The Venezuelan Babies Being Born Stateless in Colombia

In 2016 alone, Venezuela’s infant mortality rose by 30% and maternal mortality by 65%. Back then, the situation in Venezuela wasn’t as dire as it is now. Because of the current economic crisis, women in Venezuela don’t have access to the healthcare or supplies they need to give birth safely and raise their babies.

Hospitals are running low on doctors and medicine. For example, the Jose Manuel de los Rios Children’s Hospital in Caracas lost 20% of its medical staff in just two years as 68 of its doctors fled the country between 2016 and 2018. Many women don’t have access to diapers, milk and formula. In some cases women are also too malnourished to breastfeed their babies.

Knowing this, it’s not surprising that many pregnant women are leaving the country to give birth. So far, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that 2.4 million Venezuelans have left their country for other Latin American nations. Their most common destinations are Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Brazil, in that order. While the latter countries grant citizenship to everyone born in their territories; the situation in Colombia is different.

In Cúcuta, Colombia, a city located near the border between Colombia and Venezuela, medical authorities indicate that there are now more Venezuelan women giving birth than Colombian women. Out of the 554 babies born in medical institutions in Cúcuta in September 2018, 353 (64%) have Venezuelan mothers.

Colombian legislation states that children, even when born in Colombia, cannot have Colombian nationality if their parents aren’t Colombian or don’t have a legal migrant status in the country. This applies to the babies being born of Venezuelan women who don’t have official refugee status yet.

Venezuelan citizens are currently struggling to acquire passports, which leads to impediments and difficulties to process a visa or asylum request. The lack of documentation also presents an obstacle for these mothers to register their babies as Venezuelan citizens in the Venezuelan consulates in Colombia because they can’t prove their own nationality.

These babies are stuck being stateless until their parents can register them in a Venezuelan consulate.

Not having a national identity and legal attachment to a country means having no government protection, and no access to certain benefits and rights.

The Colombian government is looking for solutions to this problem, but in the meantime there is a risk of having an ‘invisible generation’ of Venezuelans who do not legally exist in any country.

This is one of the many consequences of the Venezuelan refugee crisis that countries in Latin America need to address to reduce the vulnerability of Venezuelans.

Mothers are leaving their country to ensure their babies are born somewhere they can live safely, but without a nationality they are stuck in migration limbo.

1,741 Mexican Women Are No Longer With Us

Content note: this post contains reference to extreme violence

Femicide is defined as the murder of women because they are women. 

According to UN Women, this definition applies whether murder is “committed within the family, a domestic partnership, or any other interpersonal relationship, or by anyone in the community, or whether it is perpetrated or tolerated by the state or its agents”.

Femicide is the most severe consequence of gender based violence.

In Mexico, at least 1,741 women have been victims of femicide in 2017. This statistic comes from geophysicist Maria Salguero, who has been collecting and compiling data in an interactive map showing the geolocations of femicides known to have taken place in the country.

In her map, Salguero has recorded 4,105 cases of femicide to date since January 2004. This data does not include all femicides within that time period, since it only includes information available from google notifications and newspapers. The map represents a huge amount of time, effort and dedication, and I’m very grateful to Maria for all the work she has done. Nonetheless, her map reveals something terrifying, because in reality the numbers are much higher than it is able to show.

In 2016, there were at least 2,099 cases of femicides throughout Mexico. As I’ve shared in previous posts, cases have been almost unbelievably brutal: impaling woman, boiling and cutting breasts, rape and torture, among many other medieval-sounding acts.

There have been 88 femicides so far this year in the state where I live. One took place so close to my house that it made me paranoid for several months. I couldn’t go out without my taser. My friend and fellow blogger Mariana created a WhatsApp group to share our locations when taking taxis or Uber or the metro so that others would know where we were and that we’d arrived safely. I avoided going out at night.

On 15 September, Mara Castillo – a 19-year-old political science student and activist in the fight against gender violence in Mexico – was found dead after a Cabify driver took advantage of her after a night out and never brought her home. She was picked up from a bar 5 blocks from my house. She is now a pin in Maria’s map.

This 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, I want to share some heart-breaking statistics from Latin America:

  • Over half of the 25 countries with the highest femicide rates are in the Latin American and Caribbean regions
  • Femicide is considered to be the second leading cause of death of women of reproductive age in Honduras
  • The impunity of femicide crimes is estimated at 77% in El Salvador and Honduras
  • It was the murders of women in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico – which began in the early 1990s – that led the term ‘femicide’ to be used in mainstream media
  • In 2014, 871 women were victims of acid attacks related to domestic violence in Colombia

This is why we fight. This is why we march. This is why we write.

Maria Salguero’s map documents the age of victims of femicide, their relationship with their murderers, the way they were killed, the location they were found in, and the legal status of the case (whether there has been a prosecution or not).

Please, I urge you to navigate through the map. Read the cases, feel sickened by the numbers, and remember the women who are no longer with us. With every photo or name you see, remind yourself that this is not inevitable, and that we must fight to make it stop.

Gender and Colombia’s Peace Agreement

Gender has become a hot-topic issue since the referendum vote on Colombia’s peace negotiations. Several tumultuous weeks following the failed referendum on Colombia’s peace agreement, renewed negotiations between the government of Juan Manual Santos and the FARC produced a new agreement. Misconceptions regarding the role of gender language within the initial peace agreement, however, seemed to cast fear and doubt that it would be removed from a new accord altogether. Why was a gender focus within the country’s peace deal so controversial? And what follows for women within the country’s peacebuilding processes now that a new agreement has been signed?

More than 50 years after the start of a conflict that has resulted in more than 220,000 deaths and nearly six million displaced, the decades-long Colombian war has reached a formal end as of Thanksgiving Day (Nov 24th, 2016). Representatives of the FARC—an armed, left-wing guerilla group—and government representatives under President Juan Manuel Santos had spent four years engaged in peace negotiations. A previous peace agreement was brought to a popular vote in October. Most believed that this referendum would conclusively bring an end to the decades’ long conflict. Yet contrary to poll predictions, the No campaign triumphed by a margin of less than 1%.

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While there are many reasons to which the failure of the referendum has been attributed, the inclusion of gender language within the agreement is something that many claim was a significant source of support for the opposition. Led by leaders such as ex-General Inspector Alejandro Ordóñez, certain right-wing opponents of the deal advanced the idea that such language—particularly text around LGBTI rights—aimed to promote a “gender ideology” that would threaten the integrity of traditional family units, perhaps even encourage homosexuality among children.

Thankfully, the peace deal signed on November 24—which President Juan Manual Santos claims “is the definitive one”—has retained a focus on women’s rights.

Wording within the revised agreement states, “the recognition of equal rights between men and women and the special circumstances of everyone, especially women, regardless of their marital status, life cycle and family and community relationship, is a subject of rights and of special constitutional protection.” It also underscores “the need to ensure affirmative measures to promote such equality, the active participation of women and their organizations in peace-building and recognition of the victimization of women because of the conflict.”

This is a major victory in itself, yet it represents a mere starting point for the inclusion of gender within post-conflict processes. Moreover, this situation underscores some of the challenges faced when integrating women within peace and security issues.

Why women in peace processes matters

In Colombia, women represent more than half of internally displaced persons in the country, and countless numbers have been victimized through sexual violence—a weapon of war heavily used throughout the conflict. Within a context of persistent victimization, many women gained agency by joining rebel militias or contributing to civil society groups that sought to bring an end to violence.

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Over 20 years ago, the United Nations Security Council signed Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, a landmark framework that lends recognition to women’s distinct experiences within conflict. UNSCR 1325 calls for the need to protect women and girls from violence and prevent its occurrence, while including them in decision-making processes during and after periods of conflict. But the record so far isn’t great.

Women have represented a mere 9% of negotiators and 2.4% of chief negotiators across global peace negotiations between 1992 and 2011. Since Resolution 1325 was adopted, just under 30% (138/504) of agreements included any references to women. Thus Colombia’s most recent peace agreement—groundbreaking for many reasons—is notable in that gender issues and women’s rights have been pushed through by a Gender Sub-Commission that was appointed to voice the perspectives of women throughout ongoing negotiations.

This is a great starting point, but it is exactly just that. A true commitment to peace means ensuring that its benefits are felt by all segments of society. Certainly, including women within peace negotiations and including language around women’s rights is part of that, but it is only the first stage of a post-conflict reconstruction project that requires ongoing commitment to these rights and perspectives.

Transforming social relationships that contributed to violence against women and which inhibit their economic or political opportunities is part of a long-term process that requires support from those both at the policy and local level. Commitments made within the peace agreement require a strong civil society that will keep the government accountable.

Ms. Marcia Mejía Chirimia of CONPAZ, a peace advocacy group, claims “the voices of those on the ground are strong, but often not loud enough to reach the right people. It is difficult, and often dangerous, to be a leader in this context – which is why they need international support.” Among those who have faced death threats for similar work, she now calls on the international community to take part in supporting the country’s peace process and the inclusion of those most affected.

There is much that can be done as a global community to support others in pursuing such work. Engaging in online advocacy through social media is one way of keeping these efforts relevant and strengthening the voices of those in vulnerable positions, as is supporting online campaigns through human rights organizations.

As Colombia continues its long path towards recovery, it will be necessary to continue integrating gender perspectives into post-conflict initiatives, programs and policies. This is necessary not only so that women can experience justice and empowerment after decades of violence, but because all of society benefits when women are included in the construction and experience of peace.

Featured Image: Fernando Vergara, Associated Press/ World Politics Review
Additional Images in Order of Appearance:
Joao Pina, Washington Post
Fernando Vergara – Associated Press/ New York Times

Catalina Escobar: Newborn Health, Teenage Pregnancy & The Cycle of Poverty

Catalina Escobar is the Founder of the Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar Foundation, that works to improve newborn health, combat teenage pregnancy and break the cycle of poverty in Colombia. Celebrated as a CNN Hero in 2012, Catalina works tirelessly to empower young women and change societies, and her work is featured in the new book, A Path Appears, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This week, we had the opportunity to meet with Catalina and were inspired by her passion and commitment – watch the video below.

Join the conversation

There are several ways for you to join the conversation, highlight what you think is important for women’s health and well-being, and hold leaders accountable.

#Commit2Deliver – What commitments have been made for women’s and children’s health? What action do you want to see for women and children? Tweet and Instagram using #Commit2Deliver and check out commitments on Every Woman Every Child.

#ShowYourSelfie – Now is the time for young people to have their say! What do you think is a priority for the Post-2015 Agenda? Share your views and publish a selfie to join this global visual petition run by The Global Poverty Project and UNFPA. showyourselfie.org

September 21st-28th Girls’ Globe will be in New York for the 2014 UN General Assembly. We are partnering with FHI360Johnson & Johnson, and Women Deliver in support of Every Woman Every Child to amplify the global conversation on women and children, the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda. Follow #MDG456Live, raise your voice and join the conversation to advance women’s and children’s health. Sign up for the Daily Delivery to receive live crowd-sourced coverage of these issues directly to your inbox.