Learning and Unlearning Violence

Story of Change

WILPF recognises the roles of patriarchy, militarism and capitalist neoliberalism – among other oppressive power structures – in perpetuating gender-based violence. Read more on WILPF Colombia’s journey to empower survivors through a care and community-based approach.

Violence against women exists in a continuum. Explicit acts of aggression are the tip of an iceberg of deeply embedded patriarchal norms, beliefs and actions that too often lead to violence. For this reason, understanding gender-based violence (GBV) requires that we address multiple, interlinked issues.

What ideologies drive violence against women? How do peacetime inequalities inform GBV during armed conflict, and vice versa? How do we work together to cope with violent pasts?

These are questions which WILPF Colombia (also known as LIMPAL Colombia) has worked to address through a nuanced understanding of feminist peace. The group’s work has encouraged hundreds of women and men to consider the roots of violence and to be able to imagine a future beyond its frameworks.

Everything LIMPAL Colombia does is part of a process linked in time – everything is conceptualised from the perspective of the past, today and tomorrow.

Diana Salcedo López, President of LIMPAL Colombia

Peace on paper

Despite the signing of a peace agreement by the Colombian government and the guerrilla movement Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC–EP) in 2016, the violence in Colombia continues – and women face unique threats.

There has been a steady increase in the rate of femicides in Colombia, and for Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, rural and LGBTQ+ women, the risk of kidnapping, arbitrary arrests, threats, harassment and direct violence is heightened. This holds especially true when women are leaders or human rights defenders in their communities.

Given that the likelihood of armed conflict is determined by a country’s rate of violence against women, failing to address GBV damages chances of achieving sustainable peace. To strengthen processes and action toward the elimination of GBV in their nation, members of LIMPAL Colombia have been marching, networking and educating since the group was established in 1998.

Feminist Schools of Peacebuilding

In 2019, LIMPAL Colombia set up two Feminist Schools of Peacebuilding as a way to promote feminist perspectives and approaches to peace at the local and national levels. “Building the schools in Meta and Bolivar is our most exciting achievement from 2019,” recalls Diana Salcedo López, the Colombian Section’s President, with pride.

Many of the women attending the schools are survivors of violence. Coming together in a learning environment provides strength and tools for empowerment – for example, through psychological aid or leadership workshops. Diana Salcedo López notes in particular that the schools provide a venue for older and younger women to share their experiences, knowledge and insights as they work together to build awareness, create change and heal from the past.

The schools’ courses start with teachings on feminist theory and movements, and then develop to more complex and context-specific lessons. The lessons are unpacked with open arms, and they often end with women curious to know more. They also lead to action: for example, women who learn about topics such as the Colombian electoral process and modes of political participation are now empowered to take a more active role in local councils, and bring the lessons learned with them.

Drawing attention to violence against women leaders

Recognising high rates of violence against women human rights defenders and the implications for communities, LIMPAL Colombia’s members have advocated for resources and policies to address the causes and impacts of violence directed at women leaders. At both the national and international levels, members of LIMPAL Colombia have brought the issue to discussions with government officials and human rights organisations.

In 2019, the group published Visible Heroines: Women in the dance of life, memory and reconciliation to explore women’s key roles in coping through and transforming memories of violence. The Section also carried out extensive consultations in 2019 to further understand the topic from the perspective of mental health and how communities are often the basis of women’s psychosocial support. 

Emotions are shared in smiles, tears, hugs, kisses, gossip and handshakes: transformative actions with meaning and imprint on the body, that also generate a memory of belonging, a collective memory.

Sintonia corporales: Memoria y resistencia de defensoras, un seguimiento a la Resolución 1325 (LIMPAL Colombia, 2020)

In these consultations, women from various backgrounds spoke on how caring, belonging and fostering trust in their communities are the key ingredients which transform violent relationships into peaceful ones. Equipped with this knowledge, the Section has started initiatives such as self-care groups and dance therapy to help women heal from violence.

Reimagining the path forward

Feminist activism and policies need to be made emotionally, socially and economically sustainable for continuums of violence to be resolved. In creating spaces for care and healing, more women and more nuanced perspectives are empowered to inform the journey to feminist peace.

LIMPAL Colombia’s members have been looking into how structural inequalities in politics, economics and mechanisms of justice create multiple forms of violence against women. The Section has, for instance, advocated for a complex appreciation of the gender dimensions in the reintegration of former FARC members. This includes considering the influences and experiences of women who were themselves perpetrators of violence.

What does an economy of care look like, and how can the approach help women participate in post-conflict Colombia? These are questions we continue to explore and create frameworks for, in the firm belief that unlearning violence is rooted in empathy and community.

All images shown in this story is from the publication Visible Heroines: Women in the dance of
life, memory and reconciliation. For more background on the images, please see this powerful publication by LIMPAL Colombia.