Caty Taborda '11
Caty Taborda '11
For the past 40 years, war and civil unrest have taken a toll on Colombia. Families were torn apart, crops were destroyed, innocent people became victims of a huge-scale conflict. But women, although not often talked about, may have suffered most of all. Kirkland Summer Research Associate Caty Taborda ’11 is investigating the past, present and future of women’s rights in Colombia.

Like many Latin American countries, Colombia has a long history of patriarchal domination. Women had very limited access to sexual as well as academic education, and women’s chastity was a major social issue. Many of these patriarchal statutes, Taborda noted, stem from the Catholic Church, to whose rulings 90 percent of Colombia’s population adheres.

The Church has had an enormous impact on family structures, and little had changed regarding women’s roles and rights in almost 500 years of Catholic presence in Colombia. The government structure as well as the pervasive machismo (or excessive demonstrations of masculinity) in Colombian society have further marginalized women who, without education, have been subjected to hundreds of years of patriarchal domination without their own voice.

But in the past 10 years, Colombian society began to change. In an effort to overcome its reputation of drugs and wars, Colombia is trying to modernize, bring in tourism, build a relationship with the United States, and appear to be a stronger country. Non-government Organizations (NGOs), politicians, and feminists are taking this opportunity to make sure women are able to voice their concerns and regain some of their rights.

With guidance from Associate Professor Women’s Studies Anne Lacsamana, Taborda is interviewing several Colombian-American women and contacting NGOs in Colombia. She will be supplemented by her research of the past and present states of women’s rights, but intends most of her project to be research-based. She will ask the women what they believe has changed in recent years as well as what still needs to be changed.

Independent of their status before the war, which began in 1964, women have been strongly affected by the seemingly endless violence. “When we talk about the drug war, women tend to be forgotten,” Taborda said. “Rape is often used as a weapon of war. Moving towards a more-efficient corporate structure rather than collectives, NGOs are starting to put organizations into smaller towns and are trying to create women’s centers and work with young women to advance their education, sexual and otherwise, so that more women are aware that they have options that are not just for upper-class women.”

Some of the hot button issues that the NGOs are tackling include government statutes regarding abortion and women in politics. Abortion was completely illegal until 2006, when legislation was passed allowing abortion if the pregnancy threatened the life or health of the woman. The Colombian government is also trying to increase the number of women in politics; “In 2000 [legislation was] passed saying that 30 percent of administrative political posts had to be filled by women in all three branches of government,” Taborda explained. “But that’s not followed right now; they are at only 15 percent. Women are trying to push for introducing more women in the political realm and to represent more women’s rights.”

Meeting this quota is difficult given huge educational disparity between men and women, which is also dependent on class. Incidentally, Taborda points out, poverty rates are much higher for women than men as in most of the world. By conducting her interviews, shehopes to see what women believe these activist organizations are doing right and issues they are still neglecting.

Taborda is majoring in sociology with a minor in women’s studies. She is a Kirkland Summer Research Associate, a position funded by the Kirkland Endowment, which is awarded to individuals conducting projects about women’s studies and issues.

Taborda graduated from Williamsville South High School in Williamsville, N.Y.

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