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Updated On: Monday, 24 September 2018

UNHCR Aids Sexual Abuse Victims in Colombia

Content by: South-South News

6 March 2018, New York, USA | South-South News — The UN Refugee Agency – the UNHCR – is partnering with the Life Weavers Women's Alliance to help displaced Colombian women and girls overcome sexual abuse and support them through the process of finding justice.

The Alliance provides counselling and empowerment workshops to survivors of sexual abuse across the Putumayo region of Colombia, and - crucially - the chance to pursue justice through the courts.

More than five decades of armed conflict in Colombia have uprooted some 7.4 million people within the country's borders. Women and girls - who make up more than half of the total - are particularly vulnerable. Preoccupied by immediate concerns like finding food and shelter, removed from their family support networks, aid workers say they are wide open to sexual exploitation as they seek shelter on the margins. Leonor Galeano, a member of the Alliance, said, "Women's rights should not be ignored, to the contrary, women are very valuable." The women are just a few among thousands working to overcome their trauma. Fatima Muriel, the President of the Alliance, said, "The problem of sexual violence in the region of Putumayo is most prevalent among families who have been forcibly displaced, because they are in a state of greater vulnerability.”

The Life Weavers Women's Alliance brings together 66 women's groups across Putumayo to amplify their voices. "We decided to form a network at the provincial level so that we could protect each other. Every time a woman is killed we go out to the streets and protest," Muriel added.

The Alliance, provides legal aid, therapy and empowerment workshops to survivors of abuse. Leonor's daughter was a victim of sexual abuse when she was only 12 years old.

Galeano said, "I am thankful because it was with the help of the Alliance and UNHCR that I survived. I consider myself a survivor, for I have moved ahead, I have undergone training."

But speaking out can be dangerous. Some of the women face threats for their activism. Colombia's war wounds are still fresh and many perpetrators are still at large. Alicia, another member of the Alliance, said, "I call them enemies of peace, because they want us to quit the peace building work we are doing with the Alliance and with UNCHR out of fear, out of intimidation… but I will not quit."

The Alliance's public events remind Colombians of lives lost, but also hopes for the future. "We want to rebuild our families, our homes, and go back to being the families that we once were," Muriel said.

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