The Atrato is one of Colombia’s most important rivers. Its basins and tributaries, declared in 2016 by the Colombian Constitutional Court as the subject of rights for protection, conservation, maintenance and restoration, weave around it a biodiverse immensity, which is combined with the faces of men and women, mainly Afro and indigenous, who have seen so much wealth tarnished by violence.

However, what does it mean to be a girl, a teenager, a young woman, a Riosucio woman or an Afro woman in such a vulnerable territory? As part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, we would like to highlight an initiative called Trenzadoras del Atrato, which the women members of the Villa Rufina community network have been implementing since 2022 with the support of Acnur and Tdh-L. Its aim is to provide a space for meeting and claiming ancestral knowledge for over 30 Afro-descendant women and girls who, by braiding their hair, promote scenarios for dialogue and integration on issues of interest to child protection, care of life, prevention of gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive rights, among others.

“Being part of the Trenzadoras is a great experience because it allows us to address topics that motivate our personal lives. We can meet up with our peers, talk about topics that help us in our personal development, learn to communicate and understand each other. It’s a space that has helped us learn to braid our hair and, at the same time, talk about our life projects.” (Marlen Palacios). 

This initiative was designed as an intergenerational strategy that reclaims the identity of Afro women with their natural hair, while promoting self-recognition and ethnic empowerment. Participants are welcomed into a protective, non-violent environment, enabling women of different ages to reflect on what it means to be a woman in this territory characterized by violence, and what they can do in their communities to prevent and eradicate it.

Tdh-L joins the voices of the Trenzadoras, the Afro, indigenous, peasant and rural women, the teachers, the midwives, the women of wisdom, the community leaders, the guardians of the waters and mangroves, the mothers and carers, all these women and the men who have joined them. Tdh-L expresses its gratitude for their tireless work in transforming their territories towards peacebuilding, protection and care, laying the foundations for a world where girls, adolescent girls, young women and women can enjoy the right to live a life free from violence.

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