Under the Farc regime, pregnancy for female guerilla fighters was forbidden. But since the signing of a peace deal with the Colombian government, there has been a baby boom. Catalina Martin-Chico’s nomination for World Press Photo of the Year tells a story of life after conflict
In Catalina Martin-Chico’s World Press Photo of the Year-nominated image, former guerilla fighter Yorladis is photographed with her husband Michael in their home in the Colombian jungle. It is her sixth pregnancy, but for the first time, Yorladis will be delivering a baby.
Until three years ago, when a peace deal was signed with the Colombian government,Yorladis was a member of the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). Pregnancy was forbidden, so many female members underwent abortions.Yorladis has had five abortions – her last pregnancy terminated at six months. “She feels that now, she deserves this baby,” says Martin-Chico.
Based in Paris, France, Martin-Chico has been covering Yemen and the Middle East since 2007. She has worked for numerous French publications including Le Monde and Le Figaro, as well as the New York Times, GEO, and Der Spiegel, among other international publications.
She is the only woman to be nominated across the two major award categories, World Press Photo of the Year and World Press Story of the Year, an achievement she wears lightly. “I don’t want to win because I’m a woman, but because of my work – I don’t want to be filling any statistics,” she says. But Martin-Chico adds that being a woman can be an asset, especially in gaining access to stories in places such as the Middle East and Yemen. “But so can being a Westerner,” she points out – and being able to speak Spanish, which allowed her to form relationships with the Colombian ex-rebels.
Martin-Chico visited the camp twice – once in 2017, after the peace deal was signed but before the Farc surrendered their weapons, and then in 2018, when the military camp had transformed into a community for ex-Farcs, with free housing and amenities such as a restaurant and shop.
The image that has been shortlisted for Photo of the Year was taken on her second visit, and is part of a larger project on life after Farc, Colombia, (Re)Birth. Her images are shortlisted in the stories category of the Contemporary Issues section of the awards, and the one pulled out for Photo of the Year is symbolises its wider message about the potential for life and peace after five decades of war.
“They told me so many tough stories of what they have to go through as a woman,” says Martin-Chico, “I asked them, ‘Aren’t you resentful?’ But these women are still Farc, they weren’t victims. They said ‘No, those were the rules’.”
Representatives of Farc have denied forcing female members to terminate pregnancies – and all the women that Martin-Chico spoke to also said the abortions were their own decision. But in 2015, a man known as ‘the nurse’ was arrested in Spain for allegedly carrying out 300 forced abortions on women fighters, many of whom are believed to have been underage.
Martin-Chico says that some ex-Farc members are unhappy with the peace deal, but the babies they have now had discourage them. “To them, their babies are a replacement for their weapons,” she explains; many of them had been carrying and sleeping with their guns since they were recruited as children. “The weapons were their protection, and when they gave them away they gave away a part of themselves. But now, their babies are protecting them against picking them back up.”
Since the peace deal, hundreds of new families have been created in Colombia, she adds. Martin-Chico’s image of Yorladis and Michael not only speaks of the difficult experiences the female guerilla fighters have had, but of hope for a new life and a family. “For me, this story symbolises post-conflict,” she says. “After all these years of war and death, you can bring back life.”