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Violence against women: Reporting from Colombia
by Karen Blanc

In Colombia, the rights of women are under attack. UNV volunteers working with UNIFEM are studying the impact and working with the media to communicate solutions. (K. Blanc/UNV)In Colombia, the rights of women are under attack. UNV volunteers working with UNIFEM are studying the impact and working with the media to communicate solutions. (K. Blanc/UNV)UNV volunteer intern Karen Blanc works with UNIFEM in Colombia and is fully funded by the Swiss Political Affairs Division. (UNV)UNV volunteer intern Karen Blanc works with UNIFEM in Colombia and is fully funded by the Swiss Political Affairs Division. (UNV)
24 September 2008

Bogota, Colombia: Millions of people throughout the world live with attacks against their fundamental human rights for no other reason than that they are women.

In armed conflicts raging around the globe, soldiers and paramilitaries terrorize women with rape, sexual and other physical violence, and harassment. These tactics are tools of war, instruments of terror designed to hurt and punish women, wrench communities apart, and force women and girls to flee their homes.

Abuses against women are relentless, systematic and widely tolerated, if not explicitly condoned. Violence and discrimination against women are global social epidemics, notwithstanding the very real progress of the international women's human rights movement in identifying, raising awareness about, and challenging impunity for women's human rights violations.

As a UNV volunteer intern who supports a project called 'Social mobilization against gender-based violence' and as also being in charge of communications for the United Nations Development Fund for Woman (UNIFEM) Women, Peace and Security Programme, I witness the impact of conflict on women in Colombia, and study and contrast my experiences with other similar practices in many countries.

UNIFEM is the women's fund at the UN that provides financial and technical assistance for innovative approaches aimed at fostering women's empowerment and gender equality. In 2003, the Latin American Section of UNIFEM initiated the 'Strengthen the role of women in the processes of peace-building' programme in Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. This is part of its international peace and security under the mandate of Security Council Resolution 1325.

The programme seeks to strengthen democratic governance and peace throughout the integration of a gender perspective in the prevention of conflicts, in peacekeeping initiatives and in disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation processes. This is done with the participation of women, while articulating the development agenda and the promotion and protection of human rights.

In order to consolidate the Fund’s leadership in the areas of women and peace-building, I support diverse communication strategies that aim to improve the capacities of the state and civil society. Apart from the production and dissemination of information, I also endorse the formulation and implementation of laws and policies that eliminate gender discrimination and promote gender equality in areas such as land and inheritance rights, decent work for women and ending violence against women.

Furthermore, my daily activities play a major role in the transformation of institutions, making them fully aware of gender equality and women's rights. I also help build the capacity and voice of women's rights advocates, and help change harmful and discriminatory practices in society.

What is more, the promotion of UNIFEM's campaigns offers me the opportunity to advocate for women's rights and the quest to end gender inequality. It is also a factor in the creation of a world free from violence, discrimination and injustice.

Working closely with the mass media gives me, in addition, a great amount of responsibility. Reversing sexist tendencies is a way of sensitizing the media to the problem of violence within communications. The use of non-discriminative messages and the disposal of the stereotypes that prevent gender equality, along with the persuasive power of mass media and the social impact of communications, makes the media a perfect channel of modernization and renovation.

Moreover, my collaboration with the organization, logistical coordination and supervision of UNIFEM's events provides me with the chance to actively promote and participate in the creation of debate areas, supporting social mobilization and strengthening the net, and to learn more about victimized women and the existing policies affecting Colombia.

Ultimately dissemination materials, such as newsletters, press articles, brochures, press releases, folders, calendars, leaflets, banners etc. contribute to raising public awareness of women's current advances and challenges.

Personally, these fruitful experiences that are still in progress give me not only the possibility to stimulate and implement innovative projects and ideas, but also to enrich my knowledge and expand my sources of information throughout the exchange of different points of view. They are factors of my own personal maturity and progress.

Working as a UNV volunteer intern requires a great amount of energy, proactive work and the capacity to manage multiple tasks, as well as make important decisions. It also means being able to encourage and persuade people on the benefits of one's ideas, while learning constantly from other experiences, opinions and judgments with an open mind.

One also gains a great amount of personal insight through peer-to-peer feedback and therefore this contributes to the process of learning more about oneself and become more proficient, professional and competent while performing one’s daily activities.
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