For International Women’s Day 2018, GAPS is celebrating diaspora women building peace through projects in the UK and across the world. Their work, from local initiatives to high-level peace processes, is at the forefront of change as they bring their voices, and the needs and challenges facing their communities, to the process of building sustainable peace. This is such important work, which all too often goes unrecognised by formal peace and security actors and institutions.
Today we are saying thank you to diaspora women working for peace and security as we profile five brilliant women and their important projects.
Amparo Restrepo is a poet, mother of three children and co-founder of one of the first Colombian refugee associations in London. She has lived in exile for over three decades and participates in the Truth, Memory and Reconciliation Commission of Colombian Women in the Diaspora (TMRC).
What do peace and security mean to you?
Peace and security have a great significance to me because where they are absent, war and chaos will be present. War and chaos are destruction, devastation, violence and blood. Peace is stability, tranquillity, trust, joy and much more. Security is complementary to peace; there is no peace without security and vice versa. Peace with social justice should be fought for, in Colombia and everywhere else.
Why are the voices of diaspora women valuable to policy-making on peace and security?
For decades, voices of women in the Colombian diaspora were shrouded in silence. Women like me, who fled from Colombia, were struggling with traumas of war, trying very hard to adapt to a new way of life in a different country, taking care of our children without speaking the language, not understanding the education system and lacking self-esteem. Nowadays – with the Commission of Truth, Memory and Reconciliation of Colombian Women in the Diaspora across London, Barcelona and Stockholm – we have become transnational messengers promoting peace and security, two hugely important pillars of any democratic society.
For us women in the Colombian diaspora, the construction of democracy and peace in Colombia has become an important task. We are now conscientious of the need to join the effort to ensure Colombia becomes a secure country, for our families and for ourselves if we choose to return; our voices are becoming stronger in order to enforce radical social changes in favour of stability, security, democracy and peace for all. We are now determined to break the silence in order to have our voices heard and to demand that we are included in the process of post-conflict restructuring.
What projects related to women, peace and security are you working on or involved with?
I am an active member of the Commission for Truth, Memory and Reconciliation of Colombian Women in the Diaspora based in London. Having already shared my testimony of the human rights abuses I suffered in Colombia, I have been involved in empowering other women to share their stories so that we can begin to search for truth whilst constructing the collective memory of the civil war, starting the process of reconciliation in our community and thus prevent the repetition of future abuses. I have also worked to educate women who migrated for economic reasons to ensure that they understand the negative impact of violence in our society and work towards changing our collective approach by recognising the factors that produce cycles of violence through effective communication and propagating messages of peace and reconciliation.
One way I communicate these messages is through poetry; I write about the atrocities of the Colombian war, the nostalgia I have experienced in exile and the fear of returning to Colombia. Poetry also provides me with opportunities to heal my wounds and transform my pain into lessons for others.