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What The Peace Rejection Means For Colombia's Women And Children

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to stay in Colombia now and hear more about some of the people who've been profoundly affected by the past half century of violence, namely women and children. According to a Colombian think tank, women and children represent the majority of the 5.7 million people who've been internally displaced because of this long-running conflict. And in 2012, the Colombian constitutional court found that sexual violence has been so widespread as to be systemic. They say it has been committed by government and paramilitary and rebel forces.

So we want to focus on what women have been experiencing during the conflict and now in the efforts to make peace. Reporter Jasmine Garsd is in Colombia. Jasmine, thanks so much for joining us.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So let's go back to why the peace deal fell apart. Now, we know that opponents of the deal wanted tougher punishments for rebels accused of war crimes, but we're also told now that gender issues played a role, too. How so?

GARSD: Absolutely. I mean, there was a pretty massive campaign from the far right which they were supporting the no to talk about clauses in the peace accord that spoke about, quote, unquote, "gender politics," advancing the rights of LGBT, especially. And that really struck a nerve in the conservative Colombian sphere. There were a lot of discussions about how this was going to attack the Catholic family, and gender politics was going to destroy Colombian way of life.

MARTIN: Well, I'm just puzzled, though. Can you just give us a little bit more detail about this? I mean, did the peace agreement offer some specific protections for people who were members of the LGBT community or - what exactly was their objection?

GARSD: Sure. There was a very small portion of it. I mean, really - it was smaller than the outrage that it caused in which it talked about the need to advance the LGBT community rights and to keep them in mind as the peace process moved forward. I mean, in no small part because during the conflict, a lot of those sex crimes that we're talking about were homophobic. I mean, the brunt of the war was definitely on not just women and children, but if you were, you know, a member of the LGBT community, you were in serious trouble.

There was also a really important clause about women, about advancing the justice of women who had been victims of war crimes and also returning women's land rights, you know, giving land to women who had been destituted.

MARTIN: Could you talk more about how women were targeted during the war and how LGBT people were targeted during the war?

GARSD: LGBT people got, you know, targeted from every end. I mean, the homophobia was really massive and definitely within the ranks of the FARC. Being homosexual was not allowed. As for women, I mean, the sex crimes were just atrocious. I mean, you have entire regions in which there were mass rapes, disappearances, forced sterilization. I mean, women were considered the spoils of war. But not just that, I mean, women were also considered - if you attacked a woman, it was like a way to humiliate the community, to humiliate the men and to punish the men.

MARTIN: So now that this sort of - the peace process is sort of in stasis and that there's an attempt to revisit some of these issues in an attempt to get an agreement that the whole of society can buy into, what do the negotiations look like for women and for LGBT people going forward?

GARSD: Well, everyone I spoke to is really concerned. You know, they want to make sure that whatever the next peace agreement in its next iteration looks like that it still has clauses for women and for LGBT people, especially as, you know, so many of the sexual aggressions and sex crimes do not go reported. You know, I'm going to tell you a little anecdote. I was heading to the Caribbean, and I had all these women lined up to talk to me about how they had been sexually abused by this one war criminal who, by the way, has at least 150 children in the region, many by product of rape.

And they all wanted to talk to me about it. And when the country voted no to the peace accord, every single one of them canceled on me because they were so scared because they felt that it was a victory of the paramilitary group, and they felt like, well, maybe peace is not here to stay, so I better just keep quiet. And that's something that advocates keep talking to me about, you know, how are we going to reach victims if we don't have absolutely sure peace?

MARTIN: That was Jasmine Garsd, reporter for Across Women's Lives. It's a project of Public Radio International. She spoke to us from Bogota, Colombia. Jasmine, thanks so much for speaking with us.

GARSD: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.