Iris has only been working with the Regional Corporation for Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS) for a year. Before that, she worked for 14 years with the Association of Displaced Persons Living in Barrancabermeja Municipality (ASODESAMUBA), and has also taken part as coordinator and vice-president of several regional and national victims’ round-tables.
Iris is a victim of forced displacement, due to violence, from the area of La Esperanza in Cantagallo municipality (southern Bolivar). She arrived in Barrancabermeja in 2000 with her family and began organising humanitarian assistance for the 70 families who were displaced alongside her. Here she started to develop her commitment to the victims of the armed conflict in Colombia.
Iris’ work as a human rights defender in Barrancabermeja has brought her death threats and defamation at regional and also national levels. Because she has been targeted with threats and has suffered persecution, she has had to learn ways and strategies for overcoming fear and continuing with her work. This had an impact on her husband’s life and those of her six children, who are very aware of the risk that comes with this kind of work and the sacrifices that she makes as a wife and mother. Despite the risks, Iris remains committed to working for justice for victims around the country, with the support of her family that is so important to her. As Iris says “you have to turn and face the wind because nothing comes for free!”
Her experience of being displaced trained her in the need to fight for human rights. The displacement also showed her that gender roles are not as rigid as she had been taught as a child in typical chauvinist environments. When her family was displaced she went to find work in the city, and her husband stayed at home to look after the children.
Iris’ voice is one of the only women’s voices to be heard in CREDHOS. She recognises that being a woman has meant overcoming various obstacles during her career, especially the impact of her workload on her family. But she feels comfortable and happy working with the men at CREDHOS, who recognise the significant knowledge and capacity she possesses. She says that even though changes and advances on the subject of gender have taken place within social organisations, State institutions do not apply a differential focus to women, particularly on the issue of victims, so it is still very important to continue demanding recognition.
On the issue of the peace process and negotiations in Havana, Iris expressed her concern for the lack of guarantees that will genuinely protect civil society. She believes that this will be a year when a lot will happen, because it will be the “year of peace”, and social organisations need to be ready for what is to come.
The real peace process has only just begun in the country and Iris is certain that it will not be an easy road, but we have to keep up the struggle.