Women’s rights is currently a hot issue in Colombia, and campaigns are actively trying to put an end to domestic violence and abuse against women. This isn’t just a problem which exists behind closed doors; it has branched out to public transport, and particularly the Transmilenio system, with women being harassed and molested as they travel on packed buses. This has never happened to me, but apparently certain routes are more problematic than others (routes which go towards the Bosa neighbourhood, for example). The authorities have reacted to this by putting in place measures to make women feel more secure, such as a pink women-only carriage on some Transmilenio buses, and plain-clothed female police officers keeping an eye-out on buses.
This is part of a wider women’s rights issue, and I think that the root of the problem lies in general attitudes towards women.
- Given that most Colombians are devout Catholics and the Church continues to exert a huge amount of influence on Colombian society, abortion is illegal, except in cases of rape, or where pregnancy presents a danger to the woman’s life. Even then it is extremely controversial. Thus the number of young mothers in Colombia is noticeably high, and women have little choice but to continue with unwanted pregnancies.
- I’ve noticed that when a woman is no longer with the father of her children – whether this be due to death or separation/divorce – she will rarely have a relationship with another man thereafter. It’s as if women are afraid of being judged if they have more than one serious relationship in their lives. Mothers are also extremely close to/spoiling of their children here in Colombia, and children will usually remain with the mother after a separation, so perhaps mothers feel that they owe it to their children never to be with another man. Whatever the explanation behind it is (and I suspect that religious and social pressures play a huge part), I find it really sad that so many women have accepted being alone.
- Machismo is extremely prevalent in Colombia, and you can often expect to be at the receiving end of sleazy comments if you’re a woman walking down the street. One reason why I will never again go to Andrés Carne de Res (a popular, trendy, fairly expensive restaurant and club) is because when a woman was raped at Andrés Carne de Res in Chía, the reaction from the owner, Andrés Jaramillo, was something to the effect of: “Well what does she expect if she goes out wearing a mini-skirt?”. This attitude is, unfortunately, not uncommon, but coming from someone in the public eye is disgraceful. It did, however, cause quite an uproar in the media and among people in Bogota; though the fact that business is apparently still booming shows that people don’t really see it as such a serious offence.
In spite of these issues, what’s encouraging is that people do recognise it as a problem and are actively trying to address it; where I think the solution really lies though is in schools, which need to offer better education on women’s rights, and on human rights in general, so that the next generation has a chance of overcoming and eliminating these macho and misogynistic attitudes once and for all.