landscape.
With equality as one of the driving forces of FARC ideology, the movement has embraced women in its cause. The group describes its political project as a means for women to fight for equal treatment and protection of their rights. In a statement denouncing the discrimination that
face, the FARC website “invites [all women] to participate in our just revolutionary fight for the New Colombia with social justice, for better living, dignity and independence.” (Stanski 2005, p. 140) The group distributes articles and pamphlets quoting statistics about poverty, forced displacement, and violence disproportionately affecting women to perpetuate the notion that Colombian women are oppressed, and thus need a movement such as the FARC to gain equal rights.
There are about 7,000 rebel fighters, and women and girls are thought to make up about 30 percent of FARC ranks, the government estimates
ARE WOMEN VICTIMS?
WOMEN IN CONFLICT
Motivations for Joining
When one thinks of wars, conflict and terrorism, of soldiers, guerrillas and combatants, primarily masculine images spring to mind. Men are understood to be the protagonists in warfare while women and children are imagined as inevitable victims; they are weaker, subordinate and targets of violent acts (Mendez 2012). Preconceived notions of men being the primary perpetrators of violence and the principal actors within warfare minimize the experiences of women who participate in conflict such as those who have fought alongside men in illegal armed groups, notably the FARC in Colombia which has a high rate of female guerillas or guerilleras. Little is known about these women and though they can be flagrant victims of violence in their own right, they have a notable role in combat as well as providing an insight into the complexities of gender relations in Colombian and Latin American society.
Anecdotal evidence and anthropological research indicate that the majority of female recruits make a conscious choice to become guerillas, but one based on the FARC being the preferred option of a dismal array of alternatives, rather than a statement based purely on idealism. (Tabak 2011, p. 13) Opportunities for rural women and girls are bleak, with limited access to education and high levels of gender-specific and family abuse. An alliance between the Catholic Church and conservative forces means that contraception and abortion are hard to come by and victims of domestic violence are often ignored. Many recruits find the access to fertility control an empowering experience as well as the authority and recognition that comes through wearing a uniform and carrying a gun. Joining presents the opportunity to escape traditional gender roles, which are continually reinforced in Latin America by the notions of
WOMEN IN THE FARC
Machismo and Marianismo
Machismo “dictates the attitudes, values and behaviours that men should adopt to be considered men and to feel that they are men” (Welsh 2001, p. 19), and sees power, domination and control as strictly male attributes. If machismo acts as a traditional code of behavior for Latino men, marianismo is the female equivalent. Derived from worship of the Virgin Mary as the ideal woman, it is characterized by “sacred duty to family, subordination to men, subservience, selflessness, self-renouncement and self-sacrifice, chastity before marriage, sexual passivity after marriage, and erotic repression” (Zayas 1987, p. 6). Both these concepts continue to permeate the Latin American mindset, affecting the social construction of masculinities and femininities that have led to the perception of an “immutable primacy of one gender over the other.” (Cabrera 2010, p. 35) Machismo and marianismo can be seen as not only provoking women to join the FARC, to escape these dichotomous gender roles, but also being responsible for the infiltration of sexist behaviours in the organization.
The FARC has been successful in harnessing the female presence within its ranks and has “structured their organization to squeeze maximum benefit from female recruitment” (Herrera & Porch 2008, p. 613). A female presence supports the FARC’s ideology of striving for an equal society and emphasises that it is a movement for all of Colombia. Furthermore, it helps to soften the image of what can otherwise be seen as an extremely violent guerilla group. Consequently, women of the FARC will often appear in photographs, interacting with civilians to demonstrate that the movement protects the interests and safety of women. The female presence also attracts and retains male guerrillas due to the provision of sexual partners to what “would otherwise compose a corps of forlorn, largely celibate male insurgents tempted to abandon the cause at the first whiff of perfume” (Herrera & Porch 2008, p. 614). Finally, the presence of young girls aids in discrediting the Colombian military by forcing it to open fire or attack people who typically act as non-combatants. This violates deeply held cultural beliefs and human rights norms and presents the FARC as a movement fighting for the rights and safety of Colombian people.
Why do the FARC need women?
The official policy of the FARC is that women have the same rights and thus the same duties as men and this is reflected in the training that combatants receive. Just like a male, a woman in the FARC may have to dig trenches, engage in combat, spy on or infiltrate government buildings, lead training programs and act as a nurse. However, although there are official claims of equality between men and women, some of the demands placed on women are gender specific and, beneath the apparent egalitarianism of the FARC, there are allegations of sexual abuse and discrimination against women that arguably stem from the entrenched understandings of gender roles in Latin American society.
Equality in the FARC
Women of the FARC are often painted as victims of sexual violence, and the issue of abuse continually arises when discussing the movement. While rape is a capital offense within the FARC and female
are free to refuse sex, FARC etiquette appears to require that ‘la
has embraced the revolution . . . therefore she must sleep with her
’. (Herrera & Porch 2008, p. 622) Sexual relations are seen as free from the emotional significance society places on them and instead, intercourse with fellow
demonstrates an active interest in the organization and its ideals. Female combatants also face infringement of their reproductive rights with forced contraception and abortion used in the FARC. Often, contraceptive injections are administered to
to prevent unwanted pregnancies but a combination of out-of-date drugs, inattention and sexual activity means that many female combatants fall pregnant. FARC policy is that they be required to abort in the first four months, although cases of late-term abortions are common, as well as babies being given away once they are born. There are also restrictions placed on romantic relationships, which are seen as a potential threat due to the possibility of the couple wanting to desert the organization to start a family. (Kunz & Sjöberg 2009, p. 29). Consequently, superiors can enforce the prolonged separation of couples. A couple is allowed to have sexual relations only on specific days and must ask the commander for permission to sleep together (Kunz & Sjöberg 2009, p. 27).
Women in the FARC as victims of abuse
The combination of these policies impinges gravely on females’ autonomy over their reproductive and sexual lives. Keith Stanski argues that, in relation to women’s equality in the FARC, “ideology allows substantial and substantive contradictions to pass unexamined.” (2005, p. 137) Consequently while elements of equality exist, it seems that gendered relations help to sustain the stability of the FARC and that interactions are still based on patriarchal interpretations. Treatment of female combatants stems from the same traditional understanding of gender that the FARC claims to reject. In other words, aspects of traditional gender roles are altered, but aspects of each gender that are conventionally considered to be “natural”, fuelled by the understandings of
, remain fundamental to the framework of the FARC.
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Image 3: The FARC has been accused of systematically recruiting child soldiers, though members say the average age of recruitment is between 16 and 18
Image 4: The Ideal Woman?
Image 5: Tanja Nimeijer, middle-class Dutch woman, who went to Colombia to teach English in the 1990s and ended up as a FARC fighter.
For many women, access to a weapon gives them an element of power and agency they would not have tradtionally
Image Reference List:
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