Soldier with FARC badge on jacket

Gender inclusion transforms rather than threatens elite bargains to end conflict

This article was written by Alexandra Phelan and Jacqui True
This article was published on

In this piece, authors Alexandra Phelan and Jacqui True give a summary of the arguments raised in their new article for BISA journal Review of International Studies (RIS). The full article is titled 'Navigating gender in elite bargains: Women's movements and the quest for inclusive peace in Colombia'.


Despite a growing body of Women, Peace and Security (WPS) scholarship, advocacy and policy that connects the participation of women and the inclusion of gender provisions to the sustainability of peace settlements, women continue to be excluded from peace processes. How and why do women's groups navigate gender power structures to push for participation in elite bargaining processes aimed at ending armed conflict? And how are they able to negotiate sensitive issues, especially gendered violence, within these deeply political processes?


Our article argues that Colombia’s 2016 Peace Agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the Santos administration is a significant case for examining these questions: The agreement has been internationally applauded for for its ‘gender-based approach’, and the inclusion of gender provisions that directly benefit women. We demonstrate how women’s groups navigate gender power structures and gendered forms of violence within complex and fragile political bargaining processes drawing upon original field research in Colombia between 2017 and 2019.


Previous research assumes that to bring an end to conflict, the process cannot be inclusive. By contrast we show how the inclusion of women was pivotal in transforming the elite bargaining process and power structures within the Santos government and FARC during the Colombian Peace Agreement process. It not only allowed for greater and more diverse participation for women in the post-conflict stage today, but it is also resulted in the inclusion of gender perspectives in the actual peace agreement itself. Furthermore, the mass mobilisation of women’s civil society groups was highly intersectional, and a common agenda was set amongst rural, indigenous and afro-Colombian groups which is not often seen in all peace processes. We maintain that this political mobilisation and navigation of political differences among diverse women’s constituencies played a key role in agitating for both the Santos administration and FARC to commit to formal steps in ensuring greater women’s participating in both elite process and the post-conflict phase.


The announcement of elite peace negotiations between the Santos administration and FARC resulted in various women’s civil society organisations uniting, mobilising politically, and to begin to demand women’s participation in the process. One of the earliest displays of success in grassroots organisations opening the peace process to Colombian women was the National Summit of Women for Peace. The summit provided an opportunity for 449 women representatives from different sectors at the regional and national levels to share their views and experiences. A representative from UN Women in Colombia explained that for her, this was an incredibly important milestone in the peace process as women were able “interact with the higher level”.


Women's civil society political mobilisation played a key role in agitating for both the Santos government and FARC to commit to ensuring greater women's participation in both the elite process and post-conflict phase. On the government side, President Santos's commitment to an inclusive agenda (including the participation of rural, indigenous, and Afro-descendent populations) that stressed structural transformation through the renegotiation of political settlement bolstered the momentum for the participation of women. On FARC's side, the formation of Mujeres Farianas under the framework of ‘insurgent feminism’ enabled women to secure high-level representation within the FARC and set-in-train incremental steps towards ensuring women's participation in the post-conflict phase.


Women negotiators on both sides connected to the women’s movements secured the incorporation of a ‘gender- based approach’ to the Colombia peace agreement: including, not only provisions aimed at gender equality and socioeconomic development in the agreement itself, but mechanisms for implementation in the post-conflict phase. One key mechanism, the Gender Sub-Commission, was particularly significant as it was established while the elite peace process was taking place. The Gender Sub-Commission was mandated to review and guarantee a gender-perspective in the partial agreements already agreed upon, as well as in the agreement that emerged from the dialogues. Despite having no formal decision-making authority, the Gender Sub-Commission played a role in guaranteeing the incorporation of a gender-based approach and specific provisions securing women’s participation in the Comprehensive Rural Reform, in Political Representation (new seats in the Colombian Parliament) and the Solution to Illicit Drugs.


The Colombian case shows how both elite and vertical, non-elite entry points can facilitate women's inclusion and influence gender perspectives transforming elite bargains. It provides lessons for other peace processes and exclusionary contexts. We highlight three such lessons: First, our study suggests that context-rich political bargaining is essential to navigating gender in any elite domain. That bargaining is likely to be multi-sited, as well as vertical and horizontal. Our understanding of political bargaining in conflict-peace transitions needs to account for internal bargaining processes within the diversity of civil society and across women's organisations as well as between these groups and elite parties. Second, this insight on the context-richness of political bargaining dynamics has further implications for how we study women's meaningful participation in peace as emphasised by the WPS agenda, and women's mobilisation in male-dominated, exclusionary political settings. While we have good evidence at the general level that women's participation can be instrumental in concluding and sustaining of peace agreements, we need much more nuanced evidence on the political dynamics within women groups or civil society movements and the bargaining processes between these groups and elite actors. Finally, the Colombian case highlights the importance of practically operationalising intersectional gender analysis in peace processes to make them stick. Outside of the horizontal elite negotiations, stakeholders from government, FARC and civil society understood that a gender-based approach with vertical inclusion for women in a final political settlement would also work to sustain and build the peace in very diverse communities.


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