The Significance of Political Organization and International Law for Displaced Women in Colombia: A Socio-legal study of Liga De Mujeres

Led by Kristin Bergtora Sandvik
Jul 2010 – Mar 2014

​​​Kristin Bergtora Sandvik and Julieta Lemaitre, Center for Sociolegal studies at the Los Andes University (CIJUS), Colombia

This project has explored the importance of political mobilization and organization for the realization of the human rights and for the long-term peaceful resettlement of internally displaced  women in Colombia.  Colombia is a constitutional democracy with a strong administrative state and a steadily growing economy, but is characterized by protracted conflict that has resulted in massive displacement.  However, among the numerous grassroots organizations asking the Constitutional Court for relief there is a vigorous presence of internally displaced people. Before our project, this phenomenon has been little studied.

Through a socio-legal multi-methods approach, the project has collected and analyzed a large dataset on internally displaced women’s organizations across Colombia.  The findings from the project has been disseminated to displaced communities, grassroots  NGOs, bureaucrats, judges, and politicians in Colombia, international organizations, Colombian and international scholars  (humanitarian, refugee studies and international legal feminist scholars in particular) and to the Norwegian public.  Three findings are particularly important.

First, the literature on evidence-based action in humanitarian crises commonly focuses on how humanitarian actors can produce better knowledge and thus improve programming. Yet, there is little recorded experience of, or concern about, how the beneficiaries of humanitarian relief can produce and use knowledge of their predicament.  Our case study of the Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas showed the Liga to proactively employ research-generated data to advance its own agenda in its interactions with donor bodies and the government. Our research can help policymakers and humanitarian actors understand more about beneficiaries use of participatory research to advance their own ends in the legal and political spaces created around humanitarian crisis, but also how their agency is limited by poverty, violence, and local power dynamics.

Second, the project has tried to make sense of the use of legal claims and tactics under precarious conditions of internal displacement and armed conflict that characterize Colombia.  To that end, the project has developed a theory of legal mobilization in violent context that takes insecurity into account by adapting concepts commonly used to explain collective action: frames, resources, and political opportunities. This theory has the potential to be a major contribution to socio-legal scholarship, which is increasingly focused on legal mobilization outside liberal democracies.

Third, the growing literature on gender in armed conflict, as well as the debates over post- conflict reparations for women focuses on the prevalence and harms of sexual violence. While this focus has recently been critiqued, there are few articulations of other types of gendered injuries. Our project contributes to bridging this knowledge gap by examining political insecurity as a specifically gendered harm. It reflects on the concrete circumstances of insecurity, on the relevance of traditional gender roles in the constitution of insecurity, and on the challenges for court-ordered remedies. Looking towards a Colombian peace agreement we find that this widening of the scope of attention also invites complex reflection on the possibility of transformative reparations in post-conflict situations.