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"As women we're able to resist with our bodies" Women's resistance to violence in Colombia

Women form a human chain during a demonstration against increasing violence between illegal armed groups in Buenaventura, February 10, 2021 [Juan B Diaz/AP Photo]

By Jessica Garcia

Translation: Pambana Gutto Bassett

For more than a year, countless forced displacements have been carried out across the rural areas of the Colombian Pacific as a result of the security situation in the region. The living conditions for peasant communities that exist and resist there have been worsening at an alarming rate. The consequences, however, are not the same for everyone. In the last six years, of the 57,876 victims of forced displacement registered by the Victims Unit in Buenaventura, 54 percent are women.

Women and, in particular racialized women, are the ones who continue to bear the brunt of intensifying violence generated by the armed conflict. So far in just 2023 alone, there have been 47 femicides registered in Colombia.The departments of Antioquia and Cauca record the highest numbers of murders of women and girls. At least four women social leaders have been murdered. Three of these women leaders were from the Colombian Pacific region. This is a region that is made up primarily of Black, Indigenous, and Campesina women.

These statistics are only one indication of the brutality suffered by women in Colombia. These statistics do not reflect the particular and incalculable violence suffered by rural women throughout these decades. They also do not reflect the numerous resistance strategies created and led by women themselves.

Violence against women in the context of the armed conflict

"We women were able to resist, to survive the armed conflict, with our body as a tool of war to defend our children, to defend our husbands, to defend our parents and our brothers".

With these words spoken by Deyanira Peña Carabalí, a Black movement leader from northern Cauca, we learn what it has meant for her and for other women in her community, to live as women with the constant awareness of the threats against them coupled with the immense power of women, who survive in the face of a brutal armed conflict in their territory.

The women’s bodies have been targeted and made central in the violence that has been exercised against them in these contexts,

"Sexual violence has operated as an eminently communicative violence that sends the population and the victim a message about who is in charge in a territory; the body has served to decipher between the lines what the armed actors want to communicate to each other, to entire communities, and to their victims. Cruelly, each of the armed actors has a characteristic signature or method of carrying out misogynist and bodily harm. These women are in the crosshairs of unimaginable trauma that is erased from the official record and often from the community itself where telling their stories and keeping alive these meanings is a terribly painful experience” .

Violence against women in the context of the ongoing war in Colombia has not only been exercised by the illegal armed groups present in their territory, but also by the state security forces. As the Liga Internacional de Mujeres por la Paz y la Libertad (LIMPAL) maintains, this violence against women and LGBTIQ+ persons is part of a structural pattern to control public and patriarchal order and subordinate those who participate in social protest or in the defense of human rights.

This violence is exercised against women across the entire Colombian Pacific region. The Pacific is a laboratory, says the professor Lozano Lerma, where the new pattern of global coloniality of power is expressed. The region is a unique location where the strategic interests of national and transnational capital are intense. That is why it is a major area in which mega-projects are carried out, and where corporations and other actors treat the indigenous populations as dispensable and even more violently, as an obstacle necessary to remove so that they may consolidate capital.

The great beneficiaries of violence

If we are clear that in the Pacific region the new pattern of global coloniality of power mentioned by Lerma is being consolidated and that in this process it is women who suffer in their bodies the worst consequences of the violence exercised in defense of national and transnational capital, it is necessary to make explicit who the beneficiaries are.

54.14 percent of femicides and transfemicides committed in Colombia between 2020 and 2022 were with firearms, it means, out of 1871 cases, 1013 victims were killed with a firearm. Who produces and sells the weapons with which they make war and with which they kill us?

The United States, followed by Israel, has been Colombia's main supplier of revolvers and pistols for at least the past five years. The United States remains one of the main referents of the global arms trade.. Between 2017 and 2021 alone, the U.S was responsible for nearly 40 percent of total global arms exports.

Furthermore, Colombia is not only the country that has received the most military and police training from the United States between 2000 and 2020, but it has also been the largest recipient of U.S. security aid in the Western Hemisphere. Between 2010 and 2020 alone, Colombia received $2.97 billion in security sector assistance (SSA) from the United States. All this under the argument of the "war on drugs", which as we well know has only brought more violence. The only beneficiaries continue to be those who are engaged in the business of war.

However, in the face of these attempts to neo-colonize the territories and perpetuate the war economy, it is in the Pacific region where large community-based indigenous, black and peasant resistance processes have developed in the face of the constant absence of the State and the struggle between armed groups for territorial control. It is here where non-violent resistance processes have been woven where women, as Deyanira Peña Carabalí says, have played a fundamental role.

When women decide to speak out

Although attempts have been made to invisibilize the non-violent resistance led by women, particularly in this region of Colombia, they continue to raise their voices to remind us again and again of the role that women have played in protecting their families and communities, and how they have had to put their bodies on the line in order to resist. As Deyanira says, the bodies of women and, in particular, the bodies of Black women have been instrumentalized as spoils of war.

Today the situation for Black, Peasant and Indigenous women in the Colombian Pacific region is extremely worrying. Nothing has changed since the signing of the 2016 Peace Accords for these communities. Violence not only continues, but it has grown in some communities, alongside with the silence resulting from the terror exercised by armed groups, as well as the incomprehensible silence of a State that knows what is happening, but whose only response is the militarization, which leads to more violence, particularly for women.

As LIMPAL states, "stopping armed violence does not mean peace, especially for women and girls, who experience multiple types of violence throughout their lives, by multiple actors and in multiple scenarios". It is necessary "that the cessation of hostilities explicitly include violence against women and girls and emphatically include rape and other forms of sexual violence".

Today, it is necessary to understand and recognize that many women who inhabit the rural regions of the Colombian Pacific find themselves in the dilemma of resisting in defense of their community and their territory, risking their lives in the process, or saving their lives in exchange for leaving everything in complete uncertainty about the possibilities of ever coming back.

To this day, many of these women continue to choose to remain in their communities at the cost of their health, at the cost of their own lives. Today, these women continue to demand that once and for all, peace ceases to be purely a political discourse and becomes an actual lived reality, that once and for all, women's bodies cease to be used as an instrument of war.


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