Colombian Civil Resistance, an option for peace-building

3 October 2005

In recent years indigenous communities, groups of women, mayors and ordinary citizens have successfully combated the violence without violence.

A complex armed conflict is bleeding Colombia for the last 35 years. As a result of such a conflict civil society is suffering from displacement, massacres, kidnappings, extortion, towns destroyed, threats of death, and all sort of human rights and International Human Law violations.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently stated that Colombia armed conflict has increased discrimination and violence that historically women has suffered, and underlined that the needs of women are not taking into account by the Colombian state, nor incorporated to public policies. This declaration was issued upon the visit of Susana Villaran,  Women’s Rights Rapporteur of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to Colombia last June.  

I would like to highlight a Colombia case, which is example of how woman can make a difference.

In the region of Magdalena Medio, north-east of Colombia, a women’s organization is leading a civil resistance against violence. The Organizacion Femenina Popular -Popular Feminine Organization- has been working for the last 30 years for the economic, social and cultural rights. This NGO is located in a region historically slammed by the conflict –for decades was a region dominated by the guerrillas, until 2000 when the paramilitaries pushed it off. Over the last years, this NGO is facing threats from the paramilitary force and their leaders are been killed.

Matilde Vargas, member of Organizacion Femenina Popular, explains: “the problem to be in a conflict region is that the war is present, the armed actors are present, the community is present, and the various armed actors do not accept our neutrality.”

The Organizacion Femenina Popular, which gathers 1200 women, has various Women Houses in the region, where they offer training for work, health care and art courses.

“All started when the paramilitaries arrived to one of our Women Houses and asked us to abandon it because they need it for their purposes. We refused to leave the house or negotiate with them. We refused because such a negotiation would means to recognize them as an authority body. In the past, we refused to negotiate with the guerrilla, and we were determined to so with any armed actor”, affirmed Matilde Vargas. Afterwards, the Women House has completely destroyed overnight. Then they declared the Organizacion Femenina Popular as military target, and later on they assassinated Yolanda Becerra, our coordinator.

The Organizacion Femenina Popular produces a radio program for women displaced as a result of the political violence, and runs a nutrition program, which involved nine popular restaurants. “People tell us that they need us, so we keep going with our programs.  We continue fighting for human rights and women’s rights from the civility and keeping our autonomy and neutrality,” added Matilde.
Angela Castellanos

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