Claudia Mejía, the executive director of Sisma Mujer, a Colombian feminist organization. She helped incorporate gender elements into the country’s new peace agreement, which is now being renegotiated after a surprising “no” referendum vote.

BOGOTÁ — By a thin margin, Colombian voters said no in early October to a peace agreement to end the decades-long war in the country between the guerillas, FARC-EP, and the government. The painstakingly written peace pact was developed with considerable contributions from women to embed commitments to gender rights in the country’s post-conflict setting. Now those gender elements, new rights won for women by women and the LGBTI community, could be weakened.

What happens next is a renegotiation of the agreement by the end of the year, those involved in the process say. The agreement failed because some churches and the political right in the country questioned, among many other aspects, what they label a “gender ideology” threaded throughout the agreement, which they contend will unravel the basic fabric of Colombia’s very conservative society.

To clarify what the groundbreaking peace agreement achieved and its current status, Claudia Mejía, 58, the executive director of Sisma Mujer (meaning, loosely, earthquake woman), a Colombian feminist organization, was interviewed in August and in October in Bogotá, the capital. Her organization has been a force behind the women’s movement in the country since 1998.

Mejía has a law degree, a postgraduate degree in human rights and women and a master’s degree in arts in peace studies and development. She is also a co-founder of the National Network of Women (Red Nacional de Mujeres), which has advanced initiatives in women’s rights.

More recently, as part of the peace talks that took place over the last four years in Havana, Cuba, Mejía was invited by the sub-commission on gender to the Summit on Women and Peace (Cumbre Nacional de Mujeres y Paz), as part of a gender experts group to recommend ways to incorporate gender and women’s rights in the peace agreement and the post-conflict milieu. The topic of sexual violence against women was one of the most difficult discussions, she said, for the two sides to broach.

In the interview, Mejía analyzes how a female and feminist perspective permeates the agreement and delves into why it was rejected and how the gender component can be saved. The conversation was done in Spanish and translated by Flisi and has been edited and condensed.


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