‘Peace has a lot of enemies here’: Colombia’s female activists in the firing line

The 2016 peace deal brought hope to many Colombian communities that had been exposed to brutality for decades. Three years on, this hope is being extinguished by a wave of attacks and murders on political candidates and community leaders – many of them women.

On Sunday, the country voted in its first local and regional elections since the accords. Although the polls themselves were relatively calm, the build-up was marred by an uptick in violence. Between October 2018 and August 2019, 91 political candidates, community organisers, and local activists were killed in acts of violence.

Women who support the peace process and stand up against armed groups and drug traffickers have been assassinated, attacked, and threatened – more than 100 have been killed in such attacks since 2016, the think tank Indepaz said in July.

During more than five decades of Colombia’s conflict, 122,000 women were displaced and some 1,400 women victims of sexual violence were recorded in the southwestern province of Putumayo alone.

The 2016 accords between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and the Colombian government were supposed to end the conflict.

Read more → In Colombia, the ex-rebels choosing peace but struggling to go it alone

But since the FARC demobilised, violence has returned to Putumayo as armed groups looking to control the cocaine trade vie for power and look to suppress community activism in its infancy.

For this film, journalist Cady Voge and researcher Julia Zulver spoke to women in Putumayo about the dangers of continuing their work – women like Sandra*, who supported the peace process by helping former FARC fighters to reintegrate but now faces attacks and threats.

Whereas the FARC fighters were often familiar to community members, today’s groups are more unknown, adding to the chaos and complicating the response. “We don’t know who’s killing us now,” said Fátima Muriel, president of the Women’s Alliance in Putumayo.

Community leaders who condemn the armed groups and report them and their actions to the government risk retribution. And women are now being targeted with gendered acts of violence, precisely for the leadership roles they play within their communities.

(*Name changed for security reasons)

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