Everyday life in Colombia, especially in rural areas like Chocó, is characterized by a very traditional model of society with a patriarchal attitude and machismo. Women here are structurally disadvantaged. They are dependent on their husbands or fathers in all important matters and are paid less for the same work. Ironically, it is often the woman who is left to provide for the entire family when the father leaves the family, which is quite common practice, or is murdered or abducted, which also happens with appalling frequency.
During the paramilitary conflict in Chocó, a woman’s body simultaneously became a weapon and a target: not only were they a victim of rape and physical abuse, but women were often exploited to put pressure on their families.
However, violence against women in Chocó is not unique to conflict; domestic abuse is disturbingly commonplace. Judicial punishment for these crimes is rare – if the crime is even reported to the police. The economic dependence of the female victim on the male perpetrator inhibits Colombian society from making progress in prosecuting sexual mistreatment. Structural inequality, daily abuse, and the absence of any serious rehabilitation programs for victims only begins to characterize the challenges women face in rural Colombia.
Women’s education and the deliberate strengthening of the role of women must play a central role in breaking up patriarchal structures in society. The past has shown in many places that women use their knowledge productively to improve their situation. Furthermore, they also pass on this knowledge and can thus initiate long-term sustainable change that permeates all social classes. It is not without reason that an old proverb says: “If you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation”.