Women in Colombia, as elsewhere, face many forms of physical and psychological genderbased violence in many contexts – in the home, at work and in the community. They are not alone in facing a situation where such violence, and in particular sexual violence, is so entrenched that it is viewed almost as a normal part of life. However, women and girls in Colombia face particularly acute dangers because of the way in which gender-based violence has been used in the context of the armed conflict.
For more than 45 years, people in Colombia have endured an internal armed conflict that has pitted the security forces, acting alone or in collusion with paramilitaries, against a range of guerrilla groups. Civilians have been the main victims of the conflict and the human rights consequences have been catastrophic for some sectors, such as Indigenous Peoples, Afrodescendent and peasant farmer communities, human rights defenders, trade unionists, and women and girls.
While some women are targeted for reasons other than their gender, many are singled out simply because they are women and for reasons inherently linked to the conflict – to sow terror within communities to force them to flee; to wreak revenge on the enemy; to control the sexual and reproductive rights of female combatants; or to exploit women and girls as sexual slaves. Women human rights defenders are also targeted to silence or punish them when they expose abuses. Over the last few years there has been a marked increase in threats against such women leaders, especially those working with forcibly displaced communities, campaigning for land restitution, or representing survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.