by Gro Lindstad, Norway
FOKUS – Forum for Women and Development works with partner organizations in 16 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Gender-based violence is a major challenge in many of the countries where we provide funding and it takes different shapes and forms.
In Colombia, where we hopefully will have peace soon, FOKUS works with a number of women’s organizations and groups on issues of peace and security. The armed conflict still goes on and women face different forms of discrimination and violence, although there are no unified and reliable official figures on the situation. Some disturbing figures reflecting a lack of accountability from the State has been documented in connection with the shadow report that was prepared by Colombian civil society earlier this year on its obligations connected to CEDAW.
Between 2002 and 2011, 14,630 women were murdered; and in 2011 alone, 70,139 women were victims of family based violence, including 51,118 of these women who were beaten by their partner. That same year, 1,415 women were murdered. A current or former partner was the perpetrator in the majority of the cases.
Sexual violence against women is widespread, systemic and made invisible. Official numbers show that 40 percent of the registered cases regarding sexual assault are assaults on girls under the age of 14. The rate of impunity for these crimes is 98%. This figure goes together with a high percentage of underreporting, the invisibility of these crimes and the constant fear to denounce them. A large number of the perpetrators are members of security forces, paramilitary forces and different guerilla groups. At present it is estimated that somewhere between 4.9 and 5.5 million Colombians are refugees in their own country, while 80% of the internally displaced are women, girls and children and 43% of the displaced families are led by women.
What has struck me and what I want to highlight, especially during this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, is the lack of state accountability related to gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict countries. In Guatemala, we have partnered with organizations like Conavigua, Moloj and Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (MTM). Brave women work there, often facing danger because they address the lack of accountability that is still a fact in many ways in Guatemala, after the civil war that lasted for 35 years. The State has yet to apologize to the widows of those killed, and discovered in mass graves. There is also a lack of any form of apology or attempts to pay reparations to the large number of indigenous women who were enslaved by the military. Many women still struggle with the traumatic stress that this has caused, and FOKUS has funded a project providing some of these women a place to meet, talk and try to heal. Talking has many times been impossible for the women to do at home, because their husbands and families feel so ashamed and guilty.
Women who are still on the barricades in Guatemala, like the first female state attorney Claudia Paz y Paz, are part of a complicated struggle. She is working to try to end the culture of impunity that has seen perpetrators throughout the spectrum of Guatemalan society get away with murder. It is a balancing act since the current President Otto Pérez Melina was a commander during the civil war during which a massacre took place. He will not encourage any court processes that might make his own crimes visible. This again hinders processes of state accountability.
MTM has for quite some time now worked on bringing the cases of 100 former sex slaves during the civil war before the Inter American Court. We need reactions on violence against women to be made a priority and for the courts to signal to governments that they will be kept accountable.
Looking at Colombia, now hopefully coming out of civil war, lessons need to be learned from countries like Guatemala. Women have to be at the table during peace talks, issues of impunity and state accountability have to be addressed in order to build and heal. Colombia has a number of strong women’s organizations and voices, and they are in the middle of a struggle that we have to support and push for our own governments to support.
Gro Lindstad is the Executive Director of FOKUS- Forum for Women and Development since 2011. Prior to that she was Chief of Intergovernmental Relations at UNIFEM HQ in New York. She has 8 years’ experience as a Political Adviser in the Norwegian Parliament, working on all issues connected to gender equality, equal rights and women’s rights, before taking on responsibility for defense and security, foreign policy and development issues. She also has more than 30 years’ experience working with and in NGOs. She studied law at the University of Oslo and holds a masters in international human rights from the same university.