'This is my moment': In Colombia, trainings build political participation among women
It's 5:30 p.m. and Ángela Hincapié has just finished her work for the day. Since she was a little girl, she has cleaned houses in Yolombó, Colombia.
"I am from here in Yolombó,” she says. “I live with my husband in Loma del Alto del Potrero. My husband works with cattle and we live on a rented farm. I wish it were our own so we could farm, but in my heart there is hope, someday this will change.”
Wishing to transform the situation for Yolombian women, at 53, Hincapié decided to run as a candidate for the Centro Democrático party to champion greater economic opportunities, as well as projects to strengthen the self-esteem and self-care of rural women. Hincapié has two bags: In one she carries her boots and in the other her "elegant shoes," because walking an hour home every day does not stop her desire for change.
"Ten years ago, I tried to run for Council too, but no one listened to me. I come from anonymity and I want more women to free themselves from fear and get ahead."
Hincapié is one of 41 candidates from the nine political parties of the municipalities of San Roque and Yolombó who participated in the Political School for Women, supported by the Vamos Tejiendo project. The school aims to promote women’s leadership and participation in public and private decision-making spaces. It was developed this summer prior to the local elections so that women could learn the processes and tools that would allow them to run in a context with many barriers.
In Colombia, despite the fact that women represent 51% of the population, they make up only 28% of Congress, according to UN Women. While women's political participation has increased in the country, Colombia still has not met its legal quota for 30% representation by women.
This situation is no different in San Roque and Yolombó, where women make up only 18% of the Municipal Council of San Roque, and 15% in Yolombó. There are many reasons for this, including limited political training spaces for women, the burden of care work that prevents them from participating, and exposure to situations of physical and psychological violence.
"Campaigning for me was a challenge, because I did not have the resources to print advertising,” Hincapié says. “This is why I had to go house to house, one by one, to ask for votes and tell the families about my project, and the truth is that women are exposed to many things... I had five situations in which I received sexual harassment from men because in exchange for the vote they made me sexual proposals."
The Political School developed by Vamos Tejiendo, implemented by Pact and funded by the United States Department of Labor (USDOL), helps women recognize the types of violence to which they are exposed. Trainings cover women's human rights and political and community participation, women's power and leadership, development plans and public policies, political campaigns with a gender perspective, and personalized counseling for each of the candidates and their teams.
This is the first time that political schools have focused on women's issues, and in the past, a lack of connectivity in rural areas has limited women’s participation and training.
The 2024-2027 territorial elections in Yolombó included an increase in the political participation of women from 8% to 31%; women went from having one seat to four in the Municipal Council. In San Roque, the figure remained at 15%, which corresponds to the election of two women candidates for this new period. All of the elected candidates were part of the Vamos Tejiendo Political School.
"In my case, 80 people voted for me,” Hincapié says. “Many people did not believe in me. They thought I would not get more than 30 votes. However, this was a surprise... I did not get the seat, I had a difference of eight votes with the last elected councilor, but I gained courage and self-confidence. From a very shy person, I slowly came out to express myself to the public with my poetry, then I became a reader and then I became a politician. I emerged from silence.”
The Political School also focused on promoting the communication skills of each of the candidates, allowing them to have more tools of expression, as well as media strategies to address their campaigns. It also strengthened the bonds of sisterhood among the women, bringing the agenda of women's rights to the forefront.
Hincapié smiles when she talks about her dreams. She wants to be a psychologist, and right now she wants to focus on managing a scholarship program for women over 50 who did not have the opportunity to study. She also wants to set up a volunteer and community beauty salon, so that rural women who don't have money can have a day of self-care.
"I want a big mirror so that every woman can remember her value and see how beautiful she is."
In a second phase, Vamos Tejiendo is providing training in citizen oversight and political control so that women, in their exercise of political participation, can monitor the proposals of the new governors and their development plans for 2024-2027.
Vamos Tejiendo is a project funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, under cooperative agreement number IL-33989-19-75-K. 100% of the total cost of the Project is funded with federal resources totaling $5,000,000. The contents of this material do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Labor. Mention of trade, product, or organizational names does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.