Sexuality Policy Watch

Assessing gender and sexuality politics in the Colombia elections

By Sandra Mazo Cardona


An inside look from gender and sexuality on the circumstances that led to Duque’s victory in the Colombian presidential elections

On June 17, 2018, Ivan Duque, Centro Democrático’s (Democratic Center in English) candidate won the presidential elections in Colombia with 54 percent of votes. The second term election was sharply polarized between right-wing Duque and left-wing Petro. As it is well known, “gender ideology” and other post-true arguments were crucial to the victory of the “NO” in the 2016 Peace Referendum. This defeat has unquestionably fueled the sudden “extraordinary” advantage of the right-wing forces led by former president Alvaro Uribe in the presidential run, even when these forces had very meager results in the recent regional elections, having won in just one state.

The themes related to ´gender ideology” have permeated the presidential election. Actors who led the anti-women’s and LGBT rights agenda, such as former Attorney Alejandro Ordoñez, former Public Prosecutor Vivianne Morales, and others have supported Duque, even if they were strategically put on the second range of the campaign staff. Churches have also played a key role, especially the Evangelicals who display a familiar conservative and ultraconservative discourse. Due to their participation, anti-gender and women’s rights language was indeed part of campaign discourse, even when the tone of this language varied. It was raised definitely raised in smaller gatherings, such as in neighborhoods and churches. But, in more public events– such as open debates and interviews to large media channels —  Duque adopted a more contained and supposedly respectful language that, however, was often seen as false and hypocrite.

It is worth reminding, that ultraconservative politics has won much space in Colombia in recent years. The liberal camp has been discredited and artificially described as aligned with the extreme left.  This explains why it was so easy for the right to portray the peace agreement and the dialogues with the guerrilla as a surrender to the FARC,  when in fact the guerrilla is now almost entirely demobilized. This discourse also conceals the coincidence between Santos and Uribe in what concerns economic policies.

Under these circumstances, the prospect for gender and sexuality politics is not auspicious. It is, in fact, rather pessimistic. We can predict that existing rights will be restricted through judicial and political strategies such as constitutional revisions, or else the creation of a Ministry of the Family and adoption of family-oriented public policies.  Furthermore, leading fundamentalist actors are expected to be nominated to high-level positions at the Ministries of Education and Justice or the State Attorney’s Office. To conclude, we may expect a very complicated social and political context that, however, can also be an opportunity for the social movements advocating for gender, sexual, and reproductive rights to strengthen their capacity of resistance, their ability to organize and mobilize, and to keep struggling.

Sandra Mazo Cardona is a political scientist and the director of the organization Catholics for the Right to Decide in Colombia. She is a member of the Board of Directors in the Latin American Catholic Network for the Right to Decide (a network made up of 11 countries in Latin America). She was the President of the District Planning Council – TCDC (2017 – 2018) and was a member of the UN Women’s Civil Society Advisory Group in Colombia (2104-2018). She is currently representative of the Women Sector (Bogotá) in the Territorial Council of District Planning – TCDC (2016 – 2019). She won the 2007 national “Women of Success” Award in the political category for the defense of the decriminalization of abortion in Colombia.

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