A Civil Society Initiative
Colombia's history of political and social violence goes back about 50 years, weakening its institutions and killing its children. Four percent of the Colombian population has died in the domestic armed conflict. Every day, it becomes more and more necessary to find a political solution—however, political negotiations have consistently failed since 1982.
The solution to this 50-year old problem of intense and debasing violence is difficult, slow and complex. The creation of a new model of State that is universally acceptable and respected takes time and requires sacrifices and concessions by all sides. Mistrust, impatience and the lack of solidarity and commitment by civil society to reach a social and political consensus must be overcome. Different corporate and individual interests must be put aside to establish rules that are based on the idea of “justice as equity”, to use the phrase of John Rawls. This consensus must be broad enough to encompass different social interests and precise enough to overcome the devastating effects of violence, drug trafficking and subversion through the creation of a socially-conscious State grounded in political responsibility.
The peace movement, in particular the women's movement for peace, is concerned about the sense of defenselessness created in the face of the degradation and uncertainty caused by the new manifestations and upsurge of the conflict in Colombia.
What do we Colombian women have to say as we resist seeing and living passively in this situation?
Among many other initiatives of civil society, we Colombian women who form part of Women Waging Peace have been working in the construction of social capital and spaces of reconciliation. We are involved with support for the underprivileged, especially female victims of the conflict, on the regional, national and international levels. We work from different spheres, including universities, foundations, non-governmental organizations and State entities.
We speak and act out to stop this war from continuing; the search for fair solutions is an integral part of resolving the multi-polar conflict we are experiencing. Although we women come from different viewpoints—the movement is not homogeneous nor do we pretend it is—we demonstrate together to ask for a ceasefire and a constructive dialogue toward peace. We support the following ideals:
- Respect for human rights by the armed actors in the conflict.
- No to the forced recruitment of our sons and daughters.
- Yes to the respect for indigenous women, for their traditions and autonomy.
- Yes to the respect for women of African descent, in whose lands battles are fought for territorial control.
- No to violence among families and to the increase of these cases because of the conflict and the use of women as conquests of war.
In the specific case of indigenous women, the gravity of the situation has not been sufficiently documented. The principal reasons for this lack of knowledge are:
- Indigenous people are generally found in remote areas not easily accessed and the women do not have the means to go out to information centers.
- In a similar fashion, there are cultural problems that hinder understanding, including language and customs.
- The internal regulations of the indigenous people do not always permit the women to find the space in which to present their denunciations. However, the most frequent type of violations found at present, according to research and testimonies, are: the persecution of mothers because their children belong to the guerrillas, the paramilitary, or government forces; forced recruitment and use of poor girls as messengers and lookouts; forced displacement; sexual violence; widowhood; intrafamily violence; increased alcoholism; increased unemployment, especially in women's tasks, and a worsening of economic necessities.
Here are their voices:
We feel limited, and there is no freedom. We cannot do our traditional work in the night because if they see a group gathering, they think we are planning something against them. If some group or another comes and asks for food or water, the group on the opposing side accuses us of being "collaborators." This situation causes us much grief and many losses. We women and our people want to live in harmony with nature and to perform their traditional work that our fathers and mothers have always done. We want to be respected. We don't want this war. Many women don't even understand what is happening and why strange people come to our lands to order us around. What is it that we owe them? It is like a new conquest. How many more people do we have to lose before they respect us? We are now just a few indigenous people in this country; do they want to see not a single one left?
We take advantage of this published space to ask the international public to understand that the Colombian tragedy is not a simple problem of drug trafficking or of violence. It is a war with deep roots of discrimination and inequality. It is vital for all of us—men and women—to stop the war through the instrument of negotiation. And at the same time, we clamor for the release of all the kidnap victims and for peace in the land. This is what we women want, we women who do not want to lose one more son or daughter to the war.
Martha Quintero, Rocío Pinedo, Rosa E. Salamanca, Martha E. Segura, Nancy Tapias, and Pilar Hernández are members of Women Waging Peace in Colombia.