“The drug trafficker, the landowning politicians in Congress and also the mafia” …These are, according to rural leader, Edilia Mendoza, the protagonists responsible for the massacres and displacements suffered by the custodians of the land.
Virginia Moreno Molina
When talking about armed conflict in Colombia, women are seen according to the conservative model of housewives and people who are weak and vulnerable to attack.
“The agrarian movement has invariably been led for the most part by men, and when us women get involved in the public debate, the attacks become more directed at us,” explains Edilia.
In addition, she points out that “it’s not just sexual violence” but, throughout this time, around 60 types of abuse against rural women have been identified: sexual, family, public, private, economic, racial…
In fact, the women have received threats on many occasions, but this has not intimidated them as regards standing up for their rights.
Mendoza Roa is the rural and agrarian leader of Santander, Colombia. It belongs to the National Association for Rural Unity and Reconstruction, the political Advocacy Roundtable for rural women, and the political Advocacy Platform of rural Colombian women. As a champion of human, agrarian and rural women’s rights it is one of the most important voices in this area.
Mendoza, who took part in the conference organized by ABColombia, spoke with The Prisma about the importance of the role of rural women, their internal and external struggles and the importance of protecting their land.
What is the biggest difficulty facing rural Colombians?
The biggest obstacle is that Congress is drafting bills that go against the peace agreements. The Government has submitted several bills, including the formalization of land ownership.
This bill failed because the various organizations and us rural women are protesting, as it goes against the agreements. It gave priority and protection to big business. The rural inhabitants had the land, but businessmen had the investment. And as in Colombia there is no subsidy for rural communities, for their access to land, credit or crop protection, we were going to be disadvantaged with respect to the bills.
Today, the amendment to Act 60 of 1994 which contains guidelines for agrarian reform is being discussed in congress. So, one of the biggest obstacles is not having a real internal, democratic and humane agrarian reform.
Another main problem is distribution of and access to land, and of course, legalising the ownership of land for those who directly work and live off it in Colombia’s rural communities, like us, rural women, peasants, native people and fishermen.
As women, you are also fighting for individual recognition…
Yes, and for direct access to land. Not only based on the model of 30 or 40 years ago, when the family structure was husband, father, daughters, etc.
Today, there are female heads of households that are alone: orphaned, abandoned, separated, widowed, displaced, native African and young women who want and assume roles in the community as well as woman who have disabilities.
But the institutions are not ready to give these women access to land. What they are proposing is a homogeneous law as if we were all the same.
And within the community, what kind of discrimination are they encountering?
There is the family model, the model of economic development and the model of rural development in the country. These are the three areas where power is exercised over women. And where there is no recognition of the various economies in which us rural women are involved.
We are fighting to gain recognition in these areas, but also to get recognition* for what women contribute to the GDP, in addition to recognition of the various economies that the government does not promote and deems insignificant economies.
As a result of this struggle, you have received threats and attempts have been made to kidnap you on several occasions.
Colombia ranks seventh in the world when it comes to social inequalities, but it is also second when it comes to attacks on those who champion agrarian and environmental rights and the rights of people to reclaim dispossessed land. We are talking about the fight to secure a resource that is needed not only when it comes to agriculture and farming, but also when it comes to providing other services: mining, energy, etc. So, there is competition regarding the position of these plots.
Who are these opponents?
The drug trafficker, the landowning politicians in Congress and also the mafia. There is competition because we the peasants are situated along these roads and plots of land, and that’s where they do the drug trafficking.
What was it like to live through the whole issue of guerrillas and the attempt to occupy these plots of land?
In places where we had rural land or homes, we were displaced. But this eviction took place not only at the hands of the rebels, but at the hands of Colombian politicians themselves and military organisations such as paramilitaries. In some instances, other armed combatants that exist in the Colombian countryside. If the guerrillas come out, others appear. Colombia has not changed on that score. And the Colombian government does not want to acknowledge that these paramilitaries still exist, and that they were created by the same national government that was unable to wage war effectively on the rebels directly.
We women, peasants, native people, and fishermen … we live in the areas they need for something else. So, there is a struggle to acquire land. And the evictors in Colombia come in different shapes. It’s not just sexual violence although this is one of the kinds which most affect a woman in terms of her body, life and soul. A form of abuse that transforms you into another person as a result of the suffering and the attacks which form part of the way this war is being forged.
We have identified about 60 types of abuse against rural women: sexual, family, public, private, economic and racial violence … But we are also campaigning for life, peace and change. If Colombia does not allow us to discuss the country’s model for development, there will be no real peace with equality and justice, because the inequalities are social, economic and, to a certain extent, also cultural.
What position are the peasants left in within this peace process?
For decades we have fought for the agrarian cause and proposed new laws. Moreover, we have also fought directly with the Government. A lot of work has been done by our more than 3000 organisations of rural women in Colombia. This is what allows us to come up with such a comprehensive bill. However, those speaking on behalf of the Government are curtailing it. I was in charge of drafting the bill with regards to the agrarian movement, but which also included women’s rights and the rights of LGBT people.
We are beginning to understand that the Colombian family is undergoing a transformation, both in rural communities and in the city. And things are different in these places too. Before, we rural women were more submissive, today we have other challenges to meet, such as bringing legal or technical proposals to Congress.
The LGBT issue is very controversial in Colombia…
Our focus on gender means that not only will we be broaching the issue of women’s rights but also those of LGBT people and intersectional ethnic minorities.
There is much more discrimination shown in Colombian middle-class institutions towards human beings who have made these choices (and are entitled to do so). Indeed, they experience a lot of abuse.
(Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL – firstname.lastname@example.org) – Fotos: Pixabay