Background: the research project
My argument is based on the findings of my PhD project, titled Combatants for peace, queering figures, or ‘just some more Colombians:’ co-constructions of ex-combatants’ citizen-subjectivities in everyday reintegration practices. I draw on original empirical data from feminist institutional ethnographies in the state-led program that accompanies Ludovico’s and Yana’s reintegration. Over 300 people involved in reintegration in three regions and Colombia’s major cities (most of them ex-combatants and reintegration workers) co-constructed this data with me between 2017 and 2018.
In a recent article, I argue for more acknowledgment of ex-combatants’ everyday contributions as local-level peacebuilders, including through the gendered ways in which they manage the ‘mini-state’ of the family differently.
Political, gendered and lasting
This is particularly crucial in an unstable context like Colombia, where high-level politics constantly change and peace agreements with non-state armed groups remain partially unfulfilled, if achieved at all. Ex-combatants’ gender-transformative governance of the ‘mini-states’ of their families is a more sustained and stable form of everyday peacebuilding: it may be less visible, but it is equally political, gendered and essential for lasting peace. Let me explain my argument:
It is more lasting. Ludovico, Yana, and their peers define their civilian identities in relation to the family: to them, ‘being a good, decent, or normal citizen’ also means being exemplary parents and partners. When they prioritize care work and home-based income models, they show a determination to invest in a civilian future.
It is political. Ex-combatants claim a fundamental right to a choice that the violence that surrounded them in their childhood and their war participation had not allowed before: a loving family. Yana wants to remedy the structural violence that she experienced herself as a child and later as a combatant: she seeks to create a better future for her own children. But, at a larger scale, she likewise wants to do away with what she sees as the root causes of Colombia’s never-ending conflicts and violence. And so does Ludovico.
It is also profoundly gendered. Ludovico stretches the definition of what it means to be a man in the patriarchal region where he builds his civilian life. He is a model for the young boys in his family and community: his example gives access to alternative forms of ‘manhood’, which are often referred to as ‘new masculinities’. Yana seems to fit into the regional norms of femininity, as home-based care work is traditionally reserved for women. This increases her social acceptance as a woman and an ex-combatant, gives her an income, and creates the conditions for her family project (2).
It is context-sensitive. Ex-combatants like Ludovico and Yana, along with their partners and reintegration workers, govern their families within the boundaries of what is thinkable, doable and desirable in the reintegration contexts (3).
It is also gender-transformative peacebuilding. Many feminist researchers acknowledge care work as an important element of peacebuilding. Unfortunately, evaluations of the regional gendered reintegration practices often misinterpret ex-combatants’ choice for care work and the home-based models that enable this choice. To them, regional reintegration workers and the ex-combatants they work with are ‘not doing gender’ or ‘doing gender wrong.’