Members of Grupo de Autoayuda de Mujeres Víctimas de Violencias, Colombia (Self-help group for women victims of violence, Colombia) describe how their courage in speaking about sexual violence has made them stronger.
Our self-help group began with listening to women who’d suffered conflict-related violence. At the start, women talked about their experience of forced displacement. But later, during a human rights workshop for women run by SISMA, they started asking whether anyone had been the victim of conflict-related sexual violence as well. That’s when several of us looked at each other. It’s not easy saying you’ve been raped, when you have children and when your husband doesn’t know about what happened to you. It’s terrifying. But SISMA really helped us to speak out, to describe what was actually happening. That’s how we started telling our stories, saying: “they raped me”, “I was raped too”, “and my daughters”. We began to rebuild our lives, talking about what had happened and what we’d done to come to terms with it.
That’s when I thought I can’t keep quiet any more. No one has the right to abuse my body. It’s my body and no one has the right to touch me if I don’t want them to. I have to speak out so that all this comes to light. For me, part of getting justice is making people aware that there is sexual violence in Colombia.
After four years of sharing our experiences in the group, I feel really proud knowing that we’re not alone. We’ve received messages from all over the world and that really makes us feel that we’re respected and our work is valued. I think it’s important that lots of people around the world know about our group. It’s as if we have their moral support and that gives us strength. Little by little, we are able to help others find a way to overcome what has happened. Personally, the most important thing for me is knowing that what we do is helping other women.
Rape usually means the end of joy and dignity for a woman. So what we have tried to do is to be symbols of life. We want to succeed. We want to by happy. We’re fighters. We want to be true to ourselves. We know that no one has the right to judge or look down on us as victims.
We felt very proud when Amnesty International came and we talked to them. They spoke to the government and campaigned. We saw it in the news, on the television and heard it on the radio. This was a huge step forward. We stopped being anonymous. It broke the silence. The state opened its eyes and said “we have to create a space for these women so that they can speak out and report what’s happening”.
My message to women in other countries who’ve been raped is that it’s important not only that you report it, but that you try to overcome what has happened and get help. To women who’ve not experienced sexual violence, your solidarity is important. To men, too, I say that your support is important. If we don’t stand up, the attacks against women will continue. We won’t be silent.
Read about Amnesty’s ‘16 Days of activism against gender violence’ and take action.