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Their work speaks volumes about the complex dynamic between conflict, crime, and violence against women in Colombia. The stories are chilling. Women and girls with their heads, limbs and breasts cut off, the parts publically displayed, left in trash bags or thrown into the sea. Women that are raped, and left dead with objects inserted in their vaginas. In , monitoring groups recorded 13 murdered girls and women — down from a high of 38 in although official figures are lower.
But the femicides are just the bloody face of a problem that goes much deeper. Ending the justification of these deaths will bring us closer to the truth about the war in Buenaventura.
In fact, for these women, who is fighting the war and what they are fighting for is largely irrelevant. What matters is what the war unleashes in the men who fight it. Sometimes women become victims because their partners or relatives join armed groups, or because they are labeled a collaborator by one side or the other. Other times, it is because of the whims and lusts of members of armed groups. The extreme violence, Luz believes, is both a deliberate message sent to communities about where the power lies, and a reflection of the objectification of women in a macho society.
Luz is convinced the violence and reactions to it also have a racial element, in a city that is close to 90 percent Afro-Colombian. Her explanation for the horrific violence is simpler. Residents report these gangs also recruit young girls and women to use as informants, to exploit as prostitutes or to abuse as collective girlfriends, available to any gang member that wants them.
Once a part of gang life, the damage to their lives is often permanent. However, it is not just those old enough to recruit that are at risk, and even intra-familial abuse of young children can often be traced back to the conflict. One of the most significant strides the city has taken was the opening of a new Victims Attention Center in October last year.