PBI’s work in support of the reconstruction of the social fabric is oriented to address fear and ruptures in organizational initiatives affected by sociopolitical violence. In essence, these spaces address elements that make it possible to give meaning to and re-signify experiences, in addition to developing strategies for the continuity of the organizational initiatives.

The effects of sociopolitical violence can paralyze a human rights defenders’ work and weaken the social movements capacity to resist and organize to seek political, social, and economic alternatives.


In 2018, from PBI’s work area to Support the Reconstruction of the Social Fabric we have accompanied a group of twenty-five women, family members of disappeared individuals. These women are members of the Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) – Valle del Cauca chapter. It is an accompaniment process that began in Buenaventura in 2017 and is focused on psycho-social support, self-care, and mutual care. Our accompaniment is aligned with MOVICE’s strategy to fight impunity, and in favor of truth and justice in the search for disappeared individuals, guarantees of non-repetition, and comprehensive reparation, where a methodological proposal meets empowerment using elements of historical truth.

The women face different realities and intersectionalities. On top of being woman, victims of enforced disappearance, and human rights defenders in Colombia, they are also: mothers heads of household, unemployed, some in situations of poverty, and inhabitants of a depressed area of the municipality. In spite of all these differential conditions, their participation and attendance has been ongoing and sustained over time. The women manifest the space’s importance and its contributions on a personal level, but also on a group level due to the collectively constructed tools.


Within the achievements seen during the process, trust building must be highlighted in a context where violence has generated a major rupture in the family and community social fabric, a central aspect of the Buenaventura culture. We also saw an appropriation of analysis to understand their reality and context, through a training and orientation process. According to the women, this space has contributed to strengthening the process to build a collective, a sense of recognizing themselves as part of the group, of supporting each other, and as a place to deposit ancestral knowledge that leads to well-being and a recognition of their own identities. In addition, they saw personal improvements regarding the impacts of the victimizing incidents. The women were able to develop strategies, from a collective space, that they can also use on a personal level and in their daily lives to increase their well-being.

“Self-care is not a luxury for peace times, but a safety strategy: as women defenders, if we continue working in spite of the stress and exhaustion we are less aware of the risks or it is harder to address them. Self-care is not only fundamental for the well-being of women defenders on an individual level, but also for the survival of the movements and organizations. Self-care is a political strategy of resilience and resistance in the face of aggression that seeks to debilitate the organizations and movements dedicated to achieving justice and the defense of human rights” (“Diálogos entre nosotras: ¿Qué significa el autocuidado para las defensoras de derechos humanos?” (Dialogues Among Us:  What does self-care mean for women human rights defenders?). Mesoamericana Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders).


Through self-care and the accompaniment process, we can facilitate and open a space to process conflicts, tensions, and fears. This happens in a space that does not permit the women defenders’ revictimization and makes it possible for them to continue their work, integrating self-care into their day-to-day lives on a personal level, but also in their family and organization.

Being a woman human rights defender in Colombia signifies daily risks. In a context of increasing criminalization against the defense of human rights, work in favor of comprehensive protection that incorporates a self-care approach is the foundation to confront structural violence that is layered on gender discrimination. This in itself is a political strategy to guarantee that women defenders can continue their work in collective initiatives and the defense of human rights.

Have a look at this video to know more

Video made by Bianca Bauer thanks to the support of The Peace Civil Service Programme of the German Goverment

Elena López-Maya

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