Women conscientious objectors in Colombia

Back to table of contents

It was back in 1924 that there was the first instance of women objecting to compulsory military service. Union leader Carlota Rua, during the first Workers' Congress, opened the debate on the obligation of military service by arguing that young workers and peasants should not be taken from their land, where they contributed to the country with their work, to be forced into destroy it as part of the arm. This same initiative prompted another group of women to oppose the recruitment of their sons and husbands during the war against Peru, making their objection public and generating debate inside the country [1].

As the years have passed, women have continued to organise initiatives against the internal war, in search of peace and solutions to the armed conflict based on mediation. It is worth mentioning the efforts of the working table “Women and Armed Conflict”, that brings together diverse organisations and individuals to investigate and question the multiple forms of violence that affect women, young women and girls in the context of the armed conflict in Colombia – work highly relevant as gender violence was invisible, despite the harshness of violent acts against the female gender by the different armed actors [2].

Equally important is the work of the Alliance “Colombian Women's Initiatives for Peace”, again bringing groups together on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (approved 31 October 2000) calling for participation of women's groups in negotiations and dialogue about armed conflict and for recognition of their contribution to processes of reconciliation and reducing the impact of armed conflict on women [3]. These organisations have carried out important work, intervening in political debate, as well as through social work and public demonstrations.

Although within the conscientious objection movement itself, the gender perspective is not so clear, since women are as much reflected as men in the principles of active nonviolent, antimilitarism in the full vision of the structural causes and atmosphere of war as well as in the advocacy of solutions and alternatives from diverse angles, women have an essential relevance within the movement. In our country, where only men are obliged to do military service, the position of women has gone far beyond solidarity with friends, partners or sons, to contribute work and initiatives in the construction of a Colombia that is learning to transform its conflicts without resort to violence, a Colombia more equitable and without the sharp social injustices that fuel all the country's problems. From this point of view, the work on conscientious objection has especially spread through the development of an alternative pedagogy, reaching out to children, youth and adults of all social and cultural traditions with its promotion of nonviolence. At the same time, it has extended its perspectives to address themes such as the injustice of excessive charges of public services, the importance of fair trade (trade that is just, conscious and in solidarity), and the creativity of direct action. In these areas of work, women have made a vital contribution.

It is also relevant to note as well the state's system of conscription, groups rather outside the law – such as guerrillas and paramilitaries – recruit both coercively and voluntarily men and women under the banner of gender equality. This is why it has been so important to have women declare themselves as conscientious objectors, refusing to participate in any army or contribute in any way to the machisto, patriarchal and militarist culture that maintains the harsh violence Colombia suffers.

In this way, women within the CO movement in Colombia have made it possible to take up both the problem and the proposed alternatives to war from a broad perspective, understanding the complexity of the Colombian reality and the need to propose deep and structural alternatives. It is touching that we are the ones who have most power to call people to take part in public acts and that men, apart from feeling accompanied in their refusal of military service, recognise us as equally important within the movement, knowing that everybody needs to commit themselves sould, heart and hands in the transformation of everyday life and the policies that support war.

Andrea Ochoa
Objetora de Conciencia, Bogotá, Colombia.

Notes:

[1] Giraldo, Jhon. “La Objeción de Conciencia en Colombia: una historia en movimiento” publicado en http://www.nodo50.org/moc-carabanchel/campa%F1as/objecion/15m04_colombia_agresion.htm
[2] Web page of Mesa de Mujer y Conflicto Armado en Colombia http://www.mujeryconflictoarmado.org/lamesa.html
[3] Web page of Iniciativa Mujeres por la Paz: http://www.mujeresporlapaz.org/