For many women in Colombia, peace never arrived (Al Jazeera)

SANTANDER DE QUILOCHAO, COLOMBIA – Clemencia Carabali did not know the number that appeared on her phone when it rang last June. She didn’t recognise the man’s voice on the other end of the call.

“If you don’t leave the territory by 5pm today, you’re a dead woman,” Carabali recalled the man saying.

Carabali reported the call to Colombian police, but also didn’t leave. The incident is still under investigation, but Carabali said knowing that her community is watching out for her that makes her feel more comfortable.

Carabali suspects the threat came as a result of her work as a women’s rights defender in the Colombian state of Cauca. She works mainly with Afro-Colombian women, teaching them about their rights – as women, Afro-descendants and victims of war – and how to demand them.

The goal is to empower women so they can build a strong community and be able to defend themselves, especially after being constant victims of violence and displacement during the country’s more than 50 years of conflict.

“Women here were disappeared and assassinated. [Armed men] would arrive at people’s homes and force the husband outside, so they could rape his wife – often two or three men at a time. And many stayed pregnant without wanting it,” Carabali said.

“Those were really hard times. We thought the world was going to end,” she added

The north of Cauca has been relatively calm since the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government began peace negotiations in 2012, and signed a final peace agreement in August 2016.

But after receiving multiple threats last year, Carabali worries that the violence, particularly attacks and violence against women, may return.

More than 340 human rights defenders in Colombia were killed from the beginning of 2016 to mid-August 2018 – mostly by paramilitaries trying to squash community activism.

Rights defenders who are women also face gender-specific threats and violence, including rape and threats against their children, according to the United Nations.

This comes as women continue to try to cope with the scars of the conflict.

A report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, found that armed groups regularly targeted women in Colombia as a war strategy. Different forms of sexual, psychological and physical violence were used to “dehumanise” women and spread terror among the community, as a way to control the local population with Afro-Colombian and indigenous women being particularly vulnerable.

“Women have been the primarily affected, or principle victims of war,” Edna Mosquera, a representative with UN Women in Cauca, told Al Jazeera.

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