March 8, International Women´s Day
Entreculturas analyzes the experiences of women in armed groups in Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, interviewing María, ex guerrilla member in Colombia and María Calderón, ex coordinator of a child soldier reinsertion programme in Congo.
María was a member of the guerrilla in Colombia during four years and she now tells us what she went through and her current work in the Benposta Foundation with ex soldier girls in Colombia. Facing her, María Calderón, head of the child soldier rehabilitation programme of the Jesuit Refugee Service in the Kivu area, explains her work of the past two years. Although there are differences in the way the children are recruited and the degree of reinsertion after abandoning the armed groups are different, both agree that the situation of sexual violence and gender unfairness is not sustainable.
Recruitment is very different in both countries. María Calderón says that 99% of women in R.D. Congo´s armed groups have been forced to do so. "Some of the boy´s recruitment were voluntary, for various reasons, but almost all of the girls have been recruited by force." In Colombia, on the contrary, many of them volunteer to join the guerrilla due to domestic violence and abandon of the State in which they find themselves, without realizing that they will suffer the same treatment in the armed group."One meets members of the armed group and they start convincing and brainwashing you to join" says María.
The role in the guerrilla
Both agree that one of the main problems is the situation of violence lived by women in the armed group. They are used as sexual objects and partners of the high military ranks and girls are often forced to abort. In addition to the sexual role, they have others different in each country. In the D.R. of Congo, María Calderón says that they have the same role as in their former community: they take care of the food and household chores and also witchery activities to give strength to the fighters". In Colombia, the situation is different, says María. Women are treated the same as men and they assume their role as soldiers with the same strength as their colleagues. "They are another soldier in the armed structure and they don´t identify their condition of being a woman".
Guerrilla members in the D.R. of Congo use drugs to feel powerful in the battlefield. Girls are used not only to prepare them but to carry out rituals in their application."We had a case of a girl who prepared the drug solutions and she was then forced to go out in the battlefield in the first line, naked, to shed darkness on the enemy". However, in Colombia, in spite that the drugs are one of the main financial supports of the guerrilla, they can only be smuggled in the groups behind the leader´s back. "If you introduce drugs it has to be without the commander's knowledge, because it is penalized" says María.
Reinsertion in society
Leaving the armed groups is also different in both countries. Although in both societies, women try to leave their past behind them, their way of doing so is not always the same. In Colombia, when they leave the group, they cannot go back to their families, since they live in the same area where the guerrilla operates. "Since the ex fighters cannot be allocated with their families because it is dangerous, what the State should do is to regroup the families with the ex child soldier, but it is not doing so". In the D.R. of Congo, María Calderón explains that in spite of the refusal shown by their families and communities, girls go back to them and try to forget what they have gone through. "In general, they don´t want to remember since it hurts them and it makes it difficult for them to be accepted by the others".