Care Is Protecting Life: A gathering of women defenders

Between 24 and 27 February, PBI Colombia held a Gathering of Women Defenders in La Vega. Women leaders and defenders participated from throughout the Colombian territory.

The women are active in peaceful resistance with the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó (Antioquía)they are leaders from the Peasant Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC), the Humanitarian Action Corporation for Coexistence and Peace in Northeast Antioquia (CAHUCOPANA), the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS), and the Social Corporation for Community Advisory and Training Services (COSPACC), all of which are emblematic organizations that work for the rights of the peasantry and communities affected by the armed conflict in the Magdalena Medio, Northeast of Antioquia, and Casanare. They are women involved in the struggle and relatives of victims of forced disappearance from Buenaventura, with the Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), and from Bogotá the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation (FNEB). As well as women human rights lawyers from Bucaramanga, Bogotá, and Medellín—from the Luis Carlos Pérez Lawyers’ Collective (CCALCP), Dh Colombia, and the Corporation for Judicial Freedom (CJL), Ties of Dignity (Lazos con Dignidad) and the Feminist Scheme for the Protection of Human Rights (Esquema Feminista de Protección de Derechos Humanos)—which defend victims of state crimes and police violence and they accompany initatives that propose peace from the regions. All of them, diverse women, came together in that diversity and united their struggles and protection tools in a collective, transformative effort that called collective memory into the present.

We would not know where to start to summarize what happens when over twenty women come together and share their thoughts and emotions. There was so much power and creativity among them! This photographic summary seeks to share a few of the moments that we experienced, and, mainly, to transmit the energy of sisterhood in the Gathering of Women Defenders.

We began the gathering by getting comfortable and relaxing after all of the adventures to reach the gathering.

But soon that calm ended and it was time to move.


Some of us had unexpected things in common, such as names that begin with the letter “A” or preferring to live in the country.

Alejandra Garzón, DH Colombia

“I want all of us to continue as a beacon of light in each region, seeds despite the fear. With the constant conviction that we are on the right side of history. Because we are strong women who stand up to a criminal project”

We got to know each other, and thus, who we are. Not more or less.

And we presented ourselves in many ways, with our names, with movement, with drawings.

And some smiles began to appear.

  And we had doubts.

Or perhaps we were just very focused on the other women’s words?

Annye Paez, ACVC

“I am a woman of fire, strong, and sharing with water women helps me advance. I understand self-protection as a demonstration of care, love, paying attention, of generating trust. Despite everything, what we seek is life”

Sometimes we must get over our shyness and jump right in to share.

On the first day, we worked on ourselves: Who are we?

We reflected on what it is like to talk about ourselves and to see ourselves in others. We did this through the creativity of drawing, with clay in our hands and a rainbow of markers.

We also played using our bodies, creating statues in movement and machines inspired by Imagination Theater.

Thanks to these tools we reflected on everything that makes up our resistance and struggles.

Susan Espitia,  Feminist Scheme for the Protection of Human Rights

“Struggle can happen in different places, from a desk, from academia, but mainly it is how, as women, we experience the context from a differential perspective. And, here we have seen how women build differently, how we dialog differently. This is the materialization of a feminism that is no longer theoretical, it is in the streets, it is the action of farmers, it is social, it is grassroots. Here we have lived what I call radical tenderness”

Thus, we can identify how resistance is full of diverse images: those who shout and protest, but also those who prepare a community meal, who write a report on a computer and attend to the hurt people, there is the person who rests and the one who goes out, the one who cultivates the land and cares for the seeds, and those who seek answers, year after year. All of this a part of resistance.

María Elena Vallejo, MOVICE

“They killed our loved ones and we must continue. Resistance is this homeland that pains us so much. And what unites us is love and the desire to continue forward amid all these situations” 

Day two we started with a great attitude. Looking at each other.

“Looking at myself in the mirror was like opening a channel”, some said.

And expressing what we named “radical tenderness”.

Perhaps radical tenderness is watching each other, coming together, and listening.

Thus, in this way.

It is a radical and inexhaustible tenderness.

When it is reciprocal,  right?

Carolina Agón, CREDHOS

“Sometimes we don’t even have time to look at ourselves in the mirror, between meetings, making arepas, taking care of the kids… but sometimes it is necessary to stop a moment and look and see oneself”

We filled ourselves through conversation because “the personal is political”, knowing that we are full of stories and experiences of resistance and growth.

Lucy Martínez, CAHUCOPANA

“Normally we do the work of accompanying other women, the psycho-social work, and we carry a heavy burden. That is why this is so valuable. I am thankful to have care spaces for us”.

We reflected on how we watched ourselves and what words we used to name ourselves.

We talked about the importance of naming ourselves with beautiful words, looking at ourselves in the mirror to see beyond our clothes, seeing our emotions and how we confront the obstacles on our path.

Jennyfer Caicedo, FNEB

“I know that I can go far with a push. I am taking from this space the desire to continue fighting for truth and justice, for our disappeared loved ones”

 And, full of ideas we built a collective space with the objects we had brought from our territories: rice, corn, coffee, tapestries, menstrual pads, the notebooks we use to write down what we have learned, flags, hats, photographs, avocados, oils, vests…

We saw the bond among us through our organizations and communities and our hope to build a Colombia at peace and without violence.

Tifanny Moreno, Ties of Dignity

“We are all women who have been affected by our many struggles and pain, which we have learned to confront as women and if we are here it is because we desire change, we have a great desire to resist from a space of love, for our people, and our territories” 

And thus we connect with the countryside and the city and we talk about resistance in our territories and from our organizational initiatives.

It was a space of hope and pain. A space of rage and mutual aid.

A space to recognize the diversity of the territories and Colombian women defenders.

Ninfa Cruz, COSPACC

“Oil is the blood of the land and unfortunately they exploit the natural resources surrounding the peasantry. That is why I was displaced and this is what identifies me. I was displaced five times and I continue to be in resistance”

As with this radical tenderness, we have also shared from a space of strength and resolution.

Speaking about the violence also led us to connect with the paths that we have walked.

The paths of hope we still want to build

The paths that nourish and sustain us each day: those of the countryside.

The paths of togetherness and power among women.

Thanks to each of you for making it possible

PBI Colombia

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