The 2014 Winner: Butterflies
In a violence-ridden corner of Colombia a group of courageous women are putting their lives at risk helping survivors of displacement and sexual abuse.
In a country with 5 million people uprooted by conflict, Buenaventura stands as a graphic testimonial. The city has one of the highest rates of violence and displacement due to escalating conflict between illegal armed groups. Sadly women are often their targets. The groups violate women and children to demonstrate their power and strength. Women are tortured, raped or killed to exact revenge on armed rivals.
Butterflies provides one-on-one support for victims of abuse and reaches out into communities to educate women and put pressure on the authorities to uphold women’s rights.
Many of Butterflies members have been forcibly displaced as a result of Colombia’s armed conflict, or have had relatives killed or gone missing. Many are also survivors of domestic and sexual violence. It is this experience that pushes them to continue their work in spite of the risks.
On foot or by bus, Gloria Amparo, Maritza Asprilla Cruz and Mery Medina – three of the Butterflies’ coordinators- cautiously move through the most dangerous neighbourhoods to help women access medical and psychological care and accompany them to report crimes. Through regular workshops they also teach women practical skills allowing them to make a living and know their rights. So far, Butterflies volunteers have turned around the lives of more than 1000 women and their families.
Butterflies has become a driving force in raising awareness about the high levels of violence against women. Despite attracting the attention of armed groups, they organize protests, marching the streets of Buenaventura clamoring “No more abuse of women” – determined to break down walls of fear and silence.
Gloria Amparo, Maritza Asprilla Cruz and Mery Medina represented Butterflies at UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award Ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland on 29 September.
Gloria is a long-time rights activist, who helped establish the Butterflies in 2010. Her own childhood was one of extreme poverty with an abusive father who regularly beat her mother. Witnessing this violence fuelled her ambition to dedicate her life to helping women victimised by violence.
Gloria is convinced the way to empower women who suffer displacement and abuse is to ensure they know their rights.Every corner of Buenaventura is tainted by violence, with rival armed groups setting up invisible boundaries to control neighbourhoods. In 1993 she was forced to flee to Bogota to escape threats on her life. Gloria must navigate these realities each and every day as she carries out her work.
Maritza is passionate about defending women’s rights. Like many others in Buenaventura she grew up in a home marked by extreme poverty and abuse. Her mother was regularly beaten up by her stepfather. Two years ago she joined Butterflies after an encounter with Gloria which convinced her that she too could make a difference in women’s lives.
Martiza leads many of the Butterflies’ human rights workshops and is source of inspiration for the women traumatised by violence and displacement in Buenaventura’s Vista Hermosa neighborhood where she lives, an impoverished area plagued by gang violence. She also encourages other women to volunteer and become part of Butterflies and focuses on raising self-esteem among women.
Mery spends her days painstakingly guiding women to access services, report crimes, and seek the justice they deserve.
She accompanies women through the painful, traumatic and sometimes threatening process of seeking help. By reporting crimes and seeking medical help Mery believes that sexual violence in conflict will no longer be an invisible scourge in Buenaventura. She feels that exposing it will help the women, their families and the entire community heal and become stronger.
As part of this process, Mery -together with other Butterflies volunteers/members helps organise protest marches, vigils, and stand-ins.