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16 Days of Activism: Colombian women transform their lives and empower their communities

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As part of the UN Secretary-General’s campaign for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence 2022, entitled “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”, UNODC is showcasing its activities around the world that help to accelerate efforts to end violence against women and girls through a series of web stories.

Today, we hear from two women who found an opportunity to see their life from a different perspective and empower their communities to build a better future. Here are the stories of Eylin and Lorcy.

© UNODC

In the village of Cabildo, a place with a few streets and houses in the Colombian municipality of Miranda (Cauca), Eylin takes a piece of fabric and begins to cut out an exact pattern for a pair of pants. When she finishes, she reaches for thread and takes it to the sewing machine. It takes a couple of minutes before she can insert the thread into the needle and start sewing the pieces together.

Eylin used to be a collector, dedicating her days to ‘scratching‘ and harvesting coca leaves while carrying her child on her shoulders. Collectors are at the lowest point in the coca production chain. They have no health plans or protections, and the informal and clandestine nature of their work increases the dangers of violence, including gender-based violence for female day labourers.

An absence of opportunities led Eylin to become a collector when she was very young. “This is an activity that generates violence and destroys the lives of young people”, she says with tears in her eyes because she fears for the future of her two young children. It is the only life Eylin had ever known. For a long time, she dreamed of having a profession that would earn her enough money to help her family. Due to economic difficulties, she could not even finish high school.  

Realizing she had to change her life, Eylin accepted the help of the Colombian government’s National Program for the Integral Substitution of Illicit Crops. She joined an alternative development project Inclusive Businesses with a Gender Approach’, given by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and financed by the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund for Sustaining Peace (UNMPTF) in Colombia.

Through this project, Eylin and other women who used to collect coca leaves birthed a business in order to build a future of legal work. That business is ‘Confecciones con Amor’ (Tailoring with Love).

Eylin and her colleagues work Monday through Friday, making sweatpants and multifunctional pants. ‘Confecciones con Amor’ has allowed them to see life from a different perspective, with the aspiration to grow their business and expand their productivity, thus provide a safe and stable future for their families.

In the Colombian Pacific, where historic violence has caused insecurity, UNODC works to prevent gender-based violence and gives women practical tools to defend their rights and autonomy. Women like Lorcy, an Afro-Colombian and leader of ‘Canasteando’ (Basketing), a cacao entrepreneurship located in Tumaco (Nariño).

UNODC found in Lorcy a defender of women’s rights in her community who contributes to empowering women to achieve economic autonomy through cacao production. Hailing from a challenging area where violence is part of daily life, Lorcy is an inspiration to many Afro-Colombian women who want better living conditions for their families and communities.

She was amongst 200 Afro-Colombian women who ended up placing their hopes in the processes led by UNODC to promote and strengthen productive projects from a gender perspective. These projects emphasize women’s rights, their freedom and security to exercise leadership, and the transformation of their communities and societies. Funded by the UNMPTF in Colombia, the projects have given technical and financial support to around 50 organizations led by women.

Lorcy and the women from ‘Canasteando’ have seen their biggest dreams become real: to produce their packages of cacao as a representation of their dedicated work to empower and promote inclusion among rural and Afro-Colombian women who are victims of violence.

Further information

This year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign kicked off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day. The yearly campaign sparks hundreds of events around the world designed to accelerate efforts to end violence against women and girls. The global theme for this year’s UN Secretary-General-led campaign is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”, calling upon governments and partners to show their solidarity with women’s rights movements and activists, and inviting everyone to join the global movement to end violence against women once and for all.

Comprehensive and multi-sectoral solutions are required to end all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls by 2030, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 5.2. Crime prevention and criminal justice responses are a key part of this approach. Learn more about UNODC’s work on gender-based violence here.

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