When I chose the topic of displaced women in Colombia, I presumed it would force me to engage with a lot of very painful issues; of murder, rape, death threats, discrimination and more. My last days in Bogotá proved that to be correct.
I walked into the offices of Unidad de Victimás, the state agency which deals with financial support to victims of the armed conflict, to be greeted by a worker saying “Welcome. There’s no better place in Colombia to be”.
It struck me as a bit over-the-top having already been weary of our meeting. He had arranged for me to meet two women displaced by Colombia’s conflict. Being a Government agency, I feared it might be little more than a propaganda exercise where two hand picked party loyalists would tell me how great everything is thanks to the current President.
But I was wrong. One of the women told me her horrific personal story of rape, disownment, starvation and fear all caused by the conflict. On two separate occasions she came to tears.
But her story was also tinged with heroism. It demonstrated an undiminishable loyalty to not only her children, who lived through many of those awful experiences with her, but also to her belief in peace and human rights. She has suffered but she never allowed that to overcome her.
She currently works on a state board promoting peace. She has received and continues to receive death threats from paramilitary groups. She handed me one example of a letter she was sent last January, which states she has 30 days to desist from her human rights activity. “You can keep that one, I have quite a few”, she told me.
Of course her bravery in telling me, a complete stranger, such personal details was incredible. Dealing with such sensitive issues though means that on many occasions, that is not the case.
I was passed on the details of a displaced women, four of whose six brothers had been murdered by paramilitaries. She agreed to an interview two days before, then on the day refused to give a location, promptly hung up, turned off her phone and didn’t switch it back on.
I also visited two very different types of events very relevant to displaced women. The first, a mass where an Afro-Colombians group performed. This ethnic group has been hit particularly hard by displacement. 20% of those displaced are of African descent, only 10% of the wider population is.
The band members expressed massive frustration at what they called the three-way discrimination against them; for being black, for being women and for being displaced.
Finally, I also attended the two year anniversary of Mujeres Por La Paz (Women for Peace), which, along with other groups, has played an important role in bringing women’s rights issues to the fore especially with regards the armed conflict.
They sang, cheered and danced to celebrate two years together, but in between denounced the continued use of women’s bodies as a strategy in war. Peace isn’t just an agreement signed between two leaders, they said, it’s the recognition that the use of rape and violence against women as a method to control and coerce must stop.
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