At PBI we have been talking about this idea of a protection circle and to protect ourselves we must also take into account the many dimensions and impacts of violence: a spiritual or feeling-based dimension, the psycho-emotional or corporal dimension, the group-relational dimension and, now, we want to talk about the territorial or project dimension. Here we want to discuss the importance of protecting what we fight for or defend: peace for our territory, access to justice, building a truth that is connected to the experiences of those whose rights have been violated, a life free of violence. We seek to build new worlds, or rather, we hope to expand the beautiful worlds that already exist, and we want everyone to have access to them. This brings us to our efforts to organize collectively and defend what we consider as fundamental for life.
During the 2023 Women Defenders Gathering, we came together, our hands filled with objects from our territories and we built a protection circle. A mandala that enveloped the space, welcoming us during the gathering and witnessing manifold beautiful moments of creation, tenderness, and dialogue among women. The protection circle was represented in six moments, each one named based on the participants’ feelings and built out of spontaneity and from the desire to bring our demands and desires to that space. We identified six pillars of protection for women defenders, pillars that are tied to protecting what we are, protecting our dreams.
Once upon a time, there was a bird on a beach…
Once upon a time, ten lionesses…
Once upon a time, twenty women defenders…
Between 15 and 18 February, 25 women came together in La Mesa, Cundinamarca. Women from different Colombian territories and PBI accompaniers from several countries: San José de Apartadó, Cali, Vistahermosa, and Puerto Rico in Meta, Bogotá, Catatumbo, Remedios, Sur de Bolívar, Barrancabermeja, Puerto Asís, Portugal, Spain, and the United States. The youngest woman among us was 24 years old and the oldest was 72. We came from organizations such as ACVC, ADISPA, ASCAMCAT, CAHUCOPANA, CAJAR, the Peace Community, CSPP, CREDHOS, DH Colombia, Karisma, LIMPAL, MOVICE, NOMADESC, and PBI. Each with our stories, our dreams, and our pain.
Human rights and social movements are unique experiences that would be impossible without groups of people coming together with a common aim. Social struggles and the defense of human rights are inevitably collective. Why? Because the systems of power—capitalist, heteropatriarchal, and colonial—and socio-political violence are too tenacious to face alone. Collectively we can discover that the impacts of violence are more common than we had imagined. What I experience may also experienced by my colleague, and this helps free us from the guilt or discomfort that arises from the fact that we feel affected. And because the human rights violations we fight touch a collective fiber, beyond a specific damage, beyond the victimizing act, they move our sense of humanity.
It is common to hear that defending human rights can cause deep feelings of isolation, which can sometimes be alleviated through acts of solidarity, camaraderie, and alliances. Psychosocial accompaniment takes into account this solitude, places it at the center, creates a framework of understanding, and seeks to transform it. In this context, loneliness is easily tied to hopelessness. If I feel alone, I don’t see myself as capable and if I don’t see myself as capable, I stop believing in what I want to achieve. One of the main objectives of sociopolitical violence is precisely to divide, to create feelings of loneliness, incapacity, and hopelessness. What can we do to not fall into despair? How can we build hope? This is one of the big questions. A possible answer is: believe in and strengthen the collective, the process, so that they can provide balance for our wavering sense of humanity.
For some time now, Peace Brigades International has been reflecting on the concept of holistic protection. Contributions from women defenders and feminist organizations have brought to light the need to question militaristic protection models but also to understand protection in all its dimensions. Holistic protection is a political mindset that seeks to create protection models that question the state monopoly, power relations, and individualism but it is also rooted in the idea that what is “personel is political”. That is to say, protection is also related to the ties that we create, and with our affections, identities, bodily pains, values, symbols, and ties with nature. That is why we talk about meaning or spirituality, the body-mind-heart dimension, and the collective dimension of protection. Protecting ourselves is more than just surviving, it is being able to continue with our activities as defenders of rights, it is also constructing our lives, nourishing our dreams, and strengthening our bonds.
Accordingly, protection is connected to care and, thankfully, with healing. Protecting ourselves is creating tools to prevent painful situations, that is to say, taking decisions in the face of risks generated by the context. In contexts that also have so much socio-political violence, the risks are high, as are the impacts experienced as women who seek to prevent or live with these risks. Thus, to protect ourselves we must recognize everything that the violence has, and continues to, generates in us, giving it space and value.