Category Archives: Women Human Rights Defenders

Women defending water in Magdalena Medio under threat

The Escazú Agreement was recently ratified in Colombia, following three years where the legislation was blocked by the government of Iván Duque. This is an important milestone in the protection of the rights of women environmental defenders in what remains by far the most dangerous country in the world for the defense of the environment.

Members of Fedepesan document environmental damage in San Silvestre wetlands. Photo: Edu Leon

The Escazú Agreement contains specific sections focused on environmentalists, promotes the protection of environmental leaders, provides increased access to environmental-related information, and increased mechanisms to ensure the effective participation of civil society. These mechanisms are crucial in a country where, in the last decade alone, 322 environmental defenders have been assassinated. 2021 was the most lethal year for those defending the land and the environment, during which 33 people were killed.

Of particular concern is the intensification of attacks against environmentalists in the region of Magdalena Medio, particularly the attacks against women environmental defenders who are defending water and life. It is increasingly the case that attacks against women environmental leaders in the region occur while they are carrying out their work denouncing the oil industry and its links with armed structures, in addition to corruption involving local public officials.[1]

Yuli Velásquez fishing in the San Silvestre wetlands. Photo: Edu Leon

One of the most serious cases involves the sustained attacks on environmental leader Yuli Andrea Velásquez Briceño, president of the Federation of Artisanal, Environmental and Tourist Fishermen of Santander (Fedepesán) and executive director of the National Network of Artisanal Fisherwomen, a network which will be officially inaugurated on November 26, 2022. Yuli introduces herself as an “amphibious being, daughter of a murdered fisherman, born and raised on the banks of the Magdalena River”, Colombia’s main artery. The leader is clear about where her risks come from: “we defend our territory, we bring attention to the pollution being caused by industry, and we oppose the armed groups that have ties to the companies [operating in the area]. When a defender denounces the entities that should guarantee environmental conservation, they begin to receive threats because of the relationships that those entities have with armed actors. In an attempt to silence us, we become victims of systematic attacks.”

Enviromentalist Yuli Velásquez. Photo: Edu Leon

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Women Defenders: An Example of Strength and Resilience

Today, on the Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we celebrate all women human rights defenders, especially those who face constant aggression and threats because of their leadership in addition to a wide range of violence related to the fact that they are women. Eradicating violence against women and girls is essential. They are key to peacebuilding, protecting the environment, and eradicating violence; all issues that are essential to dignify life and enjoy more just societies. We interviewed five women,[1] with whom we have walked over the years. On this 25 November, we invite you to get to know these women as examples of strength and resilience.

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What is healing?

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.

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Protecting the body, mind, and heart

We are all in a continuous dialogue with our surroundings, everything that happens around us generates a response in our thoughts, emotions, and sensations. These are like speakers, indicating if we require warmth, are thirsty, or need to place limits in the face of something uncomfortable. Sensations and emotions are our first source of input to make ourselves feel well. Humans are far from machines that can do anything, we are vulnerable beings. This means that we are bodies that become ill, can learn, wake up with energy, and go to bed tired, we laugh, fall in love, get hungry or cold, we need hugs and to be listened to, we die. This vulnerability is not synonymous with weakness. On the contrary, it makes us into living beings that are connected to the ecosystem and with knowledge of our lives and the capacity to decide what we needed.

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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.

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