Patricia Guerrero is a Colombian lawyer, activist, and founder of the Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas, (Displaced Women’s League). The organization, which is part of the Advisory Committee of the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict, was founded in 1999 to support women displaced by Colombia’s decades-long internal conflict.
The organization supports the rights of displaced women and their families and assists in their socioeconomic development. It also seeks restitution for the loss of property as a result of the armed conflict and displacement and works to hold perpetrators of violence accountable. It is the oldest organization in Colombia focusing on the rights of displaced women.
The League has also established La Ciudad de las Mujeres (the City of Women), a development constructed by displaced women in Turbaco, Colombia, that is home to around 500 people. The City of Women provides job training opportunities and a safe community where displaced women can live in dignity. The City of Women is not just a housing project, but rather a sustainable community built by displaced women for displaced women and based on a foundation of equality, gender justice, and self-sufficiency.
The Colombian conflict is the longest running conflict in the Western Hemisphere and has its roots in Spanish colonial rule, which left a legacy of widespread inequality and an unequal distribution of land and resources throughout the country. Political violence in the 1940s between conservative and liberal factions, and the creation of armed revolutionary organizations during the 1960s led to the armed conflict that continues today.
Last year, the Colombian Government and guerrilla organization Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) sat down to negotiations for the first time since 2002 and agreed on a five-point agenda for peace talks covering the topics of agrarian reform, political participation, narcotics, victims’ rights, and an end to the conflict. Peace talks began in October 2012 and are expected to continue until at least the end of this year.
The initiation of peace talks is especially important for the Colombian women that the League and the City of Women serve. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that there are almost 5.5 million internally displaced persons in Colombia, and the use of displacement as a tactic of war has increased over the past decade. Millions of Colombian women have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to active conflict in their communities, rape and other forms of sexual violence, the forced recruitment of their children into guerrilla and paramilitary organizations, the activities of drug trafficking organizations, and violence linked to resource extraction and mining operations. A survey conducted by the League indicated that around 14% of the displaced women that the organization serves are survivors of sexual violence. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian are at higher risk of being displaced, often facing prejudice and discrimination in addition to the challenges of displacement itself. The League of Displaced Women believes in the peace process itself, but is concerned that women have not been included in the negotiations, and worried by the lack of participation in general by Colombian women in the peace process. There are no women on the Colombian Government negotiation team, and only one representing the FARC. As a result, women, especially minority and displaced women, continue to seek justice for sexual violence during the conflict and remain shut out of contributing to a sustainable peace in the country.
Building Community in the Search for Justice: A Visit to Colombia's City of Women (via United States Institute of Peace)