“I’m 50 years old, I was born into war and I have lived in war all my life,” said labour and women’s rights activist Patricia Buriticá, a pioneer in incorporating a gender perspective in Colombia’s trade union movement. She is one of 12 Colombian women nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
The women nominated in this civil war-torn country include members of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, urban and rural as well as young and elderly activists, campesinas and labourers, academics, feminists, church workers, public officials, and social and political leaders.
The Colombian peace activists and 987 women from a total of 150 countries were collectively nominated Wednesday for the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded on Oct. 4 in Oslo.
The campaign, “1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005”, was launched in 2003 on the initiative of Ruth-Gaby Vermot- Mangold, a member of the Swiss Parliament and the Council of Europe, with the support of Swisspeace (the Swiss Peace Foundation).
Nominee number 1,000 has no name, age or nationality, but represents the millions of women around the world from all walks of life who work for peace and human dignity in their daily lives. The 1000th nominee “is the symbol of the woman living along the riverbanks, the woman in prison, the rape victim, the head of family, the worker, the indigenous woman, the campesina, the one who could not show up here,” said Nubia Castañeda, one of the 12 nominees, in a press conference Wednesday in Bogotá.
Castañeda defends the rights of Afro-Colombian women in Chocó, a resource-rich jungle region disputed by different armed factions along the Panamanian border, where she works with women displaced by the four-decade civil war.
She is also a regional coordinator of the Women’s Peace Route and a member of the international network Catholics for the Right to Decide.
The catalyst for the 1,000 Women initiative was the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize has only gone to 12 women since it was first awarded in 1901, while millions of women work for peace around the world.
The 12 women laureates were Wangari Maathai from Kenya, Shirin Ebadi from Iran, Jody Williams, Emily Greene Balch and Jane Addams from the United States, Rigoberta Menchú from Guatemala, Aung San Suu Kyi from Burma, Mother Teresa, an Albanian missionary in India, Alva Myrdal from Sweden, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan from Northern Ireland, and Bertha Sophie Felicita von Suttner from Austria.
The 1,000 nominees include 144 women from 19 Latin American countries. The 10 Colombian jury members selected mainly women who are well-known in their regions, communities and fields, although they are not necessarily high-profile figures in this country where leftist guerrillas are fighting the armed forces and extreme right-wing paramilitary militias.
The nominees continue working for a political solution to the social and armed conflict and advocate the presence of women and women’s organisations in potential peace negotiations, said the jury, made up of professionals, government employees and social leaders.
Campesina (peasant farmer) María Eugenia Zabala is a war widow who was forced to flee her home, like three million other Colombians. When she was displaced by the violence, she lost everything she owned, and went into debt to acquire a home for herself and her children.
She works on empowering displaced women, most of whom are the heads of their households like herself. “Peace is equality,” said Zabala, who works for peace in the heart of the territory under paramilitary control, in the northwestern province of Córdoba.
Virgelina Chara, an Afro-Colombian community leader from the southwestern province of Valle del Cauca, is also a victim of forced displacement. The singer-songwriter now lives in Bogotá, where she helps women boost their incomes and trains them in techniques of political resistance to the war.
Beatriz Elena Rodríguez, a former sex worker, now provides support to prostitutes in Florencia, in the southern province of Caquetá, where the government is carrying out a U.S.-financed military offensive against the insurgents. Her experiences have led her to conclude that “women’s bodies are another battlefield in the war.”
In her work, Rodríguez helps young men and women find alternative livelihoods, to keep them from feeling the need to join any of the armed factions in order to survive.
Hilda Liria Domicó, a member of the Emberá Katío indigenous group in the rich agricultural lands of the northwestern region of Urabá, is a cultural educator in her community, which is threatened by the armed conflict.
Nasa Indian María Beatriz Aniceto lives in the Avirama indigenous reserve in the southeastern province of Cauca, where she was the head of the native governing council for two terms in a row, making progress towards achieving recognition of the right of indigenous people to govern themselves, as stipulated in the constitution.
She is also a member of the Women’s Peace Route.
Yolanda Becerra heads up the Popular Women’s Organisation (OFP) in the oil-refining river port of Barrancabermeja in central Colombia, which has been under paramilitary control since bloody massacres were committed there in the late 1990s.
The OFP emerged 32 years ago, organising community soup kitchens, and later got involved in the defence of “human rights as a whole,” said Becerra.
OFP activists are famous for standing up to armed paramilitary fighters in the streets of Barrancabermeja. Many of them have been brutally tortured and killed, and many others face death threats.
At the age of 74, María Tila Uribe is the oldest of the Colombian nominees. According to the members of the jury, she is a “tenacious and faithful fighter for justice and peace” who now works with elderly women.
Rafaela Vos, a sociologist, political scientist and feminist historian, has dedicated her knowledge to the defence of human rights. “I am an academic, but I am not shut up in an ivory tower,” says the activist, who describes herself as part of “that generation that has brought about changes without firing a single shot.”
Nationally and internationally renowned activist Ana Teresa Bernal has fought for peace since she was a teenager. Since 1994 she has been the spokeswoman for the Peace Initiatives Network.
Bernal campaigned for the Citizen’s Mandate for Peace, Life and Liberty, in which 10 million Colombians voted in late 1997 for an end to the violence. The Mandate succeeded in making peace the central focus of the 1998 presidential campaign, and when President Andrés Pastrana took office in August 1998, he wore the green ribbon that symbolised the movement.
One of the 12 nominees was absent at Wednesday’s news briefing: Luz Perly Córdoba, an indigenous political activist from the oil-producing, war-torn region of Arauca on the border with Venezuela.
The president of the Arauca Campesina Association, Córdoba spent 14 months in prison, charged with “rebellion”. After she was released in April, she was once again targeted by death threats and went into exile.
Córdoba is fighting the forced displacement of local rural communities by big economic interests aiming to make way for mega-projects.
The jury lamented the late presentation of the name of former senator and presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who has been held hostage for 40 months by the main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which wants to swap her for imprisoned insurgents.
“Although the nomination form arrived after a decision had already been reached, her political work and her efforts to find routes towards peace in Colombia deserve praise,” said the jury members. Copyright © 2005 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.