Women’s Representation in Local Government – Circulos de Mujeres in Rural Areas in Colombia
The Municipality of San José del Fragua is located in the southern part of the Department of Caquetá in Colombia and is made up of 67 villages, four populated centers, and five indigenous reservations. It is home to approximately 18 thousand inhabitants, of which 51 percent are men and 49 percent are women. Unfortunately, the municipality has been hit by violence, whereby 75 percent of families becoming victims of the armed conflict in Colombia. The vast majority of direct victims of these conflicts have been women. Considering this, the Women's Community Council was established to create a space for women to speak out and be recognized as leaders within their community.
The Women's Community Council was born out of the initiative of the councilor Ana Lucia Vivas, who presented the project proposal to the Municipal Council in 2015. The aim was to create a legitimate and proper space for dialogue and representation with the goal of making visible the participation, incidence, and great contributions that women make in society. The structure of the Women's Community Council is made up of 20 representatives, one for each existing social sector in the municipality, who were elected at the General Assembly.
One of the activities that the Women's Community Council carries out are the so-called Circulos de Mujeres, Women's Circles. As an instrument, these circles provide a safe space for women to speak out and express what they feel. The Women's Circles, which are attended by women from both urban and rural areas of the municipality, have become a platform for discussing a range of issues that affect women's lives, including domestic violence, abuse, and discrimination. These circles provide a space where women can talk about their experiences and receive support and advice from other women in the community who have faced similar challenges. Women who have many abilities and skills but have never had the opportunity to demonstrate them are given the occasion to show what they can do. Through the Women's Circles, women become more empowered by knowledge, and they lose shyness when it comes to expressing themselves in front of others.
The Women's Circles are held frequently every month or every two months, in accordance with the provisions of the action plan. The meetings are held in inspections that are populated in neighborhoods of the municipality. Women from other neighborhoods are also given the opportunity to attend and expanding their participation. When the distress of one or more women is identified, external support is sought from other agencies that articulately help to find solutions and capacities. For example, the idea of a political class for women was born during one of the circles, to improve women’s capacity to take part to the local electoral campaign.
The Women's Community Council has made considerable progress in terms of women's as well as girls’ organization, being recognized at the departmental level as a leading municipality in incidence and participation. The work carried out by the counselors who are the protagonists of this group is fundamental to the recognition and valuation of women's work, the rescue of values, and the promotion of women's rights as key players in society. These circles have become a key part of the council’s efforts to promote women's empowerment and community building in San José del Fragua and its most rural areas. The success of these circles has been possible thanks to the support of the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) through the Program Paz Comunal and other collaborators who have believed in and contributed enormously to the council’s work. These circles have become an important tool for building community resilience and promoting gender equality in San José del Fragua.