Vermont Voices: Integration of Female Ex-combatants



MANCHESTER — Vermonters have long had a reputation as warriors for social justice, and little-known organizations in our community are working fastidiously for peace and justice across the globe. 

This week on Vermont Voices, a GNAT-TV talk show which works to link local news to national issues, I had the opportunity to learn about the work that Dorset resident Yvonne Lodico is doing to promote peace internationally.

Lodico came to Vermont after a long career with the United Nations and boasts degrees from NYU, Columbia, and Yale. 

Recently, she founded the Initiative for Governance, Reconciliation, Agriculture, and Co-Existence, also known as the GRACE Initiative. The Grace Initiative, based out of Dorset, works closely with the United Nations and other international organization to promote peace and human dignity. 

"I believe a lot in multilateralism, but sometimes there are issues that make it hard to move forward either because of the security council or other member states interests," said Lodico. "I noticed that a lot of NGO's had the flexibility to move into that space."

For Lodico, Vermont seemed to be the ideal place to begin her project. 

"I noticed that there is a lot of peace building going on here in Vermont whether people recognize it or not," said Lodico, citing Vermont's Town Meeting tradition. "That sense of community, the accountability in governance, and the popularity of community supported agriculture are great examples to incorporate into peace building."

One project the GRACE Initiative has spearheaded focuses on the reintegration of the female soldiers of the FARC following the peace agreement enacted in Colombia this past September. 

"I started to realize that there was really a lack of focus on the female ex-combatants," said Lodico. "Reintegration is the key of moving forward in peace; if that process doesn't go well then it doesn't bode well for other aspects of social cohesion."

Approximately 40 percent of FARC fighters are women, who have been cited as the most fear-inducing factions of the rebel army due to their ferocity in battle. Though these women proved to be capable combatants, they were often exposed to a litany of injustices including weaponized rape and forced abortion. 

"The female ex-combatants have been perpetrators of violence and they have been victims of violence," said Lodico. "Often they were victims of violence when they left their homes, and that's why they chose to become guerilla fighters."

Despite their complex backgrounds, reintegration efforts have misguidedly focused on restoring these soldiers' femininity rather than their humanity. 

One Colombian government ad targeting female guerillas reads, Guerrillera, feel like a woman again. Demobilize.

"Many of those women had very important roles," said Lodico. "They weren't just victims, they were leaders."

The six month long demobilization effort will end on May 31, when the work of reintegration will really begin. 

Until then, approximately 7,000 FARC fighters remain relegated to 26 demobilization camps across Colombia. Already, there has been a baby boom among former female soldiers with 60 babies born to guerillas so far and 80 more due.

Going forward, Lodico hopes to engage Vermonters in the GRACE Initiative's reintegration program. 

"For the project for Columbia we want to use community supported agriculture, so we've talked to the Vermont Farmers Food Center and they are ready to help train female ex-combatants on setting up a CSA," said Lodico. "I think we'll be able to even employ people to go to a post conflict country and train these women."

The legacy of this Vermont initiative may last well into the future.

"Recently someone wrote to me and asked if this would also be applicable in other places like Africa," said Lodico. "Hopefully we can start a sort of model for the reintegration of female ex-combatants not just in Colombia, but globally as well."