During our conversations with Afro-Colombian women, we learned of the complexities of internal displacement, militarization, sexual violence, and mothers’ horrors of experiencing forced recruitment of their children into the conflict. More striking than the terrible stories of violence and abuses, though, was the leadership exerted by many of these women and the belief that their circumstances could change and justice could be achieved if their recommendations and efforts were supported.
It is women who are leading the rebuilding efforts after displacement occurs. The internally displaced (IDP) women of Clamores, for example, survived the mass displacement in the late 1990’s and subsequent paramilitary attacks. Having lost their men to the war, these women were forced to care for large families on their own without help from the authorities or the skills required to thrive in an urban environment. Often stigmatized due to their displaced status, the women formed the organization Clamores to seek solutions to their difficulties. Through Clamores they have pooled resources to buy a bread machine allowing them to generate the income to survive. With perseverance, the women were able to give most of their kids a high school education.
As activists, Afro-Colombian women are increasingly becoming a political force to be reckoned with. Perhaps the most internationally recognized Afro-Colombian woman is Piedad Cordoba, a former Senator and the current face of Colombianos y Colombianas por la Paz who has gained international recognition for her tireless pursuit of peace efforts, the release of hostages, victim’s rights, and the dismantling of paramilitary structures. Yet Ms. Cordoba is just one of several exceptional Afro-Colombian women working hard to transform Colombian society.