As Colombians take in the aftermath of last week’s historic peace agreement between its government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the question remains as to how the rebels’ 6,800-strong regular army will reintegrate into peacetime society after decades of warfare. With unspeakable atrocities committed on all sides, it’s easy to forget that the soldiers who populated the FARC’s ranks were often humble people who – for better or for worse – found both a refuge and a family with the group.
Women, in particular, were widely purported to enjoy a level of gender equality unseen in the traditional machista society of the Colombian countryside. Women occupied many important leadership positions and comprised up to 40 percent of active troops. Nevertheless, as the Washington Post reported, this perception belies some rather nefarious power dynamics simmering below the surface of the FARC’s supposedly gender-blind hierarchy.
A new photo essay published in The California Sunday Magazine brings the more personal experience of these soldiers into sharp relief, with testimonials from numerous women who reflect on the circumstances that brought them into the army and their feelings on a future without warfare. The photos themselves go beyond the narrative of violence that has dominated discussion on the conflict to show us humanizing portraits of women engaged in the universal rituals of daily life.
Viewing the photos, it’s easy to forget that these women actively participated in a brutal, bloody conflict that held an entire nation hostage for the better part of a century. But perhaps, as Colombian society prepares for a new peaceful future, what we need most urgently is to see these soldiers as human beings once again.
Here are some of the powerful images taken by French photojournalist Nadège Mazars: