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Each year, from 25 November (Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) to 10 December (Human Rights Day), an international campaign takes place to challenge violence against women and girls.
The global theme for this year’s campaign is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”. The campaign invites us all to be activists in preventing gender-based violence and support women and girls’ rights across the globe.
Latin America has the highest rates of gender-based violence (GBV) in the world, with just six countries representing 81 per cent of global cases. Machismo – an exaggerated sense of male pride, often perceived as power, means that women in Latin America often face discrimination, violence and have limited control over their lives.
As a result of the COVID pandemic, gender-based violence cases in Latin America and across the world have surged as women and girls experiencing abuse in their homes found they had nowhere to go and no-one to turn to.
Armed conflict also plays a significant role in the level of violence faced by women and girls around the world. In the case of Colombia, women experience high levels of conflict-related sexual violence due to the country’s ongoing armed conflict, which has spanned more than 50 years.
A strategy of terror
Despite Colombia’s historic peace agreement in 2016 and ongoing peace talks, gender-based violence continues to be used as a strategy of terror in Colombia used to control communities.
In Cauca, south-west Colombia, indigenous communities are facing high levels of violence.
“Indigenous women of the Nasa people face huge challenges, particularly in living a life free of violence. Their territory in northern Cauca has been fought over by different armed actors over many years. Despite the Peace Agreement signed in 2016, armed fighting and violence continues,” says Lizeth, a passionate defender of women’s rights who works at CAFOD partner CODACOP (Grassroots Community Support Corporation).
“The militarisation of these territories mean that women have to live their daily life alongside violent armed actors. This puts women at greater risk of sexual violence, physical violence, psychological violence and political violence,” explains Lizeth.
A life free of violence
To support indigenous women facing these violations, CODACOP is carrying out political training to support women to learn more about their human rights, question long-standing patriarchal norms and strengthen women’s leadership.
Lizeth explains: “We support participatory and community research processes that seek to understand the situation of women in their territories by documenting the different forms of violence faced by women. With this information, we undertake advocacy, for example around laws, to make sure they are upheld, such as Colombian law 1257 of 2008. This is the law for non-violence that establishes a series of measures to guarantee the right to a life free of violence for all women.”
Women across Colombia are working very hard to promote and defend women’s rights. Lizeth emphasises: “My hope is that more and more women are aware of our human rights. Our right to decide about our bodies, our right to a dignified education, our right to a life without violence, our right to equal pay and the recognition of care work carried out by women.”
According to Lizeth, activism to strengthen women’s rights and prevent gender-based violence remains vital.
“We need to continue taking to the streets, filling the squares and parks with our voices, our denunciations, our shouts and our drums so that our human rights are guaranteed, especially the right to a life free of violence”.