GLOBAL | summer 2002
In Colombia, 360 citizens flee their homes each day to escape guerrilla conflict, army incursions, paramilitary attacks, and economic dislocation. Peace talks between the government and rebel forces broke down early this year, and paramilitary groups with close ties to the military regularly commit serious human rights abuses. More than 65 percent of those displaced by the chaos are women, many of whom are forced into prostitution to feed their children. In such a situation, there is a stark disparity between state security and the safety of individuals.
At a recent panel on "Finding Human Security in the 21st Century" hosted by the National Council for Research on Women (NCRW), Victoria Sanford, a University of Notre Dame anthropologist and Kroc Peace Institute fellow, described the plight of women in Colombia. Sanford, who studies the struggles of women living with war, offered an example of conflicting notions of safety from a rural region of Colombia. The area is dominated by paramilitary forces that impose a system of justice parallel to the one officially sanctioned. In the town of Apartado, she said, "it would be safe for any of us to leave a purse in the car with money hanging out of it and the keys in the ignition. No one would touch it," for fear of "social cleansing" by the paramilitary, who attack drug users, street children, prostitutes, and petty thieves under the guise of protecting property. "Social cleansing also targets local women leaders," she said, and "anyone else who wants to protect their rights or protest social injustice. These actions are all carried out in the name of citizen security."
Some leaders at risk belong to the National Association of Peasant and Indigenous Women of Colombia (ANMUCIC), which was founded in 1984 and works with displaced women. It began by developing microenterprise agricultural and textile projects. Spokeswomen for the projects gain respect in peasant communities and are often called on to resolve local injustices. That combination of power and economic independence makes them troublemakers in the eyes of paramilitary soldiers. One leader, displaced from her home and living in Bogota, explained to Sanford that they were "marked as [para]military targets and when the guerrillas enter the community, we are stuck in the middle." Two years ago, an ANMUCIC leader in the town of Meta was raped and murdered in her home in front of her children. Since then, three more rural women leaders have been killed; ten others are in hiding.
The situation of displaced women in Colombia is mirrored in many countries disrupted by internal warfare or by the economic dislocation that rapid globalization can bring. Even in the U.S., the threat of terrorism has allowed the government to impinge on civil liberties in a way that threatens personal security. The world must think differently about progress and development, according to Sakiko FukudaParr, who coauthors the UN Human Development Reports and was part of the NCRW panel. At a time when the state can be the aggressor toward its own people, one must think about defending human lives, not just national borders. "You have to think about human well-being in terms of livelihood, of incomes, of being able to live with your family, to have a job--all of these different dimensions of security are important," she said.