The women fighting the Colombian government tell their stories.
The Western Hemisphere’s oldest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is about to lay down its arms. After three-plus years of negotiations, the FARC and the Colombian government have signed a cease-fire. It is expected to lead shortly to a peace agreement, ending a conflict that has gone on for 52 years.
When it was founded, the FARC unified peasant self-defense groups against a notoriously oppressive government and elite. By the 1980s, it had transformed into a full-fledged Marxist insurgency that relied on extortion, kidnapping, and the drug trade to finance itself. All sides in the war — guerrillas, the army, and right-wing paramilitary groups — have committed atrocities. Bombings, massacres, land mines, executions, and forced disappearances have left 220,000 dead and more than 6 million Colombians displaced.
Years of mass desertions and U.S.-backed military offensives have cut deeply into the FARC’s ranks. Today, it has an estimated 7,000 armed fighters. Women make up approximately 30 to 40 percent of the force. Carrying out the same duties as men, from cooking to combat, many women inside the FARC say it is a haven from the traditional roles expected of them in machista Colombian society. But just how egalitarian the FARC is has been a contentious subject, particularly regarding the choices women have — or don’t have — when they become pregnant. With a peace deal imminent, the women of the FARC are now preparing to step out of their clandestine lives in jungle camps and remote hamlets.