« ¡El Estado opresor es un macho violador! » Gender-based violence perpetuated by the State to the test of social protests in Colombia

Temps de lecture : 11 minutes

09.01.2022

Written by : Pauline Marquis

Translated by : Kaouther Bouhi

Allison, Maria Jovita, Angie Johanna, Julia[1]List of homicide victims during the national strike in Colombia, 28/05/2021, http://www.indepaz.org.co/victimas-de-violencia-homicida-en-el-marco-del-paro-nacional/… victims of police violence, perished in the “Paro Nacional[2]« National Strike »” that is currently taking place in several cities in Colombia. Since last April 28th, and still today, Colombian streets are being turned upside down by more than a month of riots between worned out people, desirous of getting themselves heard and having their fundamental rights respected and a repressive government. 

Abuse of power, police violence, massacres, sexual assaults, human rights’ violations – the dreadful situation across the country is being described as State terrorism by the protestors. In the shadow of this situation, we will pay close attention to women’s condition [3]The notion of gender is, of course, richer and more complex than the simple division male/female. This article will be based on the binary conceptualization of gender as a socially constructed … Continue readingto try to understand why are they the first to be put to the test in the burning context of these protests.

Colombia is marked by a long socio-political conflict between the government, paramilitary groups and revolutionary guerrilla groups which led to a society based on structural violence. These past years, the country experienced some legislative progress and an economic growth that favors its stability. These can be ascribed to the strong culture of civil mobilization for peace and the non-violent transformation of conflicts. In the middle of the 1990s, it was estimated that at least 50 millions Colombians were mobilized in different peace initiatives[4]Serrano Amaya, J.F, Armed Conflict and Sexual Para-Politics in Colombia, Homophobic Violence in Armed Conflict and Political Transition, Global Queer Politics, 2018, p:30. 

On December 1st 2016, a salient peace accord reached between the Colombian government of Juan Manuel Santos and the guerrilla warfare of FARC-EP[5]Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army  (FARC-AP) were the main communist guerrilla involved in the Colombian armed conflict came into force. It put an end to more than half a century of armed conflict. The brutality of the social conflict has established the political codes of sexual and gender-based violence of the Colombian society by positioning several women as frontline victims of these armed confrontations and allocating them a peculiar responsability in the peacebuilding process[6]Andrade Salazar, José Alonso, Alvis Barranco, Libia, Jiménez Ruiz, Luz Karine, Redondo Marín, Miladys Paola, Rodríguez González, Lida, « La vulnerabilidad de la mujer en la guerra y su papel en … Continue reading. 

Colombian women have been positioned as being undeniably vulnerable and are subjected to all forms of sexist and sexual violence. They have to deal with rape, sexual slavery, the instrumentalization of their bodies, torture, public humiliation and economic exploitation on a daily basis[7]Serrano Amaya, J.F. 2018.

« ¡No a la reforma tributaria! [8]« No to the fiscal reform! »»

The triggering factor of these revolts – indicators of the general despondency of the people – was the neoliberal and patriarchal bill of the right-wing government of Iván Duque, disconnected from the reality of the country. The Colombian National Strike Committee has immediately supported the first attempts of protests and launched a call to action in different regions of the country “for life, for peace, democracy and against fiscal reform[9]https://twitter.com/cutcolombia/status/1387581183022796802?s=20”. 

During the pandemic, justifying the implementation of all the fiscal reforms, claiming to cover the economic impact of the health crisis, the government declared war against the most disadvantaged Colombians. 

The reform in question, known as the “law of sustainable solidarity” – introduced on April 5th 2021 – would be aimed at increasing the State’s tax collection by canceling numerous exemptions that benefited households and companies. By increasing, for instance, the VAT on public services and basic goods, the State intends to collect about 6 billion dollars more between 2022 and 2031[10]France 24, « En Colombie, manifestations massives contre la réforme fiscale malgré le Covid-19 », 29/04/2021 … Continue reading. 

These fiscal changes – aiming at taking from citizens rather than addressing elite corruption – would highly affect the middle and working classes whose situation has become even more precarious in the context of the pandemic. Colombia continues to suffer from one of the highest levels of inequality in the world. In 2020, 42,5% of the population was below the poverty threshold[11]Impact of monetary poverty according to the profile of the head of household, according to figures from National Administrative Department for Statistics … Continue reading and more than a quarter of the population lived on less than two euros per day[12]Yves Bourdillon, « Retrait d’une réforme fiscale contestée en Colombie », Les Échos, 03/05/2021, … Continue reading. 

In addition to having a direct impact on the more vulnerable classes, the feminist economy shows that fiscal reforms have a differentiated impact on women and men. The feminist Lola Olufemi affirms that “when governments implement violent policies of austerity to ‘balance the budget’, it is women who are hit hardest.[13]Lola Olufemi, 2020, Feminism, interrupted: Disrupting Power

In the Colombian context, poverty strikes women harder. In 2020, “poverty had a repercussion of 46,7% in the households managed by women, faced with 40,1% when it comes to those managed by men”[14]DANE, 2021 . 

The fiscal reform project suggested an increase of prices for inevitable expenses for domestic work or care, which, because of the gender-specific roles shaping Colombian society, are the spendings that are prioritized by women. The reform also aimed to increase the prices for menstrual products – on this matter, Natalia Moreno speaks about “asphyxia of women’s pockets”[15]Natalia Moreno Salamanca, «With the fiscal reform, being a woman is more expensive in Colombia», 2018, https://cerosetenta.uniandes.edu.co/ser-mujer-en-colombia-es-mas-caro/ and states that they are subjected to sexist taxes and are made to use more expensive products simply because they are “pink line”[16]Natalia Moreno Salamanca, 2018  « The pink line refers to stereotypical commercial products made for and sold to female public». 

« ¡El paro no para ! [17]« The strike won’t stop! » » 

On May 2nd, after five days of protest, President Duque announced the withdrawal of the disputed reform, with the intent to submit as fast as possible a new fiscal reform project to Congress. Despite the withdrawal of the project that had mobilized the Colombian population in the streets, the social protest continued even more in the main cities of the country (especially in Cali, the epicenter of the demonstrations and in Bogotá, the capital). 

Gustavo Bolívar, member of the Colombian Parliament, states that even though the President ended up withdrawing the reform, “its obstinacy has cost several lives and wounds to citizens[18]https://twitter.com/GustavoBolivar/status/1388909373171412993”.

The collective cry then continues to rise against many types of long-standing injustices suffered by the Colombian population. Citizens demand radical legislatives changes to make the society more equal (health reform, education reform, environmental reform, police reform, a better application of peace accords, etc.).

« ¡Nos queremos vivas ! [19]« We want to be alive! » »

The social protests are marked by the brutal repression of police force, which has caused many deaths, thousands of wounded and hundreds of missing people.

During the first month of social protests in Colombia, the human rights NGO Temblores, reported 3,405 cases of police violence, of which 43 murders, 175 cases of gunshots, 1,133 victims of physical violence, 1,445 arbitrary arrests, 648 violent interventions, 47 victims of eye assaults and 22 victims of sexual violence (of which 74% are women) by public forces, often in group[20]ONG Temblores, « Press release for the public opinion and the international community regarding acts of police violence during the first month of the mobilizations in the context of the National … Continue reading. 

The NGO specifies that the reported data may not match the total number of acts of sexual violence committed, in the sense that this type of violence is largely under-reported, “due to the revictimisation[21]The re-victimization is a method from the judicial system which makes a victim relive the traumatic situation as being guilty of the crime they are reporting., the inaccessibility of the judicial system, the fear of reprisals of the perpetrators of the crime and the social and cultural silence of victims[22]ONG Temblores, « Press release for the public opinion and the international community regarding acts of sexual and sexist violence perpetrated by the National Police of the mobilizations in the … Continue reading”.

Although it exists, the official data established by the government is far from being reliable, in the image of the disclosed information by the national media, they legitimize the role of the corrupted elites and politicians.

In Colombia, where every ten days there is an act of sexual violence whose author is a policeman, we see that in one month of national strike, these assaults were mutiplied by seven[23]ONG Temblores, press release dated 19/05/2021. The NGOs are particularly worried about the cases of forced undressing, invasive search, excessive use of force, sexual verbal and physical harassment, touching, rape, sexist comments on the resolution of the problem in exchange of sexual favors[24]Ita María, «¿Qué está pasando en Colombia?», Revista Volcánicas, 04/05/2021, https://volcanicas.com/que-esta-pasando-en-colombia.

An intersectional analysis of the dynamics of repression and sexual violence performed by law enforcement in the context of the protests highlights the particular persecution of indigenous, Afrocolombian, farming communities as well as women and sexual and gender-diverse people.[25]Carolina Rodríguez Mayo, «El paro debe ser antirracista», Revista Volcanicas, 20/05/2021, https://volcanicas.com/el-paro-debe-ser-antirracista/

«¡El gobierno nos está matando! [26]« The government is killing us! » »

The repression and the excessive use of force in response to social protests resembles a declaration of internal war of the government. On May 1st, President Duque ordered the militarization of the streets, “to support the work of the national police force[27]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWmRCML9jcs” where the resistance of the citizens was the most prominent.

The Mobile Anti-Riot Squadrons (ESMAD), special unit of the Colombian national police force in charge of citizen safety – which was deployed by order of the government – is responsible for the vast majority of reported assaults during the protests.

The bellicose action of the police was encouraged by the ex-president of the Republic Álvaro Uribe, of whom Iván Duque is the dauphin. The political leader started to “glorify violence[28]Abel Alvarado, « Uribe critique Twitter pour avoir supprimé l’un de ses tweets », CNN, 30/04/2021, https://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2021/04/30/uribe-twitter-protestas-colombia-orix/”through a tweet advocating for “the right of soldiers and police officers to use their arms to defend their integrity and to defend the people and the goods against the criminal action of terrorism[29]https://twitter.com/QuinteroCalle/status/1388168455749316611”. He resorts to the trend of the far-right by saddling with “terrorism” the opposition of mostly non-armed civilians for their rights and liberties, in order to justify the deadly deployment of the police force.

Refusing to acknowledge the police violence, Iván Duque highlighted the “obvious criminal interest [of protestors] to affect and sabotage the economy[30]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb_2a1XrCbI”. Regarding the population’s demand to demilitarize the cities, he announced, on May 17th, the order “to all levels of public law enforcement to deploy their full operational capabilities[31]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb_2a1XrCbI”.

Beyond this dramatic situation of violence within the protests, the government has orchestrated attacks against the medical staff in charge of taking care of the wounded, and the Health Minister announced the interruption of the vaccination program against Covid-19 in Cali, main city of the conflict, as an additional form of pression against the protestors[32]Natalia Hernández y Adriana Villarreal, «Revuelta popular en Colombia: la represión del gobierno y las masacres no frenan las protestas», Revista amazonas, 06/05/2021 … Continue reading. This phenomenon of frenzy from the authorities echoes the “social cleansing[33]ONU Derechos Humanos Colombia, « El informe que desnuda la “limpieza social” en Colombia », 20/04/2016 … Continue reading” mainly led by paramilitary groups and the Colombian security forces since the 1980s, which designates the action of killing people regarded as “undesirable[34]Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, Limpieza social, una violencia mal nombrada, Bogotá, IEPRI, 2015” justified by the argument of ensuring the population’s safety.

The NGOs[35]Temblores et Pares show that the violation of some bodies, especially feminine and feminized bodies, became a repression and correction policy of the State. The registered cases of sexual violence do not correspond to the abusive action of some police officers, but to a practice that is part of the institution[36]ONG Temblores, press release dated 19/05/2021. The impunity rate of the cases of sexual violence in Colombia is 90% [37]Rapport, La guerre inscrite dans le corps, Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, 2017, this reinforces the idea that the State is the first accomplice of the infringement of the integrity of women that fill the public spaces. Serrano Amaya, Colombian anthropologist, names the government’s conduct as the “sexual para-politics[38]Serrano Amaya, J.F. 2018”, to illustrate the interactions between the paramilitary socio-political violence and the sexual and gender orders. She explains that the armed groups intervene in gender and sexual policies to control the life of Colombians and especially “particular gendered and sexualised people[39]Serrano Amaya, J.F. 2018” through violence and collective threats.

«¡El futuro será feminista o no será! [40]« The future will be feminist or it won’t be! » »

The social protests against the government’s oppression have greatly been carried by the pacifist organization of feminist groups. It is essential to listen to the voices of these women that come out of their roles of social passivity, traditionally assigned by the patriarchal domination, to construct a just and peaceful future. The history of the continent shows that the Latin American women’s movements have inscribed the question of gender equality in the political agenda and have thus played an important role in the democratic transitions[41]Jane S. Jaquette, Feminist Agendas and Democracy in Latin America, Duke University Press, 2009. In Colombia, one thinks especially about the first feminist strikes in the textile industry led by the syndicalist leader Betsabé Espinosa[42]Ricardo Aricapa, “Betsabé Espinal, pionera de la lucha de las mujeres por derechos laborales: un suceso poco conocido en la historia de Colombia”,  08/03/2017:  … Continue reading in the 1920s which enabled an improvement of work conditions, or also the struggle for women’s right to vote that was obtained in 1957.

Now, the feminist groups reclaim the full possession of their bodies through the alternative use of art as a mode of resistance and transformation. In this way, faced with deadly acts from the government and following the pattern of the reconstruction of cities after an armed conflict, the protests are paced by music, dance[43]https://www.instagram.com/p/CPk8i_bHF4L/, theater, drawings, etc.

At the dawn of the protests, the powerful action led by members of the LGBTI+ community on the national square of Bogotá set the tone for the mobilizations. Axis, Nova and Piisciis, of their stage names, three transgender artists, danced among the police officers and declared that “art is the weapon that has the most power against hatred and violence[44]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cJptrzYiWs”.

The economic, social and political issues that the country is facing affect the “gender minorities” the most as they are the ones lacking the most visibility, rights and support. Violence against the LGBTI+ community and non-binary people is used as a war strategy and a “mean to control the people in the conflict zone through the creation of an ennemy within the community[45]Serrano Amaya, J.F. 2018”. 

« ¡SOS COLOMBIA!COLOMBIA! »

Some organizations of the international community (such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights- IACHR[46]http://www.oas.org/es/CIDH/jsForm/?File=/es/cidh/prensa/comunicados/2021/137.asp, or the International Federation for Human Rights- FIDH[47]https://fundacion.in/press20210529es.pdf) have heard the cries for help of the Colombian protestors and have voiced their concern regarding the seriousness of the human rights violations that took place during the national strike. The international norms in terms of human rights state that the police should only have recourse to the use of force during protests as a last resort and respecting the « legality, necessity, proportionality and responsibility principles »[48]https://fundacion.in/press20210529es.pdf. According to Amnesty International, the use of force to maintain order in a situation that does not constitute a « concrete threat for the life or physical integrity of another person [49]Amnesty International, « Colombia: Preocupan las denuncias de desapariciones y violencia sexual contra manifestantes», 07/05/2021, … Continue reading» – as is the case in Colombia – is considered a « disproportionate use of force, and thus, against international norms [50]Amnesty International, 07/05/2021». 

Moreover, according to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, sexual violence is « torture » when committed by a civil servant or when a civil servant gives the order to intimidate, degrade, humiliate and punish the victim[51]CIDH, Affaire Rosendo Cantú et al. c. Mexique, 2011, 26, p:9 :https://corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_225_esp.pdf. It is indisputable that sexual violence perpetuated by law enforcement and the authorities in Colombia are crimes under international law and must be investigated, to ensure justice, truth and reparation for the population.

Thus, the FIDH demands that President Iván Duque orders the end of police repression against its people and requests an international arrest warrant against the President of the Republic and the other people responsible for human rights violations in Colombia (Defense Minister, Minister of Law and Justice, directors of the Colombian police…)[52]https://fundacion.in/press20210529es.pdf.

Conclusion

For over a month, the everyday life in about 70% of cities and villages in Colombia[53]Patrick Bèle, « La Colombie sombre dans un grave chaos social, Le Figaro, 06/05/2021 has been paced by virulent protests. It seems that the decentralization and at times non-coordination of  the demands  can make the formulation of common political objectives between the protesters difficult. In the end, it does not look like the mobilizations will stop unless the government agrees to make a truly democratic political reworking, respecting the voice of each Colombian citizen as well as the reparation of human rights violations perpetrated by public forces. 

This situation of systematic sexual violence used as a punishment and correction domination practice by police officers towards feminine and feminized bodies showed that a gender sensitive police reform is urgent.  

To cite this article : Pauline Marquis, “« ¡El Estado opresor es un macho violador! [54]« The oppressor State is a male rapist », along the lines of the other titles of this article, this is a key slogan of feminist protests in Latin America » Gender-based violence perpetuated by the State to the test of social protests in Colombia”, 09.01.2022, Gender Institute in Geopolitics.

 

The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.

References

References
1 List of homicide victims during the national strike in Colombia, 28/05/2021, http://www.indepaz.org.co/victimas-de-violencia-homicida-en-el-marco-del-paro-nacional/
2 « National Strike »
3 The notion of gender is, of course, richer and more complex than the simple division male/female. This article will be based on the binary conceptualization of gender as a socially constructed dichotomy that structures power relation and the subordination from one sex to another.
4 Serrano Amaya, J.F, Armed Conflict and Sexual Para-Politics in Colombia, Homophobic Violence in Armed Conflict and Political Transition, Global Queer Politics, 2018, p:30
5 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army  (FARC-AP) were the main communist guerrilla involved in the Colombian armed conflict
6 Andrade Salazar, José Alonso, Alvis Barranco, Libia, Jiménez Ruiz, Luz Karine, Redondo Marín, Miladys Paola, Rodríguez González, Lida, « La vulnerabilidad de la mujer en la guerra y su papel en el posconflicto », 2017, p: 290-308 https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=407755355018
7, 38, 39, 45 Serrano Amaya, J.F. 2018
8 « No to the fiscal reform! »
9 https://twitter.com/cutcolombia/status/1387581183022796802?s=20
10 France 24, « En Colombie, manifestations massives contre la réforme fiscale malgré le Covid-19 », 29/04/2021 https://www.france24.com/fr/amériques/20210429-manifestations-massives-en-colombie-contre-la-réforme-fiscale-malgré-le-covid
11 Impact of monetary poverty according to the profile of the head of household, according to figures from National Administrative Department for Statistics (DANEhttps://www.dane.gov.co/files/investigaciones/condiciones_vida/pobreza/2020/Presentacion-pobreza-monetaria_2020.pdf
12 Yves Bourdillon, « Retrait d’une réforme fiscale contestée en Colombie », Les Échos, 03/05/2021, https://www.lesechos.fr/monde/ameriques/retrait-dune-reforme-fiscale-contestee-en-colombie-1311913
13 Lola Olufemi, 2020, Feminism, interrupted: Disrupting Power
14 DANE, 2021 
15 Natalia Moreno Salamanca, «With the fiscal reform, being a woman is more expensive in Colombia», 2018, https://cerosetenta.uniandes.edu.co/ser-mujer-en-colombia-es-mas-caro/
16 Natalia Moreno Salamanca, 2018  « The pink line refers to stereotypical commercial products made for and sold to female public
17 « The strike won’t stop! »
18 https://twitter.com/GustavoBolivar/status/1388909373171412993
19 « We want to be alive! »
20 ONG Temblores, « Press release for the public opinion and the international community regarding acts of police violence during the first month of the mobilizations in the context of the National Strike. » 28/05/2021, https://www.temblores.org/comunicados
21 The re-victimization is a method from the judicial system which makes a victim relive the traumatic situation as being guilty of the crime they are reporting.
22 ONG Temblores, « Press release for the public opinion and the international community regarding acts of sexual and sexist violence perpetrated by the National Police of the mobilizations in the context of the mobilizations of the National Strike », 19/05/2021, 

https://4ed5c6d6-a3c0-4a68-8191-92ab5d1ca365.filesusr.com/ugd/7bbd97_268c64abead041f4b01d68faa0ec3988.pdf

23, 36 ONG Temblores, press release dated 19/05/2021
24 Ita María, «¿Qué está pasando en Colombia?», Revista Volcánicas, 04/05/2021, https://volcanicas.com/que-esta-pasando-en-colombia
25 Carolina Rodríguez Mayo, «El paro debe ser antirracista», Revista Volcanicas, 20/05/2021, https://volcanicas.com/el-paro-debe-ser-antirracista/
26 « The government is killing us! »
27 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWmRCML9jcs
28 Abel Alvarado, « Uribe critique Twitter pour avoir supprimé l’un de ses tweets », CNN, 30/04/2021, https://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2021/04/30/uribe-twitter-protestas-colombia-orix/
29 https://twitter.com/QuinteroCalle/status/1388168455749316611
30, 31 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb_2a1XrCbI
32 Natalia Hernández y Adriana Villarreal, «Revuelta popular en Colombia: la represión del gobierno y las masacres no frenan las protestas», Revista amazonas, 06/05/2021 https://www.revistaamazonas.com/2021/05/06/revuelta-popular-en-colombia-la-represion-del-gobierno-y-las-masacres-no-frenan-las-protestas/
33 ONU Derechos Humanos Colombia, « El informe que desnuda la “limpieza social” en Colombia », 20/04/2016 https://www.hchr.org.co/index.php/compilacion-de-noticias/73-conflicto-armado/7679-el-informe-que-desnuda-la-limpieza-social-en-colombia
34 Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, Limpieza social, una violencia mal nombrada, Bogotá, IEPRI, 2015
35 Temblores et Pares
37 Rapport, La guerre inscrite dans le corps, Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, 2017
40 « The future will be feminist or it won’t be! »
41 Jane S. Jaquette, Feminist Agendas and Democracy in Latin America, Duke University Press, 2009
42 Ricardo Aricapa, “Betsabé Espinal, pionera de la lucha de las mujeres por derechos laborales: un suceso poco conocido en la historia de Colombia”,  08/03/2017:  https://ail.ens.org.co/cronicas/betsabe-espinal-pionera-la-lucha-las-mujeres-derechos-laborales-suceso-poco-conocido-la-historia-colombia/
43 https://www.instagram.com/p/CPk8i_bHF4L/
44 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cJptrzYiWs
46 http://www.oas.org/es/CIDH/jsForm/?File=/es/cidh/prensa/comunicados/2021/137.asp
47, 48, 52 https://fundacion.in/press20210529es.pdf
49 Amnesty International, « Colombia: Preocupan las denuncias de desapariciones y violencia sexual contra manifestantes», 07/05/2021, https://www.amnesty.org/es/latest/news/2021/05/colombia-preocupan-las-denuncias-de-desapariciones-y-violencia-sexual-contra-manifestantes/
50 Amnesty International, 07/05/2021
51 CIDH, Affaire Rosendo Cantú et al. c. Mexique, 2011, 26, p:9 :https://corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_225_esp.pdf
53 Patrick Bèle, « La Colombie sombre dans un grave chaos social, Le Figaro, 06/05/2021
54 « The oppressor State is a male rapist », along the lines of the other titles of this article, this is a key slogan of feminist protests in Latin America