By Michelle Blanchet.
What do you picture when you think of Colombia? Cocaine? Gang warfare?
Sadly, violence is nothing new to Colombia, and has instilled a bad reputation to an otherwise wonderful country. Decades of conflict have often left the state powerless to control paramilitary groups, or to manage organized crime. Drug and arms trafficking have intensified the entire situation, which have caused the country to periodically hit some of the highest homicide and crime rates in the world.
For women in Colombia, the violence extends even further. Not only has armed conflict instigated physical and sexual abuse against women, domestic violence and psychological abuse are widely common among spouses and family members. Rates of abuse are so high Cristina Plazas, High Presidential Advisor on Equality for Women, considers domestic violence to be one of greatest problems facing women in Colombia. Not only are the streets dangerous, the home isn’t any safer for many Colombian women.
But as statistics will show the level of disparity and violence that Colombian women face is overwhelming on many fronts. Colombia Reports stated that in 2011:
- 99% of all abortions were illegal
- On average of every four days a woman was murdered by her spouse
- Women work on average 10 hours more a week than men, but receive 20% less pay
- Violence against women had an estimated cost between 2-4% of Colombia’s GDP
Gender inequality is a huge issue, and moreover there is not enough being done to prevent violence from effecting women. This hinders women from reaching their potential, and stagnates the overall development of the country. Women lack rights, and they lack power. Furthermore, many women are unable to receive the assistance they need after having been a victim of abuse.
Fortunately, this past March legislators took a step in the right direction. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, along with the country’s 32 governors, signed legislation to advance women’s rights recognizing to the need to end a culture in which society thinks it is normal to hit women. The act would provide funds to promote awareness on the issue as well as design action plans to educate women on how they can live without violence. In addition, it seeks to ensure that officials respond appropriately to calls on domestic violence.
While this may be a step forward, it will be interesting to see if other factors impede progress. Last April, many protestors gathered in Bogota to spark awareness on the continuing violence that ensues within certain regions of the country. For communities bordering Venezuela, and for those living in southern provinces bordering the Pacific, citizens are getting caught up in armed conflict spawned by the FARC and by drug activity. The government does not provide adequate services for people in this region, which is especially detrimental for women. Growth in these regions is virtually impossible, displacement is widespread, and those who suffer from abuses receive little, if any, assistance. Hopes in these regions for peace and equality seem futile.
While gender inequality remains one of the most severe problems within Colombia, many other factors continue to thwart advancements made within this area. Seemingly never-ending armed conflict constantly distracts government efforts as does drug activity. Awareness and education about violence against women is mandatory if the situation is to improve, but there never appears to be enough “break in the action” for officials to really take reign on the issue.
I agree with Ms. Plazas that gender inequality is one of the biggest obstacles impeding Colombia from further developing. It is most certainly one of the main social problems to be addressed within the country. Now that the government has signed legislation to address the issue, it will take time to see if its efforts prove fruitful. It will be difficult to overcome the change in mentality needed to alleviate this situation, but at least the seeds for change have finally been planted.
For more information on the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence please visit http://www.stoprapeinconflict.org/
Written by Michelle Blanchet. Michelle is an educator interested in education, development, and social enterprises. She just finished her Master’s in International Relations and is currently residing in Lausanne, Switzerland.