March 21st 2023

Colombian Women in Dialogue

On the 28th and 29th November 2022, HealthNet TPO in Colombia organised the first national forum for mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) in peacebuilding practices. This event, falling perfectly within the context of the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of HealthNet TPO, allowed different communities of women to share their experiences, enabling a deeper understanding of how being a woman affects health and mental health in Colombia. The event brought together many different voices, from Kämentsá Biya and Nasa indigenous communities to Afro-Colombian women.

Colombia’s Indigenous Communities in Dialogue: Kämentsá Biya and Nasa

The data on violence against indigenous people is overwhelming. Representing only 3.2% of the population, indigenous communities are victim to 15% of the murders of leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia. In addition to the social stigma, there is a significant economic gap between the country’s ethnic and nonethnic populations. 

In a dedicated workshop, the women of the Kamëntsá Biya and Nasa communities showed the dynamics of their traditional healing practices. For both communities, health risks are closely related to the experience of gender-based violence and the discrimination and unsafe conditions enacted by the system. Both communities keep traditions of ancestral practices central to health and mental health care, despite believing in traditional medicine. Health for both of them is maintaining balance, harmony, freedom, and happiness when aligning with self-care goals. 

The workshop provided an opportunity to generate an atmosphere of support between the two communities and knowledge exchange. One participant expressed the collective impact “we need to ally ourselves emotionally with other women.” She acknowledged the need to strengthen community networks of women in different territories in Colombia. 

Women of the Kamëntsá Biya community wear traditional clothes during the workshop.

Gender and Mental Health

After discovering the experience of women in indigenous communities and how this influences their practices and health paths, in another dedicated meeting, the same results were reached through an empirical study conducted in various parts of Colombia, showing that Afro-Colombian women were more likely to experience mental health issues simply for being a woman.  

The study showed how some women suffer discrimination at work or in society for being Afro. They lose opportunities and want to adapt their identity to that of a woman they are not, producing an experience of uprooting and significant emotional impact and distress. 

One of the women in the focus group interviewed for the panel study said, “If we have a sick mind, we will not contribute to the peacebuilding process. Conflict affects the peace of mind, and the collective impact of the armed conflict on mental health is particular and deeply painful”. 

Participants to the discussion on gender and mental health in the Afro-Colombian community.

Future Challenges

At HealthNet TPO, we commit to establishing multi-ethnic events that will allow us to dignify and strengthen indigenous and Afro-Colombian women’s practices of care and self-determination. We will continue with area-based meetings and workshops that promote the exchange of ancestral wellness practices and public policy recognition on mental health and sexual and reproductive health.