Gender implications of guerilla warfare in Colombia
Gender relations and the social fabric of communities?
Violence has been a constant element in Colombia’s history. Since its independence social inequality has been source for conflict in the region. The current conflict has been going on for more than 40 years between the guerrillas, the government and the paramilitaries; without reaching a peaceful agreement thus leaving society to years and years of unrest. At the center of this are the many women of Colombia that are affected by the conflict in many ways.
Roles of men and women:
As a result of the conflict women have been forced to be heads of households, many women have been forced into the guerrillas as combatants or as servants, many people (over 1 million) have been displaced. Many men have been forced to join the guerrillas or the paramilitaries leaving behind families that might never know of them again. Women have become the providers of resources for their families, this implies new risks for them because natural resources are sometimes not available because of coca fumigations that damage indiscriminately, and because travel to get supplies sometimes as close as the neighborhood store has become dangerous because of the presence of guerrillas. Women as heads of household often face more challenges as their income generating skills are limited. UNIFEM reports that “sixty percent of displaced women have no source of income or access to income generating activities.” The conflict has also affected women’s education, since travel is unsafe, and sometimes schools are not even available. According to UNIFEM “teachers in poor areas often receive death threats from armed groups, which lessens the availability of qualified teachers, the majority of whom are women. Girls also face an increased threat of violence on their way to school, which increases the dropout rate amongst girls.”
Changes in identities:
According to MADRE “women account for more than 55% of all displaced people, and more than half of displaced families are headed by women. Because women’s social roles revolve around the home, women tend to carry the heaviest burden when a family is displaced and to experience the most severe destruction of their social identity. Moreover, sexual abuse of displaced women and girls is widespread.” www.madre.org/country_col_basics.html The UN report from the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, found that in addition to rape and abduction carried out by all armed groups, the paramilitaries have begun practicing other forms of control in the regions they dominate: “they impose territorial limits on freedom of movement and impose curfews; if a curfew is broken women are raped and then killed. They impose strict codes of social conduct, including restrictions on what women may wear and penalties for “misbehavior”. They reinforce conservative values and the different gender roles expected of men and women. Women are not allowed to wear miniskirts, hipster jeans or tops which show their midriffs and anyone who disobeys that rule is taken to the paramilitaries’ barracks and forced to cook and to wash the paramilitaries’ clothes. They also operate social cleansing operations.” www.womenwarpeace.org/colombia/colombia.htm Men are often forced to watch while their daughters and wives are being raped and/or murdered. Women who are with the guerrillas and become pregnant are forced to abort leading to many health risks since abortion is illegal in Colombia and these procedures are practiced. Identities have been constantly affected, men often have no way of providing for their families, or protecting them; women also many times can’t nurture or support their families. Women have been reported to be raped or abused by the paramilitaries just because they are related to enemy groups. Families have been torn apart all over the country, widows, orphans, abducted women and men, sex slaves, and abused children take up more and more of the population; thus affecting the thread of society.
Impact on rights:
Colombia is the oldest democracy in Latin America, and there are a lot of institutions and laws that support rights of men and women, the reality however is different because of the ongoing conflict. Rights of men and women have been abused continuously; it seems that they have been reduced if not eliminated because of the guerrilla’s control of a majority of the region. Indigenous people’s rights are at higher risk, and suffer sometimes more than other Colombians. People victims of abductions suffer a great violation to many of their rights, since they are kept from their family and are deprived of their freedom sometimes for years. Women, who are forced to join the armed groups, are at the mercy of them for food and safety. Sexual rights of women are especially violated in Colombia, since they practice forced abortions, or the use of contraceptives to avoid pregnancies. Although the government has been making continuous efforts to help the development of women and protect their rights, through the Council for Equality of the Colombian Woman, the conflict does not allow for these programs to be widespread and to really reach the people that need them.
Impact on relationship:
The traumatic experiences lived by Colombians have a definite impact on relationships between men and women. Witnessing murders, rapes, mutilations, abuse of family and community members is not an easy thing to recover. Trust in people that have been members of armed groups is not an easy thing for a community that has been affected so deeply. Women have definitely pulled together because of the conflict, and because in many cases they have been left alone they become the male and female roles in a community. According to International Crisis Group, « armed groups often force women heads of households to leave their homes because of the prominent role they play in community development. » www.crisisweb.org/home/index.cfm?id=1536&l=1
The author presents in the paper the changing role of women in the Conflict. As a result of the conflict women have been forced to be heads of households, many women have been forced into the guerrillas as combatants or as servants, many people (over 1 million) have been displaced. The traumatic experiences lived by Colombians have a definite impact on relationships between men and women. Witnessing murders, rapes, mutilations, abuse of family and community members is not an easy thing to recover.
The author of the file is : Raquel Aguirre.