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Fine Art of ReConciliation

Colombia’s rebel women: beauty, babies and battle in the rainforest

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army a.k.a. FARC-EP has been fighting the government since 1964. Their home is in the Colombian rainforest, in areas often only accessible by river. To avoid being ambushed by the army, they constantly move their camps, only occasionally stopping at local villages to pick up provisions.

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Many of the FARC's recruits come from these very same settlements. Young people there are often brought up in conditions of extreme poverty, where education is an unaffordable luxury. They also find themselves at risk of being caught in the crossfire between the rebels and the army. Faced with this situation, some young people choose to take matters into their own hands, and join the fight. The FARC is known to recruit teenagers as young as 15. Interestingly, around 40% of the guerrillas are women. Their commitment is such that they are willing to leave their families behind to embrace a new life in the rainforest hideouts. It's far from a glamourous environment, however, even in full camouflage with guns slung over their shoulders, the young women still find time to maintain their nails.

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Women in the FARC who get pregnant are forced by necessity to give their babies to their civilian relatives: rainforest camps are no place to raise children. They often prefer to continue their revolutionary struggle over motherhood. Many guerillas have been unable to disclose their involvement in the fight against the government to their relatives. Now, however, the military conflict that has been tearing the country apart for over half a century may finally come to an end. The FARC has been in peace talks with Colombia’s government since 2012, and is hopeful they are on the verge of signing a long-awaited truce.

It will mean that female rebels who have been with the FARC for 15-20 years will finally be able to come home and see their children. We spoke to the female fighters about what brought them to the jungle, and what expectations they have of the peace treaty.

Since filming, FARC and government representatives have signed the peace treaty but a week later on 2 October 2016, it was narrowly rejected in a referendum. Nevertheless, the Colombian Congress approved a revised version in November 2016 and President Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that same year. 

However, Ivan Duque, who criticized the agreement for side-lining victims’ suffering and allowing the FARC to enter politics, won the presidential elections in July 2018. President Duque is complying with the treaty but, according to the UN, 85 former FARC guerrillas have been killed since November 2016, and some dissident rebels have taken up arms again.