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Canada boosts transformative work of grassroots women peace builders

Isabel. Image: KAIROS Canada

Women are often prime targets in war but, when given the chance, they can also be critical agents for peace.

Isabel Caicedo is one such woman. Forcibly displaced from her home after paramilitary forces massacred her neighbours during a decades-long war, Caicedo did not disappear. Instead, she returned home, received psycho-social counselling and human rights training, and is now helping other women victims to build a sustainable and inclusive peace in her country.

Caicedo received support from the Organización Femenina Popular (OFP), one of the largest and most respected grassroots women's organizations in Colombia, representing thousands of women. She is now on staff, educating others about gender-based violence and advocating for human rights in a country where attacks against human rights defenders and community leaders are on the rise, despite the recent peace agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government.

"I am a living example of the work of my organization," Caicedo told Canadian Parliamentarians during a KAIROS tour in 2016. "Thanks to the education and training support of the OFP, I am here talking with pride about what we do."

The OFP has been working with grassroots women for 46 years. For 16 of those years, the OFP has been in partnership with KAIROS.

OFP is one of five grassroots women-led KAIROS partners that collectively will receive $4.5 million over five years from Global Affairs Canada under KAIROS Canada's Women of Courage: Women, Peace and Security program. KAIROS will contribute an additional $1.3 million.

The other partners in this innovative and transformative program are Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights (EcuVoice) in the Philippines, Héritiers de la Justice in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the South Sudan Council of Churches - National Women's Programme (SSCC-NWP), and Wi'am: Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center in the West Bank.

From these partnerships, KAIROS has learned how grassroots organizations transform "victims" and survivors of war like Isabel Caicedo into "subjects" of the peace process by providing psycho-social counselling, legal accompaniment, and human rights training. This transformation from victim to survivor to human rights defender and peace activist is not linear or prescribed but it is common to all these partners and key to the KAIROS Women, Peace and Security program. 

Agnes Wasuk, who coordinates the SSCC-NWP, emphasized this when she was in Canada last year. 

"We were born in war, grew up in war, became moms in war and again, some of us are grandmoms in war," she told MPs in November 2017. "What will our children inherit from us? We need to do something as mothers."

Wasuk spoke about how women in war torn South Sudan have, with support and training from the SSCC-NWP, become active in the peace movement .

The decision by Global Affairs Canada to fund these KAIROS partners is an important acknowledgement of their critical and transformative work. With this boost in funding, more women will have access to the services they need to heal, and to contribute to peace building.

 "We have presence on the ground and we are struggling so that our country has real peace," said Caicedo. With Canadian funding, the OFP and other grassroots partners have a much better chance of realizing their goals.

Click here for more information on the KAIROS Women of Courage program. 

Rachel Warden is KAIROS' Parterships Coordinator.

Image: KAIROS Canada

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