Weaponizing gender: the campaign against 'gender ideology' in the Colombian peace plebiscite

Bohórquez Oviedo, Ángela María
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University of Delaware
The Colombian peace negotiations between President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC rebels between 2012 and 2016 were the first to mainstream gender in all areas of a peace agreement. Two months before the plebiscite elections, some Christian evangelical leaders and right-wing politicians portrayed gender as a ‘dangerous ideology’ that would introduce ‘gender ideology’ ideas against traditional family values into society. This research examines the role of the campaign against ‘gender ideology’ in shaping the national mainstream media coverage of the peace plebiscite elections. Methods included a set of 24 semi-structured interviews with key actors of the national political debate, an archival creation with materials from anti-gender activists and a right-wing Senator, and the content analysis of 301 randomly selected plebiscite news stories published online in the most popular Colombian newspapers, El Espectador and El Tiempo. Findings revealed that right-wing politicians, Christian evangelical pastors, and anti-gender activists identified the articulation of three main events as a political opportunity to dispute the inclusion of gender equality in education and the final peace agreement. These were the revision of the education manual ‘Ambientes Escolares Libres de Discriminación’ proposed by the Ministry of Education, the ECAS Survey of the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), and the ‘No’ vote campaign in the plebiscite. ☐ The right-wing and religious actors reactivated a pre-existing right-wing national network that responded when they believe traditional social norms are threatened with the recognition and inclusion of women’s and LGBTI rights in national politics. At the same time, this network was surprised by this political opportunity and found that disinformation was a powerful tool to mobilize people. Then, ‘gender ideology’ ideas took form in a national campaign that redefined political homophobia and anti-gender messages. This campaign took advantage of the lack of regulation from the National Electoral Council (CNE) to supervise the plebiscite campaigns on traditional media and digital media platforms. The right-wing leaders created a hybrid communication network with meanings about gender as a ‘non-scientific topic’ connecting followers through meetings and mobilizations in cultural spaces with ‘private’ groups on digital media networks. ☐ Moreover, ‘gender ideology’ ideas were a blind spot in El Espectador and El Tiempo. Both newspapers supported the ‘Yes’ vote in the plebiscite but used confrontational coverage focused on elites’ disputes against the final peace agreement. The main problem was that both newspapers lacked investigation on ‘gender ideology’ narratives and fake news. Therefore, El Espectador and El Tiempo reinforced disinformation in public opinion and became ‘sounding boards’ against gender equality. Consequently, this research offers insights into how the Colombian campaign against ‘gender ideology’ was an organized counterforce to derail public initiatives for gender equality contesting the national consensus about the necessity of women and minorities for peace.
Campaign , Colombia , Gender ideology , Media , Peace , Plebiscite