In Colombia Women Are the Chief Victims of Armed Conflict

Por Dialogo
marzo 09, 2011

Women in Colombia are the ones who suffer most from the almost half century of armed conflict and are the chief victims of forced displacement and sexual violence, according to experts.

“Women in Colombia face several challenges, which are made more complicated as a consequence of the armed conflict, and without a doubt, those who are most impacted are women and girls,” Margarita Bueso, in charge of the UN Women’s Office in the country, told AFP.

“Women are used as weapons of war, by means of sexual violence, in order to trigger displacement and tear families apart,” Bueso indicated.

Since the mid-1960s, Colombia has suffered from an armed conflict in which leftist guerrillas, paramilitary groups, and drug traffickers have clashed with government forces.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, sexual violence against women is one of the most worrisome and serious offshoots of that conflict.

Members of illegal armed groups that sprang up following paramilitary demobilization between 2003 and 2006 engage in sexual violence against women and girls, “generally ending in physical and psychological aggression, and in some cases even in death,” that office indicated in a statement for International Women’s Day.

As a consequence of the conflict, Colombia has a historical cumulative total of 3.6 million displaced people, according to official figures.

“The faces of forced displacement are the faces of women of all ages and of children. Although statistics indicate that 52% are women and the other 48% men, the vast majority of the latter are boys and youths,” Saskia Loochkart, a humanitarian-affairs officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), explained to AFP.

“Men are killed or recruited, or else some of them stay in their place of origin, trying to protect their property. As a consequence, we have a situation in which in 50% of displaced families, the woman is the sole head of household, with two extremes: on one end, teenage mothers and their families, and on the other, children being taken care of by their grandmothers while their mothers look for work someplace else,” Loochkart indicated.

“Displacement completely transforms a family, and often, it doesn’t stay united,” the UNHCR official said, noting that one forced displacement is frequently followed by another.

“The first displacement is usually from the countryside to an urban center, but in cities like Medellín (in northwestern Colombia), Soacha (on the outskirts of Bogotá), or Bucaramanga (in northeastern Colombia), this can be repeated, whether because they’ve been followed or because they come to very marginalized areas that are also controlled by illegal armed groups,” she said.

One of these cases is that of a forty-one-year-old woman, the mother of five children between eleven and twenty-five years old, who had to abandon her home in the Cajambre River area, outside Buenaventura (on the Pacific Ocean), due to clashes between guerrillas and the Army.

“We came to Buenaventura, where there are also a lot of clashes. We haven’t been able to go back, because the situation continues to be very difficult, even up to now, and we’ve also had to deal with urban displacement,” she told AFP, without wishing to give her name.

This woman, who used to live with her partner by fishing and farming, is now separated and devotes herself to reselling chickens. She said that she has received psychological care because with the displacement, “first I suffered a nervous breakdown, and later a depression.”

And although she affirmed that in her place of origin, “it was easier to get something to eat,” she has no great hope of returning. “Those lands aren’t ours anymore. What I have left now are grown children without jobs,” she concluded.