In Colombia, 20% of adolescent girls are either mothers or pregnant, a trend that can only be reversed if machismo is rendered impotent, according to a human rights NGO.
Gabriela Bucher, the CEO of Plan International (PI), told Colombia Reports that this will only happen if the attitudes of men towards women, and of women towards themselves change.
Colombia has an appalling record of violence against women and young girls. Approximately 80% of all sexual crimes in the country are committed against girls under 18 years old. In 2012, there were 2,000 cases of sexual abuse of girls under the age of four.
Legislative efforts have been made to better protect women from abuse and discrimination. According to a Somali Cerise, a researcher for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Colombia has improved women’s rights to own property, access to inheritance, and custody rights, compared to other Latin American countries.
However Colombia shows greater discrimination in “all other dimensions of the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), which include laws addressing violence against women,” said Cerise.
According to the Commission for the Status of Women, “seven out of ten women in the world will be beaten abused, raped, or mutilated in their lifetimes…with most of the violence taking place in intimate relationships.”
Colombian women are no exception.
“Rape is prevalent, including a high instance of spousal rape,” read the SIGI report.
A large majority, 76% of these women who had experienced violence at the hands of their partner, have never reported it or sought help of any kind.
According to Bucher, conflict-ridden rural Colombia experiences an even higher prevalence of domestic violence. Adding to this, armed groups use sexual violence “as a weapon of war.”
Guerrillas and neo-paramilitaries, “inflict sexual mutilation as a punishment for alleged fraternization with the enemy, prostitution, extra-marital sex, and for violation of imposed codes of behavior,” SIGI reported.
The FARC, Colombia’s largest left-wing insurgency, employ women and girl soldiers in their troops and supposedly require them to get aboritons should they become pregnant.
In rural areas, around 37% of adolescents are either mothers or pregnant. The difference, according to the PI official, is that these girls want to become pregnant because in their minds, this is their only option.
“Therefore,” said Bucher, “we can’t tackle this problem with education on contraception and family planning, we have to change the perception the girls have of themselves.”
Plan International is working alongside the government to change attitudes in Colombia, and have worked with more than 24,000 children across the country.
“Women have the power to change their identity. They need to move away from the idea of being a victim, and from gender stereotypes. We are instilling this in girls from early childhood and in boys too,” said Bucher.
“The Colombian government are very supportive in this push and have set gender equality targets. In January, they came up with a special policy to combat teen pregnancy,” said the PI official.
“We are challenging culturally the way women are viewed by men, and the way women view themselves,” said Bucher. “We want to give them a new gender identity. We want to give the men a new identity for their masculinity too, we want to tell them: you can be manly without being abusive.”
- Interview with Gabriela Bucher, CEO Plan International Colombia
- Interview with Somali Cerise, researcher for the SIGI for OECD
- Interview with Davinder Kumar, Plan International
- Decomposing the gender wage gap with sample selection adjustment: evidence from Colombia (Scielo.cl)
- Colombia (SIGI)
- Comunicado de prensa (Dane)
- UN women (UN Women)