For years, Margarita (aged 72) worked as a teacher in her native Colombia. As a result of her experiences in the height of the armed conflict in Colombia, she has dedicated her life to fighting for women’s rights and liberties.
Margarita is now part of a female advocacy group based in Medellin, Colombia that is supported by Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres (a feminist pacifist national organisation made up of more than 280 women’s organisations in Colombia).
Margarita’s group in Medellin provides support and counselling to women who have experienced years of violence and abuse (in all its forms) so that they can regain their self-esteem and confidence to claim back their rights to live a healthy and safe life.
For more than 50 years, Colombia has been in the midst of a civil war between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In the course of Colombia’s armed conflict, for decades, women suffered from various forms of gender-based violence and abuse.
“We need to generate action to ensure support for women.”
Decades later, as a result of self-mobilisation and movement building, these women – many of whom remained silent for years – are actively and publicly denouncing all forms of violence and abuse that for years violated and exploited their rights. Through campaigns, group’s such as Margarita’s, are calling on the government to bring justice to affected women.
Despite the long-lasting impact of the war and armed conflict, the grassroots women from Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres and other women’s groups in the country have put their lives on the line to regain their fundamental rights and demand for reconciliation. They have challenged the rhetoric for women from one of pain and suffering to that of female solidarity and participation in order to drive collective action.
Over the years, the women have studied the laws and policies that govern their country, protested in the streets, and worked with the media to promote their advocacy messages.
During the armed conflict, many women struggled to find a job and receive an education. In addition to their advocacy work, Margarita and her grassroots group are teaching women about the importance of school and financial independence.
“I was the only woman in my community who graduated past the 5th grade,” says Margarita. “I was only allowed to go to school because they needed someone to educate children in my community, so they prepped me to become a teacher,” she says. “But I was never allowed to speak my mind, and when I did, I got punished,” she continues.
With the country now working through the development of the peace process, Margarita’s group and other grassroots women are getting involved in government processes at the local level to ensure that women play an active role in the monitoring and implementation of the peace process and in the design of post-conflict, community-led activities.
“We need to generate action to ensure support for women in the process,” says Margarita.
“This is especially true for rural women who were significantly impacted by the armed conflict and may not have a full understanding of their rights and guarantees as a result of the peace process.”
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