March 27, 2023

With the promise of gender parity, Gustavo Petro bets on a feminist government in Colombia

Read Time:7 Minute, 48 Second

(CNN Spanish) — Little by little, the elected president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, has been uncovering his cards to form the Government that will begin on August 7. Petro, who will be accompanied by Francia Márquez as his vice president, the first black woman to hold this position, has promised gender parity in his government.

The bet is not minor, when his government plan begins with the promise that “change is with women” and that they “will occupy, at least, 50% of all public positions at all levels and branches of power, which will allow them to promote decision-making in favor of change.” In addition, in a country that by law requires at least 30% of women’s participation in politics, the commitment to gender parity is quite ambitious.

Many sectors have applauded the appointments that have been made so far in some Ministries that will be led by women whose experience is consistent with the appointment.

So far Petro has made a number of key appointments to his ministries, which will be headed by women:

  • Francia Márquez will be not only the vice president, but also the first minister of Equality and Women (although the creation of that ministry is a long process and is not on the immediate agenda of the new government).
  • Cecilia López will be Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. She already held this position in the mid-1990s during the government of Ernesto Samper.
  • Carolina Corcho Mejía: Minister of Health and Social Protection.
  • Susana Muhamad: Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development.
  • Patricia Ariza: Minister of Culture.

Another key appointment is that of Leonor Zalabata Torres, who will be Colombia’s ambassador to the UN. Zalabata Torres is an Arawak indigenous woman with a long history as a human rights defender. For her activism, Zalabata Torres received the Anna Lindh Prize awarded by the Swedish Social Democratic Party in 2007.

In addition, Petro also appointed the Embera indigenous lawyer Patricia Tobón as director of the Victims Unit in his next government.

Why is it important to appoint women to positions of power?

Feminists consulted by CNN emphasize that it is not only enough to appoint women to public positions, but that representation must have weight and coherence.

“It’s not enough to name women. You need to not only be represented, but include a feminist agenda,” she told CNN. Angela Maria Robledoa former congresswoman and renowned feminist who was Petro’s vice-presidential ticket in 2018.

Robledo points out that although there is expectation with the appointments of ministers of the Petro Government, the truth is that those appointed so far have a very outstanding political and professional career and have a “deep commitment” with the social transformation of Colombia.

“This government is just beginning, but there are trajectories for feminists: their biographies are fundamental and what one has done in the past is an expression of their commitment to a women’s agenda”, as well as a commitment to the peace, human rights and compliance with the Constitution, assured Robledo.

Meanwhile, according to Dora Saldarriaga, a Medellin councilor from the We’re Ready Movement —the first feminist movement to go to elections in Colombia— appointing women to public office is a first step to “feminize politics.”

“It doesn’t just have to do with the appointment, because let’s say it’s not just putting women for women, but also a change of priorities on the government’s agenda,” he told CNN.

Gustavo Petro during a feminist debate on June 2 in Bogotá, Colombia, before winning the 2022 presidential elections. (Credit: DANIEL MUNOZ / AFP)

Gender parity in the Petro Government

Juliana Hernández, executive director of Artemisas, a feminist political advocacy NGO, and of the Paridad Ya campaign, which works for the representation of women in politics, says that it is important to give women a voice because they have historically been excluded from the exercise power. And being 52% of the population of Colombia, not including these sectors is “a huge mistake in understanding who we women are for this society.”

“It is important to include the voice of women because they have been excluded (from society) and they are excluded for a very simple reason: it is that we have never had the structural conditions to be in the most important decision-making, who are the ones who decide” Hernandez added.

According to Saldarriaga, feminisms in politics do not only seek a change in favor of women, but also a structural change to guarantee rights for all.

“Having a feminist agenda does not mean saying that it is only for women, but for the structural changes in the country, for the social majorities that have always been in the social and gender gaps,” Saldarriaga told CNN.

“They are not just ministries, but (a policy) that is also transversal,” added Saldarriaga.

And according to Hernández, political parity “is not only built by putting more women in power,” but also by listening to those who have historically worked for equality.

Olamendi: Latin America is marked by misogyny 1:49

“Without feminism, the National Agreement does not work”

A couple of weeks ago, dozens of feminist groups sent a letter to President-elect Gustavo Petro and its vice president, Francia Márquez, asking to be included in the national agreement, saying that “without women… and feminisms, the National Agreement will not work.”

The Petro National Agreement is a governance alliance that invites parties from across the political spectrum to generate governance from Congress.

“Feminisms as a political force have carried out, in this country, one of the most important revolutions in the life of the nation, expanding the margins of democracy, the recognition of economic, social, cultural, reproductive and sexual rights, to women in our identity and sexual diversities”, says the letter.

The fact that so far they have not been called is a blow to feminists, because they say that sectors that are working in the territories in search of human rights are not being listened to.

“If you are going to see the National Agreement, there has not been a call to the feminist sectors or to the women’s sectors,” Juliana Hernández, of Paridad Ya, told CNN.

According to Hernández, what they seek is “to have a voice and be recognized as part of a society that has worked to build the peace agreement.”

Feminist groups have also complained because they say they have been excluded from Petro’s joint group and instead have been included within “population sectors”, that is, as indigenous, black, palenqueros and not as women, since women are transversally part of of all these groups: “There, from the outset, there is a huge mistake in understanding who we women are for this society,” Hernández said about the lack of representation in the Petro junction group.

CNN reached out to Petro’s splicing group for comment on the lack of women on the team. Their response was that they are not aware of said complaint. They made no further comment.

Women as leaders in the recovery of the social fabric

Colombia is a country in which women have had the greatest weight in the war. In the chapter on women and conflict, the Report of the Truth Commission, published in June 2022, establishes that the conflict affected women in “different ways”. In the report, the Commission established that, in a country where the war “was more than a reinforcement of patriarchy,” women “became political subjects and agents of transformation.”

The elected president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro (right), embraces the president of the Colombian Truth Commission, Francisco de Roux, during the presentation of his final report on the decades-long Colombian armed conflict, at the Jorge Eliécer Gaitán theater in Bogotá, on June 28, 2022. (Photo by Daniel MUNOZ / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL MUNOZ/AFP via Getty Images)

The report” makes clear the place that organized women have earned in the task of necessary change in the Colombian country and culture. Women are essential in rebuilding the social fabric; they have never given up and have been able to start over, to recover social life, in spite of everything and against everything”, says the report.

And for this reason, feminists say, they hope that the Petro government fulfills its promise of gender parity, an administration led by women could be the beginning of the change that the country requires.

“It has been the women who have carried the burden of the war, those who are looking for their disappeared children, those who went and denounced it. What happened with the false positives has been fundamentally women. That is why I say that the time has come of a feminist government for 100, for 99% of Colombia,” Ángela María Robledo told CNN.

Hence the importance of a government made up of women trained for their positions, says Robledo. Well, much of the resilience that has recomposed the social fabric of a country at war has been led by women.

“In Colombia there has been an immeasurable feminine power that is what has sustained life in Colombia and it is time for the Government to pay a historic price with women,” says Robledo.

“I believe that the time for feminism has come, and not only for women, but for Colombia,” she points out.

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