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Columbian feminists and the combat against violence

Andrée MICHEL

05 / 1999

Colombia is a rich country, too rich, so it generates envies of every kind. (...)The violence there has been strongly entrenched for fifty years, but it has now reached its apex: 35,000 violent deaths per year, 10 percent of which are political assassinations, as well as 15,000 deaths during military confrontations.

Of this number, it has been estimated that the percentage of female victims of death by violence is about 9 percent, higher than in previous years. However, the suffering of women cannot be limited to this figure. Women are also the victims of rapes perpetrated by the government army and private militias. Many women are victims among the 20,000 violent deaths classified as having ’social causes’ whose authors are not the armed militias. Even though murders of women are less common than those of men, they bear the full brunt of the machismo of South American society. We were told that it is not rare for women to be murdered because they refuse the advances of men. (...)Although armed groups spare women in relative terms, they suffer greatly when they lose a husband, brother, son, parent or friend or when they are obliged to flee from their homes and villages. Also, the percentage of murders of women by military groups only represents a minor facet of all the suffering endured by women due to the militarism and violence of Colombian society.

(...)The struggle of Colombian women for non-violence comes initially from women who were feminists before their fight for peace or who have become so progressively in their thinking on the causes of the violence.

(...)The Colombian feminists decided to organize a large demonstration in Mutata, a small village in the province of Uraba, one of the country’s most violent regions. They prepared the demonstration in collaboration with Indian organizations, responsible for the concept of ’active neutrality’ and with ecology organizations from the Uraba region. The preliminary presentation of their project at the Medellin Women’s Forum stirred much enthusiasm from the women of the city’s poor districts and shantytowns. They baptized the project ’Ruta Pacifica’ (the Pacific Route). (...)They made the link between the violence that they suffer in their everyday private lives and military violence. To their surprise the march gathered more than six hundred women come from all over the country by bus, braving roads dangerous both day and night. During the march, they not only denounced violence against women but also the ’supposed pacification of the country by using deadly totalitarian projects’. They demanded that dialog and negotiation replace armed struggle and some of them also demanded women to refuse to bear the children of men who carry arms. They discussed the characteristics of the violence practiced against women around the world and decided to set up a women’s struggle observatory (that they have called Veedor).

In parallel with their concrete actions, the ideas of the Colombian feminists places them at the forefront of feminist thinking on the nature of violence. There is no contradiction for them between the violence women suffer in their private, family lives and in society, and the military violence they have to endure. These two types of violence stem from the same patriarchal society that has instilled men with a conception of virility related to violence, whereas women have been educated to submit. However, even though women do not carry arms, they are involved in the violence since it affects them even more than men.(...)

The spirit of Ruta Pacifica means escaping from the ’androcentrist cage’ imprisoning men and women. Feminist activity will always be a transgression since, to achieve peace, it is necessary to change the predominant message and language; women must dare to speak out and present their point of view to prepare the road to peace, by saying: - no children for the war because they will be killed when they reach adolescence or adulthood. The women of Ruta Pacifica also ask themselves how it is possible to be caressed by a husband or boyfriend that has killed ? From here they seek to analyse the link between death and eroticism, sex and war; - we need to break the links between the instruments of war, by organizing, for example, a great public debate on the refusal to fuel armed groups (this means not fuelling them with food and arms).

These feminists think that the use of this symbolic language will promote the destruction of this warlike and violent mentality. To sum up, in answer to the question of disarming warlike spirits, their solution starts from the kitchen and continues into the public arena, since they make no distinction between the private and public violence, as private violence spreads into public life.

On the basis of a remarkable book on fifteen Colombian towns by Marie Dominique de Suremain, Lucy Cardona and Marisol Dalmazzo ("Women and the urban crisis or the invisible management of housing and urban services", published by ENDA America Latina in 1995), it is possible to show that far from being cut off from women of the poorer classes, the thinking of Colombian feminists can, on the contrary, promote their interests and participate in their initiatives.

Using a study of women’s participation in the management or urban services and housing, the authors show how poor women have succeeded in refusing male machismo, by carrying out an activity in the midst or at the head of an organization in spite of opposition from their husbands, by educating themselves to speak out, by participating in the public arena, and by carrying out concrete projects in the service of the public and women. (...)

Palabras claves

mujer, violencia, cultura de violencia, discriminación de las mujeres


, Colombia

Comentarios

The theoretical consideration of Medellin’s feminists on violence is therefore totally consistent with the aspirations of women from poor districts and with what they have achieved concretely in order to enter the public arena and refuse private violence.

In feminist theory, as in the lives of Colombian women, everything happens as if the fight against violence were linked to women’s fight for their dignity and emancipation; conversely, they do not want to separate their fight for their rights from the fight for peace.

Notas

This text is (with substantial cuts)a contribution to the workshop on ’women and peace’ organized by the Yin Yang (masculine-feminine)workshop of the Alliance for a plural, responsible and united world shortly before the Hague international Conference on Peace (may 1999). Original sheet in French in this data base.

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