After 5 decades of low-intensity warfare, Colombia has tentatively elected not to demobilize and integrate over 7,000 FARC soldiers into society. The much anticipated plebiscito, or vote to pass the brokered peace agreement, resulted in a marginal victory for the “no” camp. The refusal to end the conflict is nothing short of a tragedy for the nation’s over 6 million internally displaced peoples (IDP).
Colombia has only recently been surpassed as the nation with the greatest IDP population, an issue made nearly invisible by the country’s recent economic growth. The IDPs lack the resources or support to exercise their right to education or labor, perpetuating the long-held sentiment that Colombia’s formal economy has essentially abandoned them. To address this issue, in 2012 the Santos administration passed the Free Education Policy, ensuring that primary and secondary education would be tuition-free for all of the nation’s 8.6 million children. However, free education doesn’t beget equal opportunity and the IDPs have become the unintentional victims of poor forethought and institutionalized discrimination.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), dutifully reported the often overlooked struggle that these IDPs face in receiving equal education. Being born into conflict has denied IDPs the opportunity at literacy, subsequently forcing the more vulnerable women and children into child labor and sexual exploitation (see Edet blog below). Their inherent disadvantages result in a lack of financial resources and while education is free, the costs to obtain it are not. Students need uniforms, books, and transportation to schools which are often inaccessible for IDPs. COHA’s criticism is sound when you consider that most IDPs also lack the necessary national identification card which permits free education and health benefits. The tuition-free education inherently disadvantages IDPs and further perpetuates gender discrimination.
The Atlantic recently published an article that gives teeth to the argument of institutionalized gender discrimination penetrating Colombia’s social fabric. Interestingly, they make their case through a lens that COHA artfully avoided; the internally displaced, reintegrated female guerrillas. Having been recruited at a young age, taken far from their homes, and subjected to an altogether different form of education, demobilized female guerrillas face a litany of socio-cultural barriers upon reintegration. In addition to the stigma of betrayal, females are expected to pursue an education only insofar as they are prepared to fulfill their role as home-dwelling caregivers with an elusive standard of beauty. Free education policy provides no practical path to success for this overlooked portion of IDPs but instead perpetuates the issue by funding ads that promise them they can “smile and become the mother (they’ve) always dreamed of being“.
Both articles highlight the woeful social unpreparedness of the Colombian government to address the root cause of IDP education: there is a lack of focus on basic human rights in policy development. Their disjointed notion of Education For All doesn’t provide a pathway to success for IDPs. It lacks a focus on the basic democratic principle of human rights in policy development to eliminate stigma and promote community engagement, as is evidenced by the fact that 60% of the population didn’t even cast a vote in the recent plebiscito.
*For a further investigation into the impact of internal displaced women, read Edet’s A Bleak Future: No homes, no schools.
Højen, Louise. (2015) Colombia’s “Invisible Crisis”: Internally Displaced Persons. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Retrieved from http://www.coha.org/colombias-invisible-crisis-internally-displaced-persons/#_edn25
Alpert, Megan. (2016). To Be a Guerrilla, and a Woman, in Colombia. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/09/farc-deal-female-fighters/501644/
The World Bank. (2015). GDP per capita, PPP (current international $). Retrieved at http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.PP.CD?end=2015&locations=CO&start=2000
Alsema, Adriaan. (2012). Colombia implements free primary and secondary education. Colombia Reports. Retreived from http://colombiareports.com/colombia-implements-free-primary-and-secondary-education/
UNESCO. (2000). Education for All Movement. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/education-for-all/