Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict: Colombia - Doctors of the World

Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict: Colombia


Despite the peace agreements signed in 2016 between the government and the Farc, Colombia is still plagued by violent clashes between armed groups. This violence has a strong impact on very isolated rural populations, mostly indigenous and Afro-descendants, subject to displacement, forced recruitment, arbitrary confinement, crossfire, human exploitation. On board a hospital ship, Doctors of the World is supporting its partner FICMT to offer care as close as possible to these communities.


Armed Conflict in Colombia 


One of the biggest challenges for the indigenous population in Colombia is the continuous presence of armed groups. They are said to be five in the region, including the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Gulf Clan and soldiers from the regular Colombian army. In addition to the clashes for control of the territory, there are other problems such as illegal gold panning, a very polluting practice that contaminates the water of the river, but also drug trafficking. 

The consequences are dramatic for the indigenous and Afro-descendant communities of the region. They live in fear of forced recruitment of young men, homicides, rapes, kidnappings. Confinements are regularly imposed and even at times when it is possible to go out beyond the village, no one dares to venture there alone, and women in particular endure higher risks. A recent report has stated that to date, more than 4.6 million women have been affected by the armed conflict, according to the victims registry. It further stated that armed actors had a disproportionate impact on women, and controlled women’s lives and bodies as a way to appropriate territories, tear apart the social fabric, and control communities. Rape, forced prostitution and sexual violence have been used by all armed groups as a way to dominate and frighten civilian communities. 

Unfortunately, the regions afflicted by armed conflict lack the resources and training to properly care for victims of sexual violence and many face obstacles just reaching care in the first place. Furthermore, perpetrators of violent, gender-based crimes are rarely held accountable.


Doctors of the World: Providing care to remote communities affected by the violence



Along the San Juan River, in the community of Buenavista, women are gathered in a house on stilts.

While taking care of the children, they listen carefully to Jasir Banguero. The intercultural mediator leads a collective workshop around the gender issue. The conversation revolves around the various tasks that fall to women and men in the community. He asked the participants to divide into small groups to draw and illustrate the division of roles, a starting point for a larger discussion on the life of the community. “It helps me learn more about their way of life and the relationships within the community of Buenavista, he explains. My role is to do health promotion and prevention, but also to try to talk about contraception and sexual health, which is still quite complicated here because it’s taboo.

About 180 people live in this community, very far from any health centers. Buenaventura, the nearest town, is several hours away by boat, but petrol is scarce and expensive.

However, health needs are great and isolation is not the only problem for the community: the region is the scene of fighting between armed groups that disrupt the daily lives of people. Doctors of the World has come to the aid of these isolated people, to provide them with medical and psychosocial aid, by deploying a hospital boat that travels up the river to these communities. Equipped to provide care and consultations, it can accommodate around a dozen people at a time. In six months, more than 4,400 health consultations and about 400 mental health consultations were provided. More than 700 people were also referred to medical structures.

Yeimy Alejandra Garcia is a psychologist on the hospital ship. She observes the consequences of the conflict on the mental health of patients. “People here suffer a lot of anxiety, the main symptoms are sleep problems, depression, cases of self-harm, post-traumatic stress or alcohol addiction. It is enough difficult to discuss mental health issues, people come first for ”physical” illnesses but when we start trying to talk to them, many crack up.”

Along the narrow corridor, several small consultation rooms are lined up: gynecologists, midwives and doctors welcome patients and a small counter serves as a pharmacy. Doctors of the World also works to improve the protection and support around victims of sexual violence. Our organization encourages them to form self-support groups, and to guarantee comprehensive and rights-respecting care in health establishments in Meta, Guaviare, Nariño, Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Chocó. Projects include workshops for communities, health care institutions and community leaders on issues such as domestic violence, gender-based violence, sexual violence, and pathways to identification, accompaniment and reporting.



© Israel Fuguemann