To end violence against Colombian women, 'look inside homes': government

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Colombia’s peace accord that ended the nation’s long civil war is an opportunity to combat domestic violence, an often-unseen problem fueled by macho attitudes, a top presidential advisor said on Thursday.

Some 200,000 people were killed and 20,000 cases of sexual violence against women were reported during the half-century of fighting before the accord was signed in 2016 between the government and rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Yet the violence continues, with one woman killed on average every three days and 55 cases of sexual violence reported daily, according to the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences.

Many women are murdered at the hands of husbands, boyfriends and relatives in and around their homes.

“The end of the conflict allows us to focus on other issues, like these,” Paula Gaviria, the presidential advisor, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

“In the private sphere, in the family environment, violence against women is very high,” she said. “It’s a time to look inside homes, to look deeper inside.”

Colombia’s macho culture condones violence, blames women for abuse inflicted on them and perpetuates traditional roles that expect women to stay at home and raise children, she said.

Women are believed to “provoke” violence with their behavior such as wearing short skirts and being out at night, Gaviria said.

“Women don’t dare to denounce their husbands, or ex-husbands, partners or their relatives,” she said.

Women are also among the victims in a wave of killings of human rights activists and land defenders. Gaviria said the government is working to protect activists better and bring perpetrators to justice.

At least six rights defenders have been gunned down in the past month across Colombia.

Gaviria said the government is improving early warning systems to alert authorities quickly when at-risk activists report threats or danger.

More state prosecutors are being sent to Colombia’s south and Pacific regions where killings are concentrated, she said.

According to the United Nations’ human rights office in Colombia, activists are particularly at risk in regions that were vacated by FARC rebel fighters under the peace agreement, leaving a vacuum of power.

In November, community leader Luz Jenny Montano was shot by men on motorbikes near her home in the town of Tumaco along Colombia’s Pacific coast.

Her murder followed the killing in August of rights defender Idaly Castillo, who also was tortured and sexually abused.

Earlier this week, the U.N. and rights groups condemned the murder of land activist Temistocles Machado, shot last Saturday, amid renewed calls on the government to heighten protection of activists.