Posted by: astridstort | February 12, 2011

Despite violence and poverty displaced women in Medellin stand strong

The third round of dialogues have just started in Amman, Jordan. A part of our team stayed behind in Colombia to wrap up the second round. They sent us this account:

We just finished the dialogues in Medellin, which were impressive, powerful, heartbreaking but also very inspirational. Violence and insecurity are part of displaced women’s daily lives, the UNHCR office in Bogota had warned us during the initial briefing. In Medellin the displaced women agreed: “Violence is all around us in the streets, it creeps in under our doors and into our hearts,” as one woman put it. Another woman added: “When a displaced woman arrives in the city of Medellin, she has three choices: prostitution, begging or starvation. Which option would you choose?”

Last week, researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia and our (UNHCR) team met with more than 80 displaced women, girls and men in Medellin during the second round of Regional Dialogues on Women and Girls. Medellin, Colombia’s second biggest city, is home to over 194,000 of the more than 3.5 million internally displaced Colombians. Of these more than 11,000 have been displaced within Medellin, due to the high levels of violence. All fled their homes in recent years, escaping the continuous cycle of internal violence and armed struggle that has been haunting Colombia for more than 40 years.

Colombian displacement

Medellin is home to over 194,000 of the more than 3,5 million displaced Colombians UNHCR@ R. Valderrama

“A woodcutter is in the forest cutting wood and gets his leg stuck under a tree. He is left with two choices: either cut off his leg or die there. He decides for the first option. This situation is like our experience as displaced people: when you flee, a part of you stays behind.” With this powerful analogy, women participating in the dialogue illustrated their situation.

We learnt that many indigenous displaced Colombians not only lost their homes and their land when they fled, but also their unique culture, language and wisdom gained from living in nature. During one of the sessions one impressive indigenous woman told about her people’s traditional knowledge of medicinal plants: “Mother earth was our university.” In the city, without access to these natural resources, they told us they have to rely on conventional healthcare, which is unknown to them.

The displaced told us that they find all but safety when arriving in Medellin. Neighbourhoods are controlled by armed gangs and the level of violence, including in supposedly safe places such as schools, is high. Many women and girls said they are faced with sexual violence or have to sell sex to survive. This sexual and gender based violence continues on from generation to generation. Better prevention strategies are needed to change this situation. The women also expressed their need for psychological care and trauma counseling to deal with the immense pain that they are suffering. They suggested the establishment of a community based women’s centre to through which they can help and learn from each other.

Many of the displaced are very poor and often do not get the assistance that is destined for them. One mother told us: “Many times we have to take one egg and share it with three children”. One of the men who took part in the male discussion groups added: “When my wife goes to seek support, they give her papers. But those we cannot eat…”

Despite these very difficult living conditions, the women we spoke to were incredibly strong and hopeful for the future. They told us they want to participate in vocational training to get a better job and send their children to school, so they can escape from the cycle of poverty, violence and injustice in which families are trapped. We did note and were told that significant efforts have been made at the local level to meet the challenges facing Medellin. There is a strong rights-based public policy and a plan of action for the displaced people. The city of Medellin invested over 27.5 million dollars in 2010—from Emergency Assistance to measures leading to Local Integration. UNHCR colleagues told us that although their teams in Medellin work closely with the government to improve the assistance, implementation at the field level remains a huge challenge. Our colleagues in Colombia are happy that the problems of the displaced are recognised but they ask for greater ownership at all government levels.

The women in Medellin moved us to tears on various occasions, especially at the end when they sang a song of solidarity against violence and injustice.

We are holding the Dialogues in seven countries world wide. The third round of the Dialogues has just started in Jordan where refugee women and men from Iraq, as well as Sudan, Somalia and Syria are taking part. We will give you soon an update on this latest round.

UNHCR Dialogues team



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Juan Lopez, UNHCR Women & Girls. UNHCR Women & Girls said: Women dialogues, read […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: