The situation for women in Colombia is daunting. We often see cases of femicide in the news, and according to the National Institute of Legal Medicine, a woman is killed every eight hours. Even if not all cases are considered femicides, that is, motivated by the fact that the victim is a woman, the majority of aggressors are their victims’ partners or ex-partners, and in an increasing number of cases, the victims are pregnant. In 2022, 614 femicides were recorded in Colombia, and in 2023, the count has already reached 25. Femicide cases are not only increasing in frequency but in brutality, demonstrating a rise in the dehumanization of women.
Regarding other types of violence, every hour, eight women experience domestic or sexual violence. When women dare to report these crimes, they are then revictimized by the State, which doubts their stories or simply does nothing. But the State is more than just negligent. It also behaves as the victimizer, as state officials are frequently singled out by accusations of sexual harassment. Further, there have recently been reports that more than 69 girls from indigenous Guaviare communities were sexually assaulted by Colombian and North American soldiers in exchange for food and drugs, and at least 378 more cases are currently under investigation.
Sexist violence rages even worse against women who are poor, indigenous, black, and LGBTQIA+, and particularly against immigrant women, who are forced to work longer hours for below minimum wage, who are also victims of xenophobia, sexual violence, and human trafficking. In 2021, out of all reported cases of violence in Colombia against Venezuelan people, 81% of the victims were women.
Currently, 51.6% of poor people in Colombia are women, who have worse indicators than men in spheres including employment, unemployment, and underemployment; likewise, care work within households has been delegated to women. Women dedicate twice as much time to care work, that is, an average of 7 hours a day, creating a double workload. As for the effects of the pandemic, the pay gap rose from around 20% to 30% during the pandemic, and is currently returning to previous levels.
Regarding the new “alternative” government, its new National Plan for Development called “Colombia Global Power of Life” (“Colombia Potencia mundial de la vida”) has a section on women, which touches on key themes in terms of women’s rights, including employment, redistribution of care work, education, access to land and credit, and gendered violence, among others. It also speaks of creating a system for monitoring gendered violence, which intends to centralize information about cases of violence and femicide in the country; however, there is no mention of how this violence will be prevented, and furthermore, the strategy for reducing hours of unpaid care work remains unclear.
Until now, President Petro and Vice President Francia Márquez have disregarded the calls from different organizations that we have made for the immediate declaration of a national emergency against sexist violence, allocating an urgent budget for the prevention and care of such cases to protect women and create the conditions of economic autonomy that would allow them to distance themselves from their aggressors.
Colombian Women are the Vanguard of Struggle
But even amidst the difficult conditions we have described, Colombian women are far from passive objects of their reality; on the contrary, they exemplify struggle and resistance. Women, especially younger ones, were at the forefront of the social outburst processes known as the National Strike in 2019 and 2021, active in community kitchens, in the streets and even in the front lines of resistance. After the mobilizations were dismantled, even during the electoral juncture and during the first months of the Petro government, in which most sectors were demobilized and folded in expectation of solutions from above, women and their organizations continued to radically resist intensified sexist violence. They are now one of the few sectors that have remained mobilized. They have responded with rallies and marches to increases in femicide and rape. The state response has been fierce police repression, but there is also a growing sympathy from the masses.
In February 2022, Causa Justa, a coalition of feminist, social and human rights organizations won a historic achievement: the total decriminalization of abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy, maintaining the causal model until the end; with this, Colombia became one of the most advanced countries in terms of abortion not only in the continent, but in the world. This was thanks to the favorable environment gained by the national strike, as well as to the struggle and mobilization of women in the streets.
Also, the struggles of women workers against the bosses’ sexist violence have been remarkable. Several of them have been supported by our party. For example, the women workers’ struggle of Atún Van Camps which fights the management that deducts their wages for going to the bathroom – even when they are menstruating – and forces them to wear short skirts in the plant; the women workers’ struggle of Delipostres, where many were fired after the company changed its name and now wants to deny its workers’ employment status, owing fired workers three years of wages; the struggle of the workers at the food supplement factory, Funtrition, who are persecuted by employers – mainly the plant manager – for joining the union Sintraproquipa; the workers of Sodexo, outsourced and overworked, who are now fighting after presenting a list of demands; the community mothers who waged another nation-wide strike, demanding labor formalization and the right to a pension, and reached an agreement with the government regarding some important conquests, such as the pension bonus.
During the last few years, women have played major roles in struggles on the labor front and for social justice in general, fighting also against machismo in the heart of the class. Likewise, 8M has been restored as a date of struggle and mobilization, as we fight against its commercial appropriation of it. We must follow the example of women who continue to fight independently against machismo and for rights for the entire working class.
For an 8M of struggle with class independence!
Demand that the Government declare a National Emergency against sexist violence!
For working women, for a dignified life with equal rights and labor guarantees!
Community mothers: women from poor neighborhoods who run daycare centers in their homes, sponsored by the State, caring for the children of the most vulnerable working women. They did this work for years in exchange for a voucher and food to share with the children, without a labor relationship. They had no salary and the State did not consider them employees, under the justification that for women, taking care of the children was not work but simply something “natural.” After many struggles, the Court, in a historic ruling, recognized not only that they had been workers of the State, but also that they had been victims of gender-based discrimination. Some of them, not entitled to a pension, have taken care of children until the age of 80.