Luz Amparo works in Cali, Colombia with Red de Mujeres Comisión de Paz / The Network of Women Peace Commission (CEDECOL), an organization working to end violence against women. CEDECOL contributes to the elimination of violence against women through Church Ministries to: 1. Promote prevention and protection strategies for women survivors of violence. 2. Encourage initiatives of social research that make visible the reality of violence against women. 3. Insert in political and ecclesial decision-making spaces to recognize women's leadership and the fulfillment of their rights.
BPFNA: What brought you to Mexico this week?
LA: I did not know about the organization, but I found out through Adalia [Gutierrez Lee]. I met her at a women’s leadership conference in Punta Cana in 2016. I told her a little about my work in Cali with women, and she told me she would really like me to participate in a Conflict Transformation workshop in April 2017. I told her sure I’d be interested because of the work I do in Colombia and the situation that we find ourselves in in Colombia right now.
I went to the training in April and there I got to know the organization through Ximena Ulloa Montemayor, Mayra Picos Lee, and LeDayne McLeese Polaski. They told me a little about Summer Conference, asked if I would like to attend the event, and they let me do a workshop about the work I'm doing.
One of the big reasons I wanted to come was, in light of the situation we find ourselves in in Colombia, for other people to learn more and understand the work that I am trying to do. And also to get to know some of the allies we might have in the process of building peace. That’s gratifying to me because I’m able to share what we’re trying to get done with women in Colombia. So I came with a lot of expectations, but I felt really good.
BPFNA: Can you talk some about the details of your work?
LA: I work with an organization called Red de Mujeres Comisión de Paz / The Network of Women Peace Commission (CELECOL). This organization brings together the evangelical congregations in Colombia to do work toward building peace. Their motto is Formation, Research, Realization. They’ve been doing this for about 20 years. About 10 years ago the organization realized the need to do some more focused work so they focused on women. We started this work and we recruited the allies we had within the churches because that’s where the work is done - within the churches. We started working with the women of those churches and communities talking about building peace and empowering women. I’ve been working with the project for two years.
We decided to raise awareness of what’s happening in Colombia right now and to focus on working with women to eliminate domestic violence.
There are five areas in Colombia where we have a group of women who are leaders so we can train them to be able to do the work. We do a different kind of work with women who are in more rural settings or with Indigenous women.
We work a lot more closely with those women, a lot more personal and experiential. We meet with them two times a month and work with them personally. I’m really passionate about it, I think it’s very important work because of all the situations and realities we’re exposed to as women.
We think that one of the best ways to start building peace is through the empowerment of women and through raising awareness. That’s why we work with the body as a theme. We try to train women to see their bodies as territories of peace, so if they have that awareness and think of their bodies that way, they’re less likely to accept violence against them and less likely to think that it’s natural and inherent.
Another important component is to be able to give women resources so that they can raise themselves up economically. So the resources to start a business or the resources to know what they’re worth economically. Because many women will accept violence against them or become involved in a cycle of violence because economically they depend on another person.
With Indigenous women, we’re working with them on their bodies as their territory, but we’re also trying to give them the resources and trainings to be able to do their own sewing and weaving because a lot of times working in the fields and working the land isn’t enough to live on.
Another thing we have in the works is to try and open a shelter for women to help them in times of emergency because right now there are shelters that are ran by the country and state, but they have pretty stringent rules and requirements to be able to access them. So women can’t always meet those. Because we’ve already tried to assist in cases with women who are in a place where they need help and they need housing but we can’t really help them because first we have to go through the government and there’s so much protocol and it’s hard.
I want to complement another area of work that we are developing, which is to work with women reintegrating, women who have belonged to insurgent groups during the war, and we want to be able to give them opportunities to live a dignified life.
BPFNA: What challenges or realizations have you come across in your work?
LA: It’s a very personal subject to me, and I started studying this subject because I was a student of theology. I think it’s really wonderful work to be doing, mostly because I identify with this kind of work. It’s important to me, not just because the opportunity fell in my lap or for economic reasons. This is what I think I should be doing.
Even though it’s really important to be able to see the transformation and empowerment of the women I’m working with, I think it’s even more important for me to see a change in myself. Other people can see a change in me. And not a physical change but an internal change. For me that’s even more valuable. And I really credit starting this work with theology.
BPFNA: How can BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz support your work?
LA: I think just being here is one of the best supports we could have received, for the organization but also for me as a person. Being able to participate in all these conversations and also to be able to share my own experiences has been a big help. I think there’s a lot more we could do with sharing our experiences. We could share and also people could come to Colombia and see the reality. We could go there and share the experience and they can come here and share the experience too.
I would also like to maybe request economic support to develop more projects with women. There is a lot of peacebuilding work to do, but many of our limitations are economic. We have projects to develop but we need hands that support our work.
BPFNA: What are your hopes for BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz in the future?
LA: The question I asked to Mayra was about the name of the organization and if there were a way to make the rest of Latin America feel more included in the organization. I think that the organization should think about opening its membership to other Latin American countries so that we feel more included in the work that you’re doing. One of the issues is that people from other Latin American countries are asked to come and share their experiences but are not exactly named as part of the group. That opens a lot of questions.