COLOMBIA – Diana Lozado was 21 when she left her home city of Nieva and fled into the jungle to fight with the FARC. She had always been fascinated by the guerrilla movement and its fight against inequality in the countryside, and Lozado wanted to be part of it.
“I only knew the FARC in theory, but I wanted to be part of the practice,” she said. “It was a necessity that we (women) show that we could also be part of this fight.”
And they were.
Women in the FARC make up an estimated 45 percent of the guerrilla force, and for years fought alongside men under the roughest jungle conditions. But now they’ve reached a new stage in their struggle: bringing down the patriarchy and introducing their version of feminism to mainstream politics.
Today, Lozado is one of over 7,000 ex-combatants who have put down their arms and started the reintegration process into civilian life – part of the peace deal signed between the FARC and the Colombian government last year. The Marxist-Leninist group has been fighting for land reforms and weath redistribution in the countryside for over 50 years, in one of the most unequal countries in Latin America.
The FARC has vowed to continue its fight through party politics, under its new name, the People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force. The women involved are making sure that equal rights are at the forefront of it, in a movement they call “insurgent feminism.”
But while the guerrilla feminist movement was created for the need to fight against female oppression, it grew out of the women’s struggle in society and in the guerrilla itself.
According to many of the ex-combatants, women often looked to the FARC as an escape from the oppression they felt at home or in their communities. In some cases that meant physical abuse by dominating male figures, threats or violence by paramilitary groups, and constricting gender roles.
Lozado said she didn’t know anything about feminist theory when she decided to join the guerrilla over 20 years ago, but that the “differences and major inequalities between men and women” around her became a motivating factor to join.
The FARC offered a militant structure, where everyone – regardless of gender – shared daily tasks and had the same responsibilities. Where everyone cooked, bathed, and marched at the same pace.
“I fell in love with the guerrilla,” said Olga Marin, a former member of the Colombian Communist party who joined the FARC in 1981. “Really it was a small socialist life. For example, cooking wasn’t just for women, everyone had to do it.”
The newly formed FARC political party’s feminist platform includes women’s emancipation, equal access to education, equal pay, the right to work outside the home, equal participation in politics, and of course fighting violence against women.
This is what the organization calls “collective empowerment,” saying society itself will become stronger when women are empowered, according to its Women and Gender Thesis.
Colombia has long been known as a machista (or male chauvinist) society, with experts saying this is the cause of female oppression and the high levels of gender-based violence in the country. According to Colombia’s National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science (INMLCF), there were over 1,000 femicides in Colombia in 2014 alone. That same year, there were also 37,881 registered cases of violence against women by their partners, and 16,088 registered cases of sexual abuse – in 86 percent of these cases, the victims were children and adolescents. And these are only the reported cases, but experts believe the vast majority of violence and abuse goes unreported…