Political participation of women: perceptions of barriers and resources of women human rights defenders in Colombia

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Picker, Ruth
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In the past decade, there has been growing recognition of the importance of women’s equal participation in all areas of life, specifically in politics and decisionmaking (UN DAW 2005). Women human rights defenders in Colombia encounter gender-specific barriers to their participation, exposing them to personal risk and conflict. This qualitative pilot study explores the experiences of a small number of women human rights defenders in Colombia. Specifically, it focuses on 1) women’s political socialisation, 2) their understanding of politics, 3) sources of strength, 4) perceived barriers to their political participation and 5) strategies to overcome them. Results yielded a plethora of information and corroborated findings of the effects of dominant gender-constructions in Latin America on women’s political identity and their understanding of politics. Barriers on three levels (intrapersonal, interpersonal/ socio-cultural, armed actors) were identified, with security concerns and barriers in women’s political environments playing a dominant role. Women’s key resources to persist include personal contact with affected populations, providing a sense of political efficacy, agency and self-actualisation, and strategies based on dialogue, reflecting participants’ understanding of politics as inclusive and participatory project and their ideal of coherence between the private and the public sphere. Conscientisation, political (human rights) education and selfempowerment appear as key components to foster women’s appropriation of the public political space and to transform cultural patterns that limit women’s inclusion in all spheres of life
Second semester University: University of Deusto, Bilbao.
gender discrimination, Colombia, human rights workers, political participation, women