By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BOGOTA, Colombia – Pope Francis called attention to issues of violence against women during his visit to Colombia. He points out how the patriarchal and chauvinistic customs of the country have contributed to extensive violence against women.
The Argentine pontiff was the first Pope to visit the largely Roman Catholic country in over three decades. His five-day trip is to show support for war-torn Colombia as it moves toward peace. He urges Colombians to resist temptations of vengeance and move past their conflict.
Specifically, he warns the country to correct their ill treatment of women. He said, “We have a grave obligation to understand, respect, appreciate and promote” all that women do for the church and society. He warns bishops to value women more and not let them be reduced to servants.
On his visit, he said mass in the central plains of the city of Villavicencio and emphasized the importance of respecting women to his listeners. Colombia is a deeply conservative society where women often face discrimination, sexual violence, and abuse by partners. Knowing this, he used his homily to preach respect for women. He noted, “the Gospel begins by highlighting women who were influential and made history.”
This speech comes in light of how profoundly women suffered during this war, Latin America’s longest running conflict. Government data shows that about 20,000 Colombians, most of them women and girls, were victims of rape and sexual violence. Both sides used sexual assault as a weapon during the war. Also, seven million Colombians were forced from their homes and women bore the brunt of this displacement. Violence against women was instrumental in the war and has grown as a result.
Colombia’s chauvinistic and conservative culture is demonstrated in relationships especially. A significant amount of violence toward women occurs at the hand of their partners. “One woman is killed every four days in Colombia, often at the hands of a former or current partner.” Additionally, women that have reported partner abuse attribute 80% to have been inside the home.
Critics see Pope Francis’ message as hypocritical. The Roman Catholic Church has an anti-abortion stance and does not allow females priests. This has been protested by several reproductive women’s rights groups.
However, Pope Francis showed some resistance to this policy when he indefinitely extended the ability to grant absolution for abortions to all priests last year. This was a monumental move for the church.
He asked his listeners in Villavicencio, “how many women, in silence, have persevered alone?”
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