Butterflies – lives at risk, every day
The Butterflies put their lives on the line every day to assist forcibly displaced women and those who have been subject to sexual or physical violence. Many are survivors of abuse and can empathize with the women they help.
Maritza Asprilla Cruz. She joined the “Butterflies” two years ago. She teaches women about self-care.
Gloria Amparo Murillo. She is the co-founder of Butterflies. She has faced direct threats after helping a mother/daughter who suffered domestic abuse.
Mery Medina. She coordinates a group of 30 women whose husbands/sons have been assassinated or have disappeared.
Photo by UNHCR/L.Zanetti/2014
Brutal Realities: The relative calm of the port city of Buenaventura belies the levels of brutality faced on the ground. Rival armed groups mark their territory and residents are careful not to cross boundaries. Those who stray across these lines can face death, mutilation, kidnap or rape. UNHCR / L. Zanetti / 2014.
The Most Vulnerable: The shantytowns on the water’s edge are the areas most affected by violence and displacement. Women and children are frequent targets. According to official figures, nearly 51,000 people in Buenaventura were forced to flee their homes due to armed violence from 2011 to 2013. UNHCR / J. Arredondo / 2014.
Invisible Boundaries: To reach women in danger, the Butterflies volunteers must navigate the invisible boundaries set up by armed groups. Despite the risks, Mery Medina believes spreading awareness about sexual violence in conflict will help women, their families and the community to heal and become stronger. UNHCR / J. Arredondo /2014.
No Refuge From the Violence: Luz Dary Santiesteban fled to Buenaventura in 1995 to escape from the violence, but safety was elusive. In 2004, members of an armed group threatened to rape her daughter as punishment for Luz’s community activism. Luz intervened and was gang-raped. Years later, after joining Butterflies, she found the courage to report the crime. Santiesteban said that reporting it “was like taking out a cancer that had been consuming me.” UNHCR / J. Arredondo / 2014
Value Yourself: Maritza Asprilla Cruz leads a weekly workshop that teaches women about their rights. “If you don’t value yourself, no-one will value you,” Maritza tells the participants. Butterflies believes building self-esteem will help women avoid the quagmire of violence, extortion and displacement that has become a daily reality for many in Buenaventura. UNHCR / J. Arredondo / 2014
Helping Hands: In a society where violence permeates everyday life, there is a total lack of trust. The Butterflies support system is based on the tradition of comadreos (god-parenting), where unconditional love and support is offered to all those taken under the Butterflies wing. This solidarity allows people to regain their self-esteem and confidence. UNHCR / J. Arredondo / 2014
Know your Rights: Gloria Amparo explains the Butterflies outreach programme to young women. She is convinced that the way to empower women who suffer forced displacement and abuse is to ensure they know their rights. “When a woman knows her rights, it allows her to have choices and make decisions. Knowing your rights, you can better defend yourself and your community,” she says. UNHCR / J. Arredondo / 2014
Breaking the Silence: Lack of trust in local institutions and limited access to clinics and hospitals deters women from reporting crimes and getting the medical attention they need. Mery Medina helps women step by step through what can be an agonizing process. Mery believes that talking about sexual violence in conflict is the only way to stop it. UNHCR / J. Arredondo / 2014
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