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Bringing Afro-Colombian Women’s Voices to the International Stage

The Columbia University Human Rights Law Review recently published a groundbreaking collection of articles that highlight the work of Afro-Colombian women leaders working for sustainable peace in Colombia. The six articles are a collaboration between MADRE, Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), and legal scholars led by the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic (HRGJ) of the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law. 

The project began in February 2019 in Cali, Colombia. Over the next year and a half, Afro-Colombian women leaders worked with MADRE, and with CUNY and University of Los Andes law professors to conduct interviews, collect research, and provide input for articles highlighting priority concerns for their communities. These articles are meant to support the ground-level organizing led by Afro-Colombian women, by bringing international attention and legal analysis to the lived realities of Afro-Colombian communities as they work for racial and gender justice. They complement in-depth research and reporting conducted by PCN’s women leadership on similar themes, with their most recent report available in Spanish here:


Third Party at the Table: Afro-Colombian Women’s Struggle for Peace and Inclusion, authored by Lisa Davis

While Colombia’s protracted war may have finally come to an end, there is a long road ahead to meaningful implementation of its Peace Accord. The failure to fully implement the accord – particularly its ethnic, racial, and gender justice provisions – means that Afro-Colombian women and their communities continue to be subject to armed actor violence, displacement, sexual and gender-based violence, and violence against their human rights defenders. This article discusses the racial and gender justice safeguards under the Ethnic Chapter of the accord and the current lack of meaningful consultation with Afro-Colombian authorities and implementation of aspects that impact their peoples and territories. 

Understanding Threats Against Afro-descendant Women Human Rights Defenders: Re-envisioning Security, authored by J.M. Kirby and René Urueña

Since signing the 2016 Peace Accord, attacks and threats against human rights defenders in Colombia have skyrocketed, and Afro-Colombian women defenders are particularly at risk as they defend their territories and defy stereotypical gender roles. Afro-Colombian women human rights defenders have called for protection measures that address their ongoing struggle for collective territorial rights and that apply a gendered lens to protection – an approach in direct contrast to the measures currently provided by the Colombian government. Through an analysis of the state’s misdiagnosis and inadequate response, this article encourages international and local human rights advocates to keep collective territorial rights and a gender focus at the center of efforts to protect Afro-descendant women human rights defenders.

Gender Violence Against Afro-Colombian Women: Making the Promise of International Human Rights Law Real, authored by Julie Goldscheid

Despite the historic inclusion of racial and gender justice provisions in the 2016 Peace Accord, gender violence in Colombia continues with devastating effect and with a particularly harmful impact on Afro-descendant and Indigenous women and their communities. This article details the ways gender violence has particularly impacted Afro-descendant women and their communities, reviews international human rights obligations requiring States to attend to the ways intersecting forms of discrimination impact survivors’ experiences of violence, and offers recommendations for reform.

In the Crosshairs: Centering Local Responses to SGBV in Afro-Colombian Communities, authored by Babe Howell and Naree Sinthusek

The power vacuum created after the 2016 Peace Accord has resulted in new vulnerabilities in many Afro-Colombian areas to SGBV at the hands of paramilitaries, guerillas, narco-traffickers, state actors, and mining and agricultural interests. Access to justice for survivors of SGBV in these areas, conflict-related or otherwise, is a major challenge, while justice and security in the post-conflict peace process are illusory. This article discusses the work of crucial community-based efforts to provide support and protection to survivors as they seek justice, and work to change community attitudes about gender violence. 

‘Territory is Everything’: Afro-Colombian Communities, Human Rights and Illegal Land Grabs, authored by Rebecca Bratspies

Afro-Colombian women seeking to vindicate their land rights find themselves at the mercy of multiple vectors of discrimination: they are Black; they are women; and they are rural farmers. Their land rights are under threat from land occupations and government development plans, compounded by the impacts of gender and racial discrimination. Nevertheless, Afro-Colombian women are at the vanguard of territorial rights advocacy in Colombia. This article discusses Colombia within the global movement for land rights, the main threats to Afro-Colombian land rights, and proposes a path forward for Colombia to ensure the rights of Afro-Colombian women to their territory.

Making Rights a Reality: Access to Health Care for Afro-Colombian Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, authored by Deborah Zalesne

While Colombian law mandates minimum healthcare services for survivors of sexual violence, healthcare for Afro-Colombian sexual violence survivors is virtually non-existent. The intersection of race, class, and gender creates unique issues for Afro-Colombian survivors, which can result in a complete lack of health care options. This article spotlights the many structural barriers that Afro-Colombian women face in realizing their right to health and health care in Colombia. To bring the provision of health services in line with Colombian law and obtain health equity, policy makers must consider how the intersection of race, class, and gender uniquely affect Afro-Colombian survivors of sexual violence. 

January 27, 2021