BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After a year of peace talks between Colombia's government and FARC Marxist rebels, the government has appointed a woman to be part of its chief negotiating team for the first time, in a long overdue move to ensure women's voices are heard at the Havana talks, several lawmakers said.
Nigeria Renteria is expected to leave her current job as the presidential advisor on women's rights within weeks to join nine government negotiators in Cuba, where the two sides are hoping to reach a peace accord to end Colombia's 50-year-old war that has killed more than 200,000 civilians and displaced over five million.
Following Renteria's appointment as a key peace negotiator, lawmaker Alfonso Prada, said she would play an important role in brokering any possible peace deal.
"Women make up half of the population and are the victims that have suffered most because of the violence. She (Renteria) will become an unparalleled complement for the success of this mission," Prada is quoted as saying in Colombia’s Vanguardia newspaper.
Women and children, particularly from Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups, have borne the brunt of Colombia's long conflict and they make up the majority of those displaced by the fighting between warring factions, rights groups say.
Over the decades, thousands of women and children have also been victims of sexual violence, which has been used as a weapon of war in Colombia's conflict.
Renteria's new mission was also welcomed by prominent lawmaker and head of the Democratic Pole party, Clara Lopez.
"The presence of a woman gives a different perspective, which will turn into a peace builder," she said.
WOMEN CRUCIAL IN PEACE PROCESSES
Including a woman at the main negotiating table brings Colombia in line with its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as well as United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008).
Both U.N. resolutions underscore the need, and importance, for women to play a pivotal role in all stages of peace talks and post conflict processes and for women's rights to be respected in peace negotiations.
Over the last decade, there's been growing recognition among international bodies and policy makers that including women in all stages of a peace process strengthens the prospects for sustainable peace, helps rebuild broken communities and reintegrate demobilised fighters back into civilian life.
Still, women continue to be poorly represented in peace processes across the world.
According to the United Nations, in a sample of the world's 31 major peace processes between 1992 and 2011, women represented only 4 percent of signatories, 2.4 percent of chief mediators, 3.7 percent of witnesses and 9 percent of negotiators.
The next round of Colombia's peace talks in Havana is expected to resume later this month when the government and FARC rebels will tackle the thorny issue of cocaine production and the drug trade, the third issue in a six-point agenda.
So far, the two sides have reached two partial agreements on land reform and the FARC’s participation in political life.