Angélica Medina is the gender and vulnerable populations expert for the USAID Human Rights Activity (HRA) in Colombia. HRA responds to a history of human rights violations in Colombia by promoting a culture of human rights.
Why is social inclusion important for the development of Colombia?
Inequality in Colombia has largely overshadowed women’s progress to fully exercise their rights. This phenomenon is mainly evidenced in inequalities that affect women with regard to access to basic services and rights, including access to dignified housing and potable water, and the right to education and health. In this light, social inclusion works to address gaps in service provision, and fulfill full promotion of rights through an equitable manner using a differential focus. For example, a differential focus can mean ensuring that information targeting marginalized populations, such as Colombia’s ethnic communities, is offered in their respective languages. The social inclusion lens permits us to analyze and evaluate situations of vulnerable populations in a contextualized manner to better understand the challenges associated with differentiated barriers in accessing rights and services.
Social inclusion with a gender focus is particularly important in the Colombian context because society is influenced by patriarchal structures and accordingly, many women are relegated to more traditional domestic roles such as family and home caretakers. Particularly in rural areas of Colombia, access to education and basic financial knowledge remains highly elusive for women. In these more remote regions, young women enter into marriages or intimate partnerships at the premature ages of 12 or 13, typically with much older men between the ages of 18 to 30, which often results in bearing three or four children by the ages of 17 or 18. The socioeconomic conditions of these areas further concentrate high levels of illiteracy and poverty, which also disproportionately affect women and significantly impede their personal, educational, and social development. Many of these women become victims of multiple forms of domestic violence and are economically dependent on their domestic partners. Power and control dynamics are defined by the men in these relationships, which extends to the exclusivity of property rights. For example, often women are not allowed to find employment outside their homes. Not surprisingly, because of these restrictive conditions the cycle of inequality and marginalization of women perpetuates throughout generations.
In short, social inclusion is a critical approach for analyzing and tackling some of Colombia’s toughest challenges that disproportionately affect vulnerable cross-sections of the population. Social inclusion is essential for implementing the key reconciliation principles and pillars of the peace accords, so that Colombian society can rebuild its social fabric after more than 50 years of internal armed conflict.