Last week I visited Women´s Link Worldwide and met a group of very intelligent women. Now I wouldn´t call myself a feminist particularly but on occasion I am reassured by the power of women where perhaps they are still seen as second class citizens. This is true of Colombia still. Women work and there seems to be an increasing emphasis for women to become more independent from men who traditionally would rule the roost. But I am witnessing a new wave of females pushing through the old attitudes and customs of this country and coming out on top. I have interviewed a few of these brave ladies but on Thursday I spoke to those that have fought for their rights and freedoms.
Katherine Romero is a senior attorney for Women´s Link Worldwide and agreed to meet me to speak about the work she does here in Colombia and all over Latin America. She graduated with a joint degree in law and political science from the University of the Andes, Bogota, Colombia and holds a Masters in Human Rights Protection from the University of Alcala de Henares, Madrid, Spain so she is certainly a women I want to talk to. I always imagined working in human rights myself and to meet such a successful lady doing such great work was a pleasure.
In 2005, Katherine began work in the field of sexual and reproductive rights as a legal intern with Women’s Link Worldwide on the LAICIA (High impact litigation, the unconstitutionality of abortion law in Colombia) project, forming part of the legal team which liberalized abortion law in Colombia in 2006 and told me she continues to work and direct the sexual and reproductive rights program. This in itself is just a massive achievement as before 2006 abortion in Colombia was completely illegal.
Katherine is a slender lady who wears a colourful, bright yellow top and her vibrant personality is complimented by her modest manner. She sees this as a massive achievement as I praise her successes but also points out that there is a lot more work to be done here in Colombia but more so in other Latin American countries such as Peru, where it is illegal to have sex before the age of 18. This therefore makes getting pregnant illegal too and unlike the private health care system in the US that may save you in this scenario, Katherine informs me that young teenage girls who get pregnant receive little if any medical attention from the state and are often shunned and outcast. Consequently, it can be very dangerous for young women to get pregnant in these countries, Katherine explains as she points out the charts on the walls that detail the laws on reproductive rights around the world.
Map showing the Laws for reproductive rights in 2005. South America is one of the pinkest along with Africa
An underlying attitude in all these similar cases she tells me is that women´s bodies are seen as objects that in most cases don´t belong to them. A look in her eye tells me she isn´t shocked by these values unlike myself who takes a minute to digest the information. Her fairly cool emotions could come across as cold but I sense she is a warm person just accustomed to working with so many girls where this is the case and it does not phase her anymore.
She tells me of one case where she worked with a 10 year old Colombian girl who was raped and under the age of 12 here any sexually activity is classed as rape. But this unfortunate little girl was failed by the state who did not declare her her right to an abortion in this instance and this is where Katherine came in. She helped part decriminalise abortion here which is one mean feight for a women in Colombia.
A few years on and she says the little girl, now only 13 is recovering but is still psychologically wounded by the whole traumatic experience, not surprisingly. I ask if there is enough medical and psychological help here in these cases in Colombia and she says there is some but not nearly enough. Her story shocks me and whilst I know rape happens around the world, to be denied an abortion after being violated in such a dehumanising way to me, seems quite criminal. Hence Katherine explains to me, thanks to her efforts there are now three scenarios where women can get an abortion in Colombia; if they have been raped, if the foetus is endangered or if the mother is in danger. However she recognises that illegal abortions are very frequent here and often very dangerous, where girls resort to going to illegal underground clinics with non-qualified doctors and risky methods of self-aborting.
The teenage mothers line up for morning prayers at Juan Felipe foundation
I remember back to reading an article in a real life magazine on illegal abortion when I was about 15 and it has stayed with me since. I remember thinking about it all day at work and I vowed that I would one day try and find out about this topic and here I am. That was the first time I decided I wanted to be a journalist and write about human rights and try and help by letting the world know what goes on in other parts of the world.
Katherine´s publications include: “Obstacles and challenges following the partial decriminalisation of abortion in Colombia” (in Reproductive Health Matters, 2010), “Strategic Litigation Cases Under the New Law of Abortion in Colombia: Challenges Implementation”