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In the US, advertisements to join the military services offer recruits respect, a career, opportunities for travel, and a sense of accomplishment.

In Colombia, the pitch is not so different: Join the leftist guerrillas for gender equity, a way out of poverty, and a kind of freedom (this page). Those answering the call in this impoverished, macho Latin American society are increasingly women. In fact, more than one-third of the 15,000 guerrillas are now women.

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In the way that the US Army became racially integrated before the rest of society, Colombia's guerrilas are putting women on equal footing with men. Right or wrong, Colombia's civil war is becoming an agent of social change.

Quote of note: "In Colombia, money and weapons are the only things that confer power. In a country where women are usually ignored, [women guerrillas] are surrounded by symbols that give them an identity."

- a Colombian anthropologist.

David Clark Scott World editor

SUMMER CAMP? For today's story about women in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), reporter Martin Hodgson spent the night at the camp of leftist guerrillas in Colombia. Lights out was at 9 p.m. Martin spent a restless night on a cot made of wooden planks. And in true army tradition, the troops and Martin were up at 4:30 a.m. for exercises and patrols.

But the military discipline and Spartan conditions gave way to a summer camp-like atmosphere later in the day. "Many of them are teenagers. They play volleyball and listen to Britney Spears during the day. They tell you that they joined because it's 'fun and we're saving the country.' "

And they say it's better than a life of poverty, says Martin.

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LOYAL TO ROYALTY: While reporting in Swaziland, Rena Singer expected fear-induced reticence when she asked people on the streets about their king, an absolute monarch. But they would typically "give a deep sigh, and say, 'ah, the king,' with the kind of respect reserved for a favorite uncle or someone they looked up to," she says.

The Swazis were also curious about the United States. "People actually pity Americans for not having a king. They feel as if we're missing out on something." When Rena explained the upcoming presidential election to one woman, she said, "We have a king until God takes him away from us." Rena adds, "People were horrified that we would treat our leaders so badly, that we wouldn't keep them forever." Let us hear from you.

Mail to: One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 via e-mail: world@csmonitor.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society


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