“My name is Woman (Mujer) Perla Amazónica”…

…MEMPA is a powerful name, full of strength. This same strength and energy is transmitted by the Central Women’s Committee known as My Name is Mujer Perla Amazónica (Mi Nombre es Mujer Perla Amazónica – MEMPA), part of the Association for Comprehensive Sustainable Development (Asociación de Desarrollo Integral Sostenible –ADISPA) when we meet them.

They live in the “La Perla Amazónica” Small-Scale Farming Reserve Area (ZRCPA), located in the department of Putumayo, on the border with Ecuador.  They are small-scale farmers, who have lived a lifetime of struggle, and have decided to join together and organise with the aim of having a voice to demand respect for their rights beyond the right to land which they are already claiming as a small-scale farming community.

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Early in the morning we arrive at the port in Puerto Asís, then travel one hour by boat to Cuembi. We are accompanying the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz), and today we are joined by Cristina and Luz Dary from the Nasa People’s indigenous territory called Nasa Jerusalén San Luis Alto Picudito located in the municipality of Villagarzón.

Today they are welcoming two visitors from the Indigenous Nasa Jerusalén San Luis Alto Picudito Reserve located in Villagarzón. The two women have travelled to the ZRCPA thanks to support from the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz), to carry out a workshop on how to weave their community’s traditional woollen shoulder bags.

The women have travelled for around an hour and a half from different villages in the Reserve Area. When they get to the humanitarian refuge at the village of Bajo Cuembi, the women greet one another and exchange hugs, happy to meet again, and without delay they begin to choose the coloured threads to start weaving their first bags.  They meet often to hold workshops, cultural exchanges or to talk about their rights and concrete actions to defend them.

Visit our Gallery to see a selection of photos from this meeting.


Today they are also receiving a visit from an Amnesty International researcher. He wants to get to know the area and the communities here, he wants to know how they developed their self-protection and collective protection mechanisms during the armed conflict, but also to confront the problems that exist in the Reserve due to oil exploitation by the company Amerisur and its possible expansion into other territories of the Reserve Area.

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On the walls of the humanitarian refuge hang the women’s paintings created during a previous workshop. These murals tell some of the stories from the territories, such as this one, which shows how the oil company affects their lives and environment, contaminating water and nature.

The researcher begins by presenting himself and explaining the purpose of his visit. he emphasises the importance of this meeting and of being able to listen to the women, because of the fact that the armed conflict affects women in a different way and it is important to show that difference more and more in order to also establish responses and specific attention to their needs. Figures for sexual violence are very high in Putumayo, one of the departments most affected by this crime[1]. It is also clear that the reconfiguration of the armed conflict and the different actors increases the cases of sexual violence[2].

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When asked about their organisation and the need to create it, Zaira answers: “[…] because in this territory we often have to defend the territory against the oil company and we wanted to organise ourselves to have a voice and be able to claim our rights and our children’s rights, and defend ourselves as women”. Zaira lives in the village of La Frontera, just over an hour from Bajo Cuembi, and identifies herself as “a trans woman, proud to be part of MEMPA”. She tells us that 6 years ago La Frontera was caught in the middle of a confrontation between illegal armed groups that resulted in the displacement of 72 families. She adds that they lived for 5 months on the riverbank without receiving any attention from the State. They returned 5 months later with a list of requests and needs that remains unanswered.

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Carlos (Cijp) and Cristina who taught him how to weave a “mochila”

After Zaira, other women tell their stories; each and every one of them has been directly victimised by the armed conflict and they also describe how they are being stigmatised as guerrillas for claiming their rights and how many leaders have left the area due to threats.

It is getting late, and many of the women have between one and two and a half hours to travel back to their homes. They say goodbye, giving thanks for the space and the opportunity to have been heard and of course, scheduling the next meeting, with smiles and encouragement to continue with their struggle, and to continue raising their voices.

Nathalie Bienfait


[1] RCN Radio: Antioquia, con la cifra más alta de víctimas de violencia sexual en el conflicto, 26 May 2019

[2] El Espectador, Colombia 2020: La violencia de género nunca desapareció de las zonas de conflicto armado, 2 June 2019

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