Sara Arellano, Fulbright Winner, Blog Post #3: Research findings and reflections

Trigger warning: This post contains summaries of research findings on sensitive topics such as forced displacement and domestic violence.

In my prior blog I shared the sense of community between family, friends, and neighbors, and the willingness of a majority of the public to assist each other with directions when they are lost, and the common practice of businesses and people sharing food with those whom are less fortunate. Medellín rests within a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains. These are the qualities of Medellín that I absolutely love.

Sara’s friend Bladimir serves lunch with 5 different dishes

As beautiful as Medellín is, the topic of my Fulbright Scholarship U.S. Student Program Fellowship is violence against women. Violence against women is not a problem unique to Colombia, but rather a global problem that international and nongovernmental organizations have grappled with for decades. Another component of my investigation focused on how does race and ethnicity impact a woman’s access to resources, which was a challenge, because the entities in Medellín that collect data on victims of violence do not code race and/or ethnicity.

My research was conducted within the context of the Colombian internal armed conflict, where close to 8 million Colombians have been directly affected (Red Nacional de Información, October 26, 2016). Although a peace accord between the Colombian Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–Ejército del Pueblo was passed by Colombian Congress in December of 2016, forced displacement continues, as some demobilized armed actors have reformed, and/or joined criminal gangs (referred to as BACRIM for bandas criminals by the Colombian Government).

Conference with various womens’ organizations, including Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres

I have interviewed Afro-descendant, indigenous, and mestiza women whom were victims of intra-familial violence, and also experienced forced displacement, and/or had relatives assassinated by armed groups. During my research I realized the revised 1991 Constitution of Colombia impacts the security of indigenous women, as Article 246 specifies indigenous communities have the right to self-govern. A consequence of protecting indigenous culture and tradition has resulted in confusion, as to when Colombian ordinary law supersedes indigenous internal law. Thus, laws designed to protect women from intra-familial, non-partner, or sexual violence often exempts crimes that were committed within indigenous communities (Escobar, Maria Roldån 2015, “In the backyard of indigenous justice-Weakness of communities” El Tiempo).

Comments from interviews I conducted with indigenous women organization leaders suggest indigenous community authorities (whom are usually men) do not resolve the issues of violence against women with consistency, or to the satisfaction of the victim.

Hilda Liria Domicó Bailarín from the indigenous community Embera Eyábida

Within the Afro-descendant population there is a strong culture of silence, which is similar to the indigenous culture. I was advised by several Afro-descendants that they do not speak about intra-familial or sexual violence with “outsiders” or those who do not share their same skin tone. Based on my research, I believe this is due to the exclusion of, and discrimination against generations of Afro-descendants, which has resulted in distrust of “outsiders”; furthermore, there does not appear to be equal employment of Afro-descendants in the entities that provide resources for victims, which may further exacerbate their unwillingness to use available resources.

I propose race and ethnicity does impact a woman’s access to resources. Race and ethnicity have a historical context in the social and political structure of each subpopulation, which has an affect on their decision to reach out to available resources after an assault. Based on participant responses, Afro-descendants and indigenous women do not encounter blatant discrimination when reaching out to resources within the Municipality of Medellín; however, my research involved a limited sample size (30 participants).

CERFAMI (Centro de Recursos Integrales para la Familía​) social workers

Providing statistics on race and ethnicity would provide important demographic data for research groups and organizations interested in understanding the scope and dimensions of victimization for a specific subpopulation. Disregarding this information underscores the ideology of “mestizaje”, where all Colombians are considered one mixed race (Wade, Peter 2005, “Rethinking Mestizaje: Ideology and Lived Experience”; Dulitzky, Ariel E. 2001, “A Region in Denial: Racial Discrimination and Racism in Latin America”).

Multiple dynamics exist within Colombian civil society that exacerbates the vulnerability of women. The intersectionality of the internal armed conflict, culture, socioeconomic status, and the politics of law compounds the realization for women to reach equality, equity, and a life free from violence.

The author, Sara Arellano, and her friend, the late poet Jhony Arenas

My Fulbright experience has impressed upon me the magnitude of the internal armed conflict, however, I have also witnessed the strength, resilience, and hospitality of the people of Medellín, Colombia. The friends I have made, and my positive international experience has enhanced my professional and academic development, for which I will always be eternally grateful to all who supported me (UCI professors & SOP, and friends & family).

Leave a Reply