Even today, Lucy Martínez is surprised that she was given the opportunity to join the Association for Humanitarian Action to Promote Social Harmony and Peace in the Nordeste Antioqueño (Cahucopana). She is one of the few women to achieve her goals, without finishing high school. “I never thought I would get this far,” she exclaims with satisfaction. However, Lucy truly earned it with hard work and perseverance. Lucy is only 35 years old and she has worked on social issues since she was 17, initially as secretary and treasurer for the Community Action Council (JAC, in Spanish).
Lucy admires the founders of Cahucopana who, 16 years ago, began “with only their dedication to create an organization” to defend and promote human rights and today it is broadly recognized in the Nordeste Antioqueño (Northeastern region of Antioquía). Cahucopana has been able to generate reflection spaces within the peasant and mining communities, supporting the reconstruction of historical memory and reparation for the armed conflict’s victims.
“Anxiety and fear are more notable now”
Cahucopana began its work amid the region’s worst humanitarian crisis, caused by continuous combat and blockades imposed by the legal and illegal armed actors, who prevented food and medicine from reaching the area.
After the 2016 signature of the peace agreements, the peasant population from the Nordeste Antioqueño had a lot of hope for sustainable peace. But the reality has been different, and the optimism has disappeared. “The context analyses continue from bad to worse,” states Lucy and she tells how the context has strengthened an endless number of neo-paramilitary groups and the ELN, groups that “have taken over everything previously controlled by the FARC.”
Learning not to be silenced
Women like Lucy have enriched the organization’s work, despite the male chauvinism rooted in this region. Life is difficult for women in the Nordeste Antioqueño region. They live in distant rural communities, there are barely dirty roads, and during rainy season the options to travel from one place to another are reduced. “Fear is always knocking on our door,” says the leader. Lucy learned to not be silenced and her attitude seeks to include other women.
“Promoting new female leadership” is one of the major objectives shared with Cahucopana, which has been working with women peasants for seven years in the Nordeste Antioqueño. They created a gender school and participating in the school “has been the most amazing work I have been able to do,” comments Lucy with pride and a huge smile. Every month there are meetings in different rural communities to talk about sorority, human rights, the peasant economy, self-sustainability, and women’s role.
Currently it is rainy season, and it is difficult and exhausting to travel on the dirt trails. “Lately, it is raining every day. Last week I had to walk six hours to get to a workshop and the water was up to my waist,” says Lucy. It is exhausting, but “it is worthwhile.” Lucy has also changed. “I have grown, and I am strengthened as a woman. At the begin, it was hard to unlearn things,” she recognizes. Her four children also benefit from Lucy’s growth. They learned to dream big; the youngest wants to be a surgeon, the oldest wants to study social work.
“I have grown, and I am strengthened as a woman. At the begin, it was hard to unlearn things.”
Big changes with the arrival of internet
Initially, the pandemic was difficult, but they quickly created anti-covid committees in the towns and established rules to avoid infection. Thanks to these initiatives there have been relatively few infections in the rural communities, reports Lucy. As of two months ago many towns now have internet, something never before seen in this distant and isolated region, where it was even difficult to make cellphone calls due to the lack of coverage in many rural areas. They have already created WhatsApp groups, currently the preferential tool to organize among the women and to talk about what is happening in the territory. Internet has strengthened the women’s work in the territory.
The need to continue strengthening women’s participation in social leadership and collective decision-making spaces is essential to build lasting and stable peace and a more just society. Thanks to all the brave women like Lucy, the fight for peace and dignity continues.
The Nordeste Antioqueño region is located to the east of the Cordillera Central (Central Mountain range) and to the southwest of the San Lucas mountains in the department of Antioquia. The area is extremely rich in mining and lumber production. In spite of all this wealth, the communities that inhabit the area live in poverty and are marginalized. They have been abandoned by the government and lack basic services like water, electricity, healthcare, and education.