Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres is a Colombian feminist/women’s movement protesting violence of all kinds, and particularly violence inflicted on women during the long conflict in the country. Upside Down World has interviewed Alejandra Miller Restrepo, a regional co-ordinator for the group.
It’s a great interview, illustrated with some amazing and inspiring photos from the protest. Here she talks about the origins of the movement:
Ruta was founded in 1996. During a national meeting of women organizations, some monks visited us to tell us about the condition of women in Mutatá, where paramilitaries had come and occupied the town, and abused 90% of the women and girls. They implemented forced recruitment and made the women domestic servants, and essentially sex slaves. When the women activists present heard about this, they decided to have a national mobilization – a journey, a ruta – to that municipality to tell those men to respect women’s bodies, and let the women know they aren’t alone. Many national organizations signed on. More than 2,000 women traveled there. We chose November 25th, the International Day Against Violence Against Women, for that and all subsequent mobilizations/rutas. We tell all armed actors – paramilitaries, the army, guerrillas – to respect the rights of women. We’ve organized two rutas in Barrancabermerja in partnership with the Organización Feminina Popular (OFP), plus mobilizations in Chocó, Putumayo, Nariño, Cauca and Bogotá. Last year for instance we traveled to Nariño to the border with Ecuador to express solidarity with refugee women there.
Rutas are fundamental to our work. In 2002 for example 2,000 women traveled from across the country to Puerto Asis in Putumayo, when it was completely militarized by paramilitaries and the army. We traveled over mountains, inhospitable terrain. It had great symbolic impact – the paramilitaries had prohibited any travel after 6pm. We said, “well, you have to shoot at 100 buses or stop all of us,” we kept going through to stand up for the civility of women.
The group has done research into violence against women, documenting the gendered impacts of the armed conflict. It also runs a political education school for women.
Miller Restrepo also talks about interacting with many male social justice activists/groups, and the challenges they encountered:
It’s tough with the men because they think this is a theme, not a problem in itself, and it’s subordinate to other issues. The relationship with them is not a struggle in the same sense, but they often do deny and diminish violence against women. It’s hard to get it on the national agenda. For instance, the Organization of American States has a commission following the paramilitary demobilization process. We published a book about the effect of the process on women, how they’re being harmed, and they inserted maybe a few sentences about it in their official report.