“Feminism, for me, is this comprehensive form of struggling against oppression and building up a world where we are all equal as human beings with the same value, the same importance and the same presence in this world.”
Human rights activist. Charo is an Afro-Colombian human rights defender with more than two decades of experience in activism at the national and international levels. As the National Coordinator of Advocacy and Outreach for the Black Communities Process (Proceso de Communidades Negras) and a member of the Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network, she works to empower Afro-Colombian women by educating women on their rights, increasing their access to justice and collecting accurate data on violence against Afro-Colombian women. Charo participated in Colombia’s peace negotiations. In October 2017, Charo addressed the United Nations Security Council on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security.
Tell us about your work.
Our work focuses on making the Black people’s struggle in Colombia visible, highlighting our issues and building up reciprocal solidarity in other parts of the world. I also work with other women human rights defenders to expose the human rights violations and the situation of Afro-descendant women in rural communities impacted by violence.
What drives you?
Life. The respect for life. Protecting and defending life is very important for Afro-descendant peoples. And seeing the little ones, the “reinacientes”, behind us and knowing that they are the future. That is always a force for me, to know that my son and other children coming behind me to take this flag and continue this struggle.
What does feminism mean to you in your context?
As Black women we defend the right to be different. Some call it diversity but what we are is different people. I am different as a woman and I am different as a Black Afro-descendant person. And that difference is something that generates a lot of fear, resentment and oppression from others. So from our Afro-descendant perspective and for me, as a Black woman, feminism is this comprehensive form of struggling against oppression and building up a world where we are all equal as human beings with the same value, the same importance and the same presence in this world.
What is the biggest challenge facing women in your work right now?
Being a Black woman in a very racist and patriarchal country is very complicated. Racism is a challenge. Being recognized and being respected as a Black woman is a challenge. But at the same time, we have the strength of our identity, the strength of our culture, the power of our sense of belonging and collective identity.
I was discussing this recently with a great woman from Guatemala, and we were talking about how our time is colonized, and how we are struggling constantly with the rush of capitalism. We are losing time to take care of ourselves. Women from rural contexts use time differently, and have this great challenge of balancing what time means for us. This impacts our opportunities for organizing as women. Everything is running so fast that we end up being too separate, and breaking apart.
What strategies to organize against those challenges have inspired you?
We educate and organize around identity and territoriality. Staying in the territory is a key strategy for us because that’s the space where we can develop as human beings and build the sense of collectivity and community. We need to keep the land and we need to keep control of collective land.
What is the most important action that someone could take to support your work and the global feminist movement?
I think we have to be aware of what is going on outside our local struggles. The African tradition is “I am because we are”, the Ubuntu philosophy, and I think that’s one of the key things right now. We can’t do it by ourselves. We need others. This is global struggle, this is a global movement and this is a global effort. We can be a greater force against everything that’s coming up if we are together.
Visit the Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network website.
Read Charo's statement at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security.