“Regardless of all we have suffered, we have won the battle”: Agripina Sierra

The women of the “Nueva Esperanza” (New Hope) Humanitarian Zone said that don’t know about March 8th’s historical intricacies: who decided that it would be celebrated as Women’s Day, why that day and not another,… Nevertheless, this day has been recognized by the women since before they felt the extreme violence, in 1997, in the river basin of Jiguamiandó, Chocó. We are now in the small hamlet on the banks of that river.[1] According to Severina, on a March 8th in the early 80s the women went out and marched to Mutatá, dressed all in white and singing “long live international women workers’day.” There are women who do not know the institutional history behind this day, but they themselves are part of its history. This is a history that they have written based on their experience as small-scale farmer, mixed race, afro, indigenous, Colombian women, brave, survivors, and social leaders. Women who knew what it meant to resist long before the violence, women who survived that violence, and women who today continue to resist new waves of violence created by a stubborn war that refuses to make space for something new.


Alongside the need to make history, to transmit a story, and to weave the future, this date made it possible for us to witness a meeting to organize the events to commemorate Women’s Day. With breathtaking solidarity, women of different ages but all members of the Nueva Esperanza Humanitarian Zone allowed us to be present in a very special space facilitated by the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP). They share stories about what it means for them to be women before and during the war that beat down on their lands, not to mention the violence they currently face. The oldest women tell the stories of women who resisted the paramilitary groups, the guerrilla, the army, while youngest take notes and wait for their moment in the story, when they were just girls but had already faced diverse armed incursions in their territory. The history is woven over a canvas of resistance and courage that touches the women of different generations who came, displaced, from very different places, who in the face of the war resisted hand in hand in the Humanitarian Zone. Each woman came from their home, their traditions, and therefore, had their own history. Today, they carefully fill in memory’s missing pieces with sorority, as if they are one woman.


The meeting began with a prayer. After, rooted in their solidarity, the women decide to commemorate the community’s leaders who have been assassinated, so as not to forget those who have shaped this territory.[2] They lift up a beautiful tribute to the women who dared to fight without arms amid an atrocious war to build a world that is more just and egalitarian, in spite of the threats and danger. It is necessary to pay tribute to the past in order to continue creating possibilities for the future.

The collective tributes open up a space for each woman’s memories. The first to begin the story is Agripina. She talks about how, when they arrived, this land was jungle, a virgin land where they could hear the birds and animals. To get to Belén de Bajirá it was a two day walk, and now they can get there in 40 minutes by motorcycle, “nobody was out there.”

Agripina Sierra, is one of the woman leader of the Humanitarian Zone of “Nueva Esperanza”

Severiana had been displaced from Córdoba. She came here after surviving a paramilitary incursion in her home. They were looking for her husband, who wasn’t there at the time and she remembers that in spite of the incursion “thanks to God they didn’t hurt me, because at that time, if they were looking for your son or husband and they weren’t home, they killed the mother or the wife or they took the girls and burned the houses.” After the incursion, they decided to settle along the Jiguamiandó river basin where the violence had not yet become a part of the peoples daily lives.

At that time, the women were already demanding active participation in the community. That is why they had organized themselves in a Women’s Work Committee to carry out different activities: they bought pigs, they fried patacones, they cooked sancocho, tamales, cookies, and bread and the men got together and went to sell them in the towns. Everyone sold [the goods], the money was pooled, everything was done collectively.


Isnelda talks about how the women were in charge of collecting funds for whatever was needed. For example, if the children did not have a teacher at the school or if a woman became ill and needed medicine. Also, when the men needed money they came to the women, to the extent that it was the women who made decisions about community projects, that was how the Caño Claro bridge was built. All the community work was carried out between the women’s committee and the men’s committee.

Women Leaders

That era shifted into one that was much darker, with mass displacements all along the Jiguamiandó and Curbaradó river basins.[3] The women remember that, after the first displacement on March 25th, 1997, they went to Pavarandó. They stayed there for 14-16 months, and the women had to organize themselves very quickly. They created a women’s association with a work committee to oversee housing, to control when the humanitarian aid arrived and distribute it to the families, among many other tasks. They carried out a census of the displaced families so that they could fairly distribute food among those families. They had help from Catholic Charities of Rio Sucio and the Red Cross and they organized themselves so they would know when aid commissions would arrive and, when they were not present the women created a sanitation committee to address the issue of water and to prevent diseases.


After 16 months they began to return and the first year was calm, until 2000 when the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries came back and burned several small villages in the area, including Nueva Esperanza[4] and they had to flee again. Jaqueline, who at the time was only five years old, still remembers how they had to flee by river. She has not forgotten how, at a time when there were 14 displacements between 2001 and 2005,[5] the women had a leading role in saving men’s lives: “the men did not face the paramilitaries, it was the women. A man confronting another man is different. Sometimes they formed small groups of women to protect the men.” The resistance was organized between women and men to avert new displacements. In addition, each displacement was used by the paramilitaries or the army to try to place the community on one side or the other of the conflict: according to them, if we fled it was because we were hiding something. The women were accustomed to getting up very early, they began cooking at around 4:30am, so they would have food ready in case the paramilitaries came and they had to flee. Everything was prepared for the worst case scenario.

“The women suffered a lot in the war” and they still carry the wounds of their resistance. Jaqueline told us the story of a woman who had to flee three days after giving birth. She still suffers from anemia because “her body gave everything to the war.” Without the women, all the different moments of community life, the struggle, and the resistance would not have been the same. They contributed in a courageous and decisive way to survive in the interstices of the violence. Now, for the women of the community their project is to reactivate the Women’s Work Committee and perhaps create a cooperative where their work is reflected. Jaqueline highlights the importance of having something that is their own instead of solely depending on the household, collectively constructing proposals for autonomy and small-scale farmer feminism in the region.

Bombings in Jiguamiandó awakes old fears

Sometimes it is hard for them to remember the exact dates but, as Agripina stated, “even though we are suffering and we have suffered, we remember.” These memories, although they are painful, can now be used to confront the arrival of the self-proclaimed Gaitanista Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) who are fighting to control the region, as well as the actions of the Colombian Armed Forces, which on December 6th, 2018 carried out another aerial bombing close to the Nueva Esperanza Humanitarian Zone,[6] attacking an illegal group, but also reopening the wounds that had not yet finished healing.

For us, sharing this space with Isnelda, Agripina, Severiana, Jaqueline, Maria, and the women from Justice and Peace was an unexpected gift. The gift of feeling, in some way, like you are part of a story that deserves and needs to be shared: the story of these women who each day choose life, resistance, and the construction of a territory where they can live in peace.

Aurore Choquet and Adrián Carrillo


[1] Indira Amaris Martínez : Análisis de las zonas humanitarias de Curvaradó y Jiguamiandó como ejercicio de acción colectiva no violenta (1997-2007) Indira Amaris Martínez

[2] El desplazamiento forzado como una estrategia de liberación de espacios para la realización de megaproyectos: El caso de curvaradó y Jiguamiandó 1996-2005, Carlos Eimer Bonilla, 2011, Chapter 3.

[3] Colombia Plural, ¿Y si Colombia recordara Pavarandó?, 21December 2016

[4] El Tiempo, Nueve empresas palmicultoras habrían servido para beneficiar a paramilitares en el Urabá chocoano, 22 May 2010

[5] Idem

[6] CIJP, Bombardeos afectan comunidades en Territorio Colectivo de Jiguamiandó, 8 December 2018


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