For five decades, guerrillas, paramilitaries, narco-traffickers and the government have waged armed conflict in Colombia. They have caused 40,000 deaths, tens of thousands of "disappearances," and innumerable human rights violations. According to reports from women's rights groups, every two days a Colombian woman dies from "political" causes and every two weeks another Colombian female falls victim to forced disappearance. All parties to the conflict have been reported for using rape and torture among their tools of war. Women have been forced to observe war crimes committed against their families and have been murdered, mutilated and sexually exploited. According to the UNDP, two-thirds of women in Colombia are survivors of either physical or allied forms of violence.
Women survivors further suffer due to widespread public attitudes that assign blame to victims, which is, tragically, a common practice surrounding gender-based violence. According to one gang rape survivor, "You have to keep quiet. If you talk, people say you asked for it." For women survivors of violence, groups like Alianza Ruta Pacifica de Las Mujeres (Peaceful Way of Women) offer healing by restoring women's dignity, raising survivors' voices and working to ensure justice. Since 1996, Ruta Pacifica, a network of women's groups from across Colombia, has addressed mounting and serious human rights abuses perpetrated upon women. Advocating non-violence, the group strengthens and unites women's groups to promote humanitarian law and peacefully protest the continued violence and lawlessness.
In 1996, Ruta Pacifica gathered over 2000 women in the first nationwide, women-led nonviolent protest of the civil unrest. Women emerged from traumatized silence, marching together with signs that read, "Armed actors rape women to humiliate men," exposing the convoluted strategy of terrorizing women as a deliberate tactic of war. Since this first march, Ruta Pacifica has fearlessly organized women countrywide to resist violence, annually commemorating the International Day to End Violence Against Women (November 25th). Their efforts earned them the 2001 New Millennium Peace Prize for Women from the UN Trust Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
A recent Global Fund grant supported Ruta Pacifica to lobby the government of Colombia to declare violence against women a humanitarian crisis as well as a serious human rights violation. Ruta Pacifica exemplifies the power of courageous, women-led social and peaceful resistance to prolonged political and social violence. Their success depends in part on the Global Fund's ability to assure consistent funding for marginalized women's groups and to unite women's social justice movements so that, together, we might restore all girls' and women's rights to bodily integrity and security.
Cool Link: Ruta Pacifica on YouTube
Author Cassandra Sutherland is a student at University of San Francisco and is an intern at the Global Fund for Women