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Indigenous women: invisibilized, discriminated and violated

Colonisation permeated many cultures and discrimination arose towards the indigenous issue, especially towards women. Sexual violence is habitual, illnesses and inequality too. They are victims of war or outside of it, as are all the indigenous communities in Colombia.


Emilse Paz. Photo by Ingrid Guyon

Virginia Moreno Molina


Since the armed conflict started in Colombia, and until today, around 130,600 indigenous victims have been recorded. According t o the National Commission on Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 44 of them killed so far this year.

It is a population that suffers forced displacements, dispossession of their lands, violations of their women and continuous massacres. Their history – according to what Emilse Paz Labio says, an indigenous woman of the Nasa ethnic group that lives in the Northern Cauca territory, southwestern Colombia – dating back to 1492, “with the Spanish colonisation, badly named ‘discovery’.

Since then, they have been living in a continuous battle for survival. Today in Colombia there are 102 indigenous peoples who survived all that genocide and who keep 63 mother tongues alive. However, it was after 1985 when the Nasa Project was created, of which it forms a part, and they started to organise themselves together with a religious community from Italy who made them see the violations that they were experiencing.

Emilse Paz is a victim of the armed conflict, but she has become a leader and human rights defender, especially for women an d indigenous peoples.

She participated as a speaker in the conference held by ABColombia in London and spoke to The Prisma about the situation of indigenous people in the armed conflict, women inside the community and the invisibility that these people are suffering on a governmental level.

Emilse Paz. Photo by Ingrid Guyon

What discrimination do women face from the indigenous community and the state?

One issue is the role of the indigenous woman. We have many responsibilities in all areas. There are internal discriminations, but more marked in the topic of political participation and structure within the community.

Discrimination also comes with family planning. We do not talk about planning, this would be how many children I am able to have. It is also the issue of land titles or access to education. And even though there are more women that graduate high school, there are still many that  do not. On the other hand, on a governmental level, discrimination towards indigenous women is based on our invisibility. We cannot rely on the Government’s plan, and much less on the development plans.

 The Colombian government with all their institutional equipment, does not have statistics for indigenous women’s health, how many die of cervical cancer, in childbirth, due to malnutrition…

This is a recommendation made by the SEDATU (Secretariat of Agrarian, Land and Urban Development) to the Colombian government regarding the subject of discrimination. But it has still not been achieved.

Photo Pixabay

Additionally, we are recognised in Article 7 of the Constitution, where it is said that Colombia is a multi-ethnic and pluricultural country that the government has to protect and respect. But really this doesn’t exist, neither in politics nor in the statistics.

Thanks to the struggle that non-indigenous women have made in the country and in organisations, the topic is spoken about. We have managed to join with them and from there we have also started to become visible.

Within the community, how are they working so that there is equality?

There are some principles and values to being an indigenous person. And this has to do with the worldview. We are children of the water and the stars, it is our offspring. Our ideology has to do with parity, of men and women.  Because there is a moon and there is a sun, there can’t be single women, referring to the participatory issue, nor only men. Because of this we always speak about parity, and the topic of the worldview and spirituality is a guarantee for us as women to obtain equality.

Nevertheless, we have some identity gaps through the issue of colonisation, with all the submission and the religions that are indoctrinated there in the community. This is what stops us from being able to meet those indigenous principles.

Photo Pixabay

How difficult is the fight for equality for the indigenous community, especially for women?

We have several mechanisms, one of them is permanent social mobilisation. In the case of Cauca, we have demonstrations of 15,000 indigenous people, men and women. And the skill is putting the issue of gender into the agenda of the organisation and into the governmental agreements.

There have been 1,200 agreements with the government since 1980 more or less, all unfulfilled. For this reason, we do these demonstrations.

The issue of land dispossession and militarisation of the territories has been denounced. How is the demilitarisation process going to be carried out?

We held many demonstrations on the subject of militarisation of our territories. But now, in the post-conflict period, with the implementation of the peace agreements, everything is going the opposite way. Militarisation in our territories is increasing, instead of diminishing. For us this is a risk in terms of security and life in the territory, but also for women, we see it as a worrying threat.

We have always demanded demilitarisation, because we are the caretakers of Mother Earth. But this occupation also increases where there are mining concessions in indigenous territory. And although we have fought for this to stop, this decision has not been respected in the context of the previous consultation.

Emilse Paz. Photo by Ingrid Guyon

It is sad and ironic for us, because we know that here in London, President Santos received the environmental award. To receive this award, he should at least have removed the mining concessions in Colombia and the indigenous territories because there are miners who are inhuman, they all are, but some are worse. They awarded a President that is massacring Mother Earth.

A military reorganisation in the territories has also been spoken of….

We call them the dissent. At the Cauca level, bad counters say that they are already 300, but this is because the issue of implementing the peace process is going very slowly. The political attitude of the country does not give guarantees of confidence that they will fulfil the agreements.

With the peace process, how is the indigenous community going to benefit?

Until now we have been able to say that in our territories there is peace. We don’t hear bombings or attacks, this has minimised a little bit and it is an important gain, but threats are still being heard.

Already in the implementation of the agreements that were made in Havana, we are in the ethnic chapter which is African, black and indigenous people. There is also the topic of gender. But, until now, in the implementation of the agreements, they have not been taken into account. Neither has everything that was worked on in the “fast track”.

Photo Pixabay

Independently from the peace process, are you trying to reach an agreement with the government?

It is complex because our agreements touch on structural issues in the country. There would have to be a complete change in government politics, financial model, an agrarian reform and equality of the earth.

The private sector also plays an important role in the agreements. But with them they also have to make a pact, however we still have not made any approaches.

Now we are working on the liberation of the Mother Earth that some private sectors have, such as in the sugar cane sector. It has already cost us deaths and injuries, but we keep fighting.

(Translated by Donna Davison – Email:

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