Humphrey School News—July 31, 2018

Advocating Against Gender Violence in Colombia

Humphrey School researchers make their case to UN Human Rights Council

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Greta Friedemann-Sanchez and Peggy Grieve in Geneva, Switzerland
Associate Professor Greta Friedemann-Sánchez (right) and researcher Peggy Grieve outside the Palace of Nations, home to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo: Jennifer Prestholdt, The Advocates for Human Rights)

After nearly 60 years of civil war, Colombia reached a peace agreement in November 2016 that finally brought fighting to an end. But as violence ebbed in conflict zones, it swelled in the home.

Two researchers from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs affirmed that trend, where physical and emotional abuse against romantic partners and spouses becomes more prevalent and severe during armed conflict and following the end of armed conflict.

Colombia’s rates of intimate partner violence are among the highest in the world: In 2010, 65 percent of partnered women had experienced emotional violence, and 37 percent had experienced physical violence, at some point during their lives.

While Colombia has strong laws on the books to prevent this type of intimate partner violence, Associate Professor Greta Friedemann-Sánchez and her research partner, Peggy Grieve, have found those laws aren’t being implemented well enough to curb the epidemic of violence against women. 

This spring, Friedemann-Sánchez and Grieve brought their findings from three years of research to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva to persuade its members to put pressure on Colombia to address intimate partner violence. They planned their visit in advance of Colombia’s Universal Periodic Review in May—a report that UN member countries receive to assess their progress on human rights issues every five years.

Friedemann-Sánchez and Grieve collaborated with The Advocates for Human Rights (AHR), a Minneapolis-based organization that works to promote and protect international human rights standards, to reach the UNHRC. They shared their findings and recommendations with about 50 member countries and made an oral statement to the UNHRC, in hopes of pressuring Colombia to address the issue. 

“Colombia must recognize the link between its armed conflict and gender violence,” said Friedemann-Sánchez, a native of Colombia. “Men who have spent their lives fighting and using tactics of war acquire certain behaviors about how to resolve conflict and how to exercise their masculinity, which come back with them as they continue their lives at home.”

In Colombia, family commissioners are on the front line for helping victims of intimate partner violence. Although their roles are determined at the federal level, these positions are funded at the city level, and they rarely have the resources to adequately serve those in need. 

Among their recommendations, Friedemann-Sánchez and Grieve call on Colombia’s government to provide family commissioners with more funding and recognition at the federal level, to improve their standing and effectiveness.  

Listen to Civios podcast with Greta Friedemann- Sánchez 

Why bring the research findings to the UN Human Rights Council, instead of the Colombian government? Friedemann-Sánchez, Grieve, and their advocacy partners in AHR believe Colombia may be more receptive to addressing its intimate partner violence if scrutiny comes on the global stage. A country’s Universal Periodic Review is often a good time to push for it to enact changes, and Colombia has responded positively to recommendations in the past.

The researchers have also translated the report into Spanish and sent it to the mayors’ offices in the cities where they conducted fieldwork, and to family commissioners they interviewed during their research. Those local officials may decide to use the report as a credible, independent recommendation when making the case for more support for the work they do.

As she waits to see what Colombia will do, Friedemann- Sánchez said she has enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with The Advocates for Human Rights and strive for change. While publishing research in an academic journal can be a slow process, this advocacy gave her and Grieve the chance to work toward more immediate results.

This research is supported by the Human Rights Initiative, a joint effort of the College of Liberal Arts and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs to support interdisciplinary engaged research and teaching in the field of human rights with a goal of strengthening practice and the profession overall.

A version of this story originally appeared in Inquiry, a publication of the Office of the Vice President for Research.