ProDefensoras Colombia: "Let's protect those who protect us."


"For life, development, and peace, I'm an advocate." This is one of the many messages that they share with us and which will be insisted on by the leaders and human rights defenders who were selected to be part of the ProDefensoras Colombia Programme, which has been made possible thanks to the alliance between UN Women, the Norwegian Embassy and the Ombudsman's Office.

The initiative, which was officially presented on June 24th through a digital forum broadcast by Caracol Radio, is an affirmative action in favor of women defenders of peace, human rights, life, territory, the environment, water and the rights of victims, who have seen an increase in the risks involved in carrying out their work.

This programme focuses on prevention and protection of women leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia, seeking to ensure that women leaders and defenders, their organizations and communities have a safe, favorable and protective environment in which to defend human rights and contribute to sustainable development and peace.

The forum was attended by the Norwegian Ambassador, John Petter Opdahl; the representative of UN Women in Colombia, Ana Güezmes García; the Colombian Ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negret Mosquera, and María Noel Vaeza, Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean of UN Women.

Messages of support for the ProDefensoras initiative were also sent by Ine Eriksen Søreide, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway and Phumzile Mglambo Ngucka, Executive Director of UN Women.

The organizations selected to implement the program also sent messages of support to the initiative through 10 short videos in which they briefly described their organizations and recounted some of their activities in the regions. The organizations selected are: Corporación Humanas; Corporación de Investigación y Acción Social y Económica, CIASE; Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres; Asociación de Mujeres Afrodescendientes del Norte del Cauca; ASOM, Corporación Casa de la Mujer, Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, CRIC; Red Departamental de Mujeres Chocoanas; Corporación Comunidad de Juristas; Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el desplazamiento, CODHES; and Corporación Ocho de Marzo Mujeres y Hombres por la Igualdad.

During the forum, the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Eriksen Søreide, explained that it is in the communities and regions where women are in the front line for conflict resolution and to influence the defense of human rights: "These women are important agents of change and promoters of peaceful solutions," she said, and assured that "through this program, we seek to strengthen the capacities of women leaders and defenders by promoting the generation of spaces and protective mechanisms for their work, promoting their initiatives and improving the capacities of the organizations.

She also highlighted the role that Norway will play in the United Nations Security Council from next year, from where it will continue to promote the participation and rights of women in the search for peace and security for all.

For her part, the UN Women’s Executive Director, Phumzile Mglambo Ngucka, highlighted the fact that ProDefensoras supports grassroots women's organizations in Colombia, with the aim of implementing preventive measures and collective protection mechanisms for women human rights defenders. For this reason, she stated that "this initiative will become a model that can inspire other countries to build a movement that recognizes the creativity, resilience, solidarity and political skills of women human rights defenders and leaders around the world”.

Ambassador John Petter Opdahl of Norway said that his country finds attacks and threats against human rights defenders unacceptable and strongly condemns them. He said: "These attacks and intimidations are intended to silence and limit these courageous people who advocate for a Colombia free of violence and at peace."

In his speech, he also pointed out that this situation makes it necessary for the international community to work closely with the authorities, government, United Nations, and civil society, in order to establish monitoring and protection mechanisms and strengthen the capacities of organizations in the territories.

Carlos Alfonso Negret Mosquera, Ombudsman, expressed his concern and that of the institution he is in charge of, about the increase of human rights violations against women defenders and leaders and of multiple forms of violence against women, which has been increased by the pandemic originated by the Covid-19.

The figures from the Ombudsman's Office are alarming: in 2019, 19 women were murdered, 31% in the department of Cauca, and 16% in Nariño. In addition, 322 acts of violence were recorded, including 13 direct attacks and 220 threats.

In 2020 there will have been 106 human rights violations: 95 threats, three attacks, and six murders. In view of this situation, the Negret expressed its total commitment to continue working so that the National Government would strengthen public policies to confront this scourge, announcing that "it will continue to work together so that women defenders and leaders strengthen their work day by day". It also indicated that it will strengthen psychosocial support, risk updating and inter-institutional coordination in defence reports.

Ana Güezmes García, UN Women's Representative in Colombia, said it was time to recognize the work of women defenders and leaders in the regions and territories, indicating that their work to protect the lives of women and their struggles has contributed to the construction of democracy, development and peace. She highlighted that "many are not in history, and they are the ones who weave the stories, they are the ones who weave the peace, the ones who are in the territories".

She also spoke about the importance of holistic security, a substantial component in the Prodefensoras programme both at the individual and collective levels, emphasizing the urgency for women to have physical and mental health, digital security, access to connectivity, psychosocial support, self-care and collective healing. In this regard, she stated: "Many of the women who are human rights defenders leaders are poor and live in marginalized communities, without access to basic services, resources or livelihoods, so it is very important to work hand in hand with the National Government in the Development Plan and in the implementation of the peace process".

María Noel Vaeza, UN Women’s Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean, said that despite the efforts made in terms of regulations and public policies, the situation for women leaders and human rights defenders continues to be extremely concerning throughout the region and requires strengthening technical and financial capacity for prevention in the territory and the protection of women's human rights, accelerating with robust budgets this gender equality.

"ProDefensoras represents the possibility of rethinking peace and life in a different way, from the protection of individual life and collective struggles, in the search for well-being, strengthening the spirituality and protection of women defenders in our territories", Genith Quitiaquez, spokesperson for the organization National Coordination of Indigenous Women of Colombia, Conamic.

"We are women, women defenders of human rights, victims of all kinds of violence inside and outside the conflict, but resilient, with that enormous capacity to give love and continue building, where they don't kill us for saying what we think, where being a woman, being a victim and being black is not a crime. I'm not leaving, I'm not leaving! I'm staying here. Patricia Carabalí, spokesperson for the collective of Mujeres Trascendiendo.

Key Data for Advocates

  • The initiative will be developed in Cauca, Nariño, Chocó and Antioquia, favoring 69 municipalities and strengthening the work of more than 3,000 women leaders and their communities. The initiative has an investment of US$5.5 million for 2020 - 2022.
  • The call allowed for 90 proposals that represent the collective and innovative thinking and alliance work of more than 160 organizations that in turn involve national organizations, networks and platforms. 
  • The following organizations participated in the evaluation process for the selection of the organizations: the Presidential Counselor's Office for Women's Equity -CPEM and the Presidential Agency for International Cooperation -APC on behalf of the government, and UN Human Rights and Verification Mission, MPTF, on behalf of the United Nations, and the Urgent Action Fund, on behalf of civil society.
  • ProDefensoras responds to the global call of the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who on the occasion of the commemoration of 20 years of Security Council Resolution 1325, has reiterated the importance of focusing the efforts of the UN, States and the International Community on the protection of women leaders and human rights defenders to confront discrimination, violence and stigmatization.