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COLOMBIA
A step forward for women toward a life without violence
Susan Abad
3/9/2012
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Gender violence law is enacted, but violence against women because of armed conflict is neglected.

With the passage of four decrees that regulate Law 1257 against gender violence, Colombia has made significant progress in the prevention and punishment of violence and discrimination against women.

Three years after Congress approved the law Dec. 4, 2008, President Juan Manuel Santos´ administration enacted the regulations that will be used to apply the law, which seeks to guarantee for all women “a life free of violence, both in the public and private sphere, the exercise of the rights recognized in domestic and international law and access to administrative and judicial proceedings for their protection and care, and adoption of public policies needed for its realization”.

The law sets standards for awareness, prevention and punishment of all forms of violence and discrimination against women, while reforming the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code as well as Law 294 of 1996, which prevents, redresses and penalizes family violence.

The regulations — labor decree 4463, health decree 4796, education decree 4798, and justice decree 4799 — are part of the National Development Plan 2010-2014. According to the government, the plan should be participative in creating a national policy of gender parity to ensure comprehensive and interdependent human rights for women, under the coordination of the Presidential Advisory Office on Women´s Equality (ACPEM).

“By issuing these four regulatory decrees in justice, health, education and labor, the government reaffirms its commitment to eradicating all forms of violence against women. The country is taking a huge step forward in protecting women´s rights,” said Cristina Plazas, senior advisor to the president on women´s equality, at the Jan. 25 signing ceremony for the decrees.

The new regulations, which incorporate the suggestions and comments of women´s organizations, seek to eradicate the terrifying statistics from CPEM, which show that in Colombia, 1,444 women were killed in 2010, 74% of those by intimate partner violence. The same year, 84% of sexual assault victims were women; of those, 59.14% were assaulted in their homes.

And because “inequality, indifference, discrimination and exclusion are also forms of violence against women,” Plazas said, the regulations focus on the prevention of all types of violence, addressing also school and workplace problems.

Scope of the regulations
Labor Decree 4463 created the Seal of Social Commitment with Women to promote social and economic recognition of women´s work, rewarding employers who uphold the law.

“This measure is important because for the first time public and private employers, professional risk managers, and female workers were all brought together to end the discrimination in the workplace that women currently endure,” said Labor Minister Rafael Pardo.

In the education system, Decree 4798 establishes strategies to create a protective school environment to eliminate violence against girls, teens, and young women, while at the same time regulating training and awareness in the education community when faced with violence against women in the school realm. To that end, it also determines specific obligations for the Ministry of Education, local authorities certified in education and educational institutions. These regard the identification, reporting, prevention and care in situations of violence against women.

With regard to health, Decree 4796 defends a female victim´s right to shelter, food and transportation if there is a risk in remaining in her home. It also states that abused women must be covered by the health system in the event that they weren´t already, and obligates the Ministry of Health and Social Protection to include in the Ten Year Plan for Public Health, instituted in 2012, strategies to prevent and eradicate violence against women.

Decree 4799 deals with the judicial system, and clarifies the procedures to implement protective measures for women victims of violence as outlined in the law, like departure from the home of the offender, injunctions against contact by the attacker, the protection of property, and police escorts, among others.

Florence Thomas, a psychologist and social activist for the rights of women, ensures Latinamerica Press that the application of the so-called Law against Gender Violence is a breakthrough because “the law is a much more comprehensive than those that preceded it. It is based on the Spanish model; it is a law for awareness, and it defines multiple types of violence. This is new for Colombia. We had a law against black eyes and hitting, but this now recognizes economic, institutional, workplace violence, in addition of course to sexual assault.”

“Colombia remains a pioneer in advancing policy in how it handles violence against women. This law gives us some important legal tools for the processes of sensitization to rights, at a time where we have a high degree of ownership, at least from the law, of the precepts from Belém do Pará convention, the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women. We believe that leaves us with a policy framework that makes significant progress in the perception of women´s rights,” said Silvia Arias of the United Nations Comprehensive Gender Violence program in Bogota.

Gender violence and armed conflict
Nevertheless, the new law sidelines what for more than 30 years has affected women and girls in Colombia: gender violence in armed conflict.

“This is very serious,” Thomas said. “In this country, where so much research has been done on the ravages of war on women and where the devastation on men and women is different, where women´s bodies continue to be the spoils of war — that was left out”.

Arias adds that even if Law 1257 doesn´t take into account female victims of armed conflict, “some aspects allow for those women to — in terms of protected rights, in terms of psychosocial care and treatment they may require — be beneficiaries of the provisions of the law. So it´s not a law that covers all types of violence against women, but those that it does cover allow women very complete protection mechanisms. We have to take a look at what kind of policy updates the country will need for a comprehensive understanding of the treatment and protection the female victims of armed conflict deserve”.

Experts now agree that the challenge for the law is compliance, that it “not remain on paper,” says Arias.

“Colombia is a country of progress in many legislative tools for women, for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] groups, but in general for this to be reflected in everyday life is very complicated. The challenge is to make these regulations yield a process of institutional adaptation to comply with what they set forth”.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Sexual violence is a weapon used by all armed actors against women in Colombia. (Photo: Intermon-Oxfam)
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