democraciaAbierta: Investigation

"A social organization of women, in the middle of this war, is a threat": social leader of the Colombian Putumayo

Fátima Muriel, a native of Putumayo, Colombia, is always in danger due to her work as a leader and defender of women. This is your testimony. Español

democracia Abierta Juanita Rico
24 August 2020, 12.01am
Fátima Muriel.

Her name is Fatima Muriel Silva. She was born and raised in Putumayo, one of the regions hardest hit by violence in Colombia. She is recognized as a "natural leader" and directs 65 women's organizations that, in the territory, seek to protect each other and claim the rights and security that the State is not providing them. Fatima speaks:

Being a Putumayense, woman, daughter, mother, teacher, departmental education supervisor; having traveled the entire department; knowing the culture and geography of its 13 municipalities; having shared all the pain, the feminization of poverty, militarization in the face of the vulnerability of women, children and communities in the middle of armed conflict: these led me to look for organizations and leaders who were also thinking about the serious situation the communities were going through.

Mapa del Putumayo
Mapa del Putumayo y su ubicación en Colombia. | Creative Commons

In one of my trips to the municipality of San Miguel, San Carlos village, five taxis were incinerated along with their occupants, school doors were marked with different sizes of gunshots, murdered women were laying on the ground with their genitalia and breasts completely destroyed. And a sense of fear that could be seen in the eyes of the children, of the teachers. The trip made me think we were at war, even if our then president Uribe said otherwise.

This, and many sad realities that I had to live in each of the municipalities, told me that something had to be done, that we could not continue with so many orphaned children, abandoned because their parents were disappeared, never returned. Teachers asked me what to do with these children that no one was going to take home, to go from house to house to beg the families to support us with these children until classes returned.

I will never forget the eyes of children with their gazes lost in infinity, and the helplessness of not being able to give them any answers.

The arrival of war

When this war came to my house, they took away all our properties, the farm where we worked. They threatened my husband and then attacked him, leaving him disabled. The guerrillas thought they had murdered him, which forced us to displace the whole family and arrive with nothing to the town. Later, in Mocoa, they murdered my older brother, who left a widow and 2 minor children. Later on, they kidnapped the youngest member of the family, who was the then Director of Health, and murdered him, and left another widowed woman and three very young children.

"Tejedoras de vida"

This is how, in 2005, Tejedoras de Vida was born as a protection network. Today we already have more than 1,500 associates. We began to identify which organizations were still silent, activated them, and, with other women's organizations in Putumayo, we undertook the task of claiming our rights, especially the right to life. But a women's social organization, in the middle of this war, is a threat.

Why? First, because of the patriarchal system that is very present in Colombia, and much more present in the regions. Second, because land disputes are in the hands of dark powers. And third, because of oil extractivism.

The names of the victims

In this process, the organization Tejedoras de Vida is interrupted by the murder of one of its leaders, Luz Marina Benavides, in the municipality of Villagarzón, and of Melva Erazo, a councilor for this municipality. Later, they assassinated the indigenous leader Martha Jamioy in the municipality of Puerto Guzmán, in the Alpamanga village, for resisting the recruitment of indigenous girls. Later, it was the turn of Mary Luz Lucero, from Valle del Guamuez, a community leader who had been questioning the municipal government at that time for projects that did not exist. Apart from this, they disappeared the leader Deyanira Guerrero, from El Placer village, municipality of Valle del Guamuez, and in 2019 they assassinated Gloria Ocampo, a member of the Community Action Board of the La Estrella village, of the municipality of Puerto Guzmán.

Faced with threats against 11 women leaders, the Tejedoras de Vida formed the Table of Guarantees for the security of defenders and leaders, in order to protect ourselves and at the same time demand the presence of the State. But we are the "resistance", and we will continue to fight because we are peace-builders.

Women: resistance

Las Tejedoras de Vida work under three fundamental axes by which the association is guided. They are: 1, Women, Human Rights and Peace; 2, Women and Public Policies; and 3, Women, Culture and the Environment. We apply to departmental, national and international calls and when we are favored the 65 organizations benefit.

Today, the Tejedoras de Vida leave as a product of their work women who have been trained through diplomas and courses. In female leadership 150; in gender-based violence 65 rural women in the Teteye corridor in the municipality of Puerto Asís, 150 in bird-watching, 150 rural women guardians of the water; and 65 women as mediators for peace. The department has a public gender policy for the women of Putumayo and a public gender policy for the women of the Valle del Guamuéz..

Apart from that, we have built walls of truth in the municipalities of Puerto Asís, Villagarzón, Mocoa, Puerto Guzmán, San Miguel and Valle del Guamuez with the names of murdered and disappeared women, as a symbolic language to stop the war. We received ex-combatants in the municipality of Puerto Guzmán, because many women wanted to meet their sons and daughters who were recruited by the FARC in the past. Some met them, others did not hear from them or their status.. Thus, we have held reconciliation meetings between the ex-combatants and the Tejedoras de Vida, because we want to be there for those who need it. For this reason, in every town in Putumayo, you can find a woman from the network and sit down to talk.

Fatima and the rest of the members of the network live under constant threats against her life. Their work of recording and reporting on acts of violence against women also creates a latent risk for them. Many have been murdered and others have been attacked with knives and firearms, but they survived the attacks. For Fátima, "these events highlight the gender-based persecution carried out against women leaders in the region, which seeks to intimidate and silence those who seek the advancement of our rights." On multiple occasions, she has appealed to the State, to which she sends a message: the work that she and the other Tejedoras do in the territory is not possible without the support of the Nation, a support that, until now, does not exist. This is one more example of the contempt with which successive Colombian governments have acted in too many territories of a country that has been left to its own devices.

This testimony is part of the demoAbierta series "Social leaders in danger" about social leaders, their stories and the reality that they live in Colombia.

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