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  HOME | Colombia (Click here for more)

Colombian Rebel-Turned-Stateswoman Sees Progress against Patriarchy

BOGOTA – Women’s struggle against patriarchy is beginning to bear fruit, according to Colombia’s Vera Grabe, whose own pursuit of justice has led her from armed struggle to politics and, ultimately, academia.

“While it’s true that patriarchal culture and machismo still rule and every day we see femicides and we see numerous expressions of discrimination against women, what is certain is that we have made a lot of progress,” the 69-year-old anthropology professor said in an interview with EFE.

“In all civic expressions, there are many advances,” insisted the author of “Del silencio de mi cello o Razones de vida” and “La paz como revolucion. M-19.”

Grabe’s involvement in political and social dates from 1974, when at the age of 23, she helped found the April 19 Movement (M-19), a guerrilla army that battled the security forces for more than a decade before signing a peace accord with the government in 1990.

During her time as an insurgent, Grabe, the blue-eyed daughter of German immigrants, was known among both comrades and enemies as “La Mona,” Colombian slang for a blond, European-looking woman.

Though machismo was not unknown in the ranks of the M-19, it never stopped Grabe from exercising her authority as a member of the rebel high command.

Now she is happy to see changes in how society conceives of the roles of men and women.

“Today, men also wonder about their role, about what is called the new masculinity,” Grabe said. “I believe that we have gained a lot. Because the fact that things are more visible, that there is more awareness on issues such as discrimination, such as violence against women, is important, and if there is more awareness things begin to resolve themselves.”

She points to the prominence of women in politics, including Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez and “the female presidents we have had in Latin America.”

“The Movement for Peace is in great part led by women, in the social mobilizations the women are there, the young women are active,” Grabe said, referring to the wave of protests that has swept across Colombia since late year in response to the social and economic policies of the right-wing government.

Months after M-19 and then-President Virgilio Barco concluded the peace agreement in 1990, Grabe became the first former guerrilla to win a seat in the lower house of the Colombian Congress. The following year, she was elected to the Senate.

“When I was in the Senate, I was the first who organized a legislative unit was the issue of gender was discussed,” she recalled. “Today it’s normal to talk about gender, but in ‘91, (only) some feminists, some very select groups, talked about gender.”

But just as she and the other M-19 commanders concluded that the time had come to abandon armed struggle, Grabe grew disenchanted with electoral politics.

“I believe that politics – if it doesn’t connect with the citizen’s life, with its problems and its possibilities – is reduced to an electoral option that is important because it’s the fight for power, but power is also constructed every day,” Grabe said.

She went from being a lawmaker to serving as a diplomat at the Colombian Embassy in Spain, before joining the faculty at South Colombian University in Neiva, capital of the southern province of Huila.

“I have always thought that education is a key issue in this country and so I have dedicated myself to that in recent years, to thinking about peace from the perspective of education,” Grabe told EFE. “Because I believe that if we don’t change our mentality, if we don’t educate ourselves in another way, if we don’t work for peace in daily life, we will continue in that cycle (of conflict).”


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