Rosa Emilia Salamanca

Rosa Emilia Salamanca

June 15, 2015
JUDITH SUDILOVSKY
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

To achieve true peace, people must look inside themselves and lose their fear, said a prominent Colombian peace activist.

In addition, people must learn to listen, said Rosa Emilia Salamanca, who advised people to step outside their comfort zones to learn about others.

Salamanca helped found Colectivo de Pensamiento y Accion Mujeres, Paz y Seguridad, a women's collective formed in 2011 to break the cycle of decades of violence in Colombia among the national armed forces, armed militias and drug traffickers.

Since the 1960s, fighting in Colombia has left some six million Colombians dead and created the second-largest number of internally displaced people in the world, as well as a diaspora of more than four million people scattered across Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela.

Salamanca accepted the 2015 Pax Christi International Peace Award on behalf of her group in Bethlehem in May.

The 56-year-old Colombian told Catholic News Service that men and women must no longer let themselves be placed in the traditional roles of men as "war maker" and women as the ones left to pick up the pieces.

"There are a lot of stereotypes and prejudices, but if I take a moment to hear you, I can break that stereotype. Even if we have differing views, we firmly believe we can find ways of dialogue.

"What does it cost me to hold the hand of my opponent?" she said.

Women must play a role of "profound rebellion against war," she said. "It cannot be that we are condemned to live in such a denigrating situation all the time."

GIVING BIRTH

"We didn't give birth to our children so they can go to war, and we are tired of having children so they can be killed by whomever," she said.

Her group's main initiative, the Ethical Pact for a Country in Peace, is a 15-point plan promoting a series of steps that Colombian society must undergo for a sustainable peace.

In addition, she said, peacemakers must become conscious of the violence even they have inside themselves.

"We have to transform the transformers. Look at yourself first. When you realize that you are capable of doing what the worst person can do, you are more humble," she said.

"Peacemaking requires great humility. You always have to doubt what you are doing. Doubt helps you hear the situation better.

"But if you are in a place where you are surrounded only by people who support you, you are in a very delicate place."

The aim of the collective was to create a path toward dialogue among all strata of Colombian society, she said.

The 120 members of the collective have been successful in having women involved in peace talks between the Colombian army and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

NO FEAR

"We have to lose our fear. If we are afraid there will never be change."

Salamanca said her country is going through a "very profound ethical crisis" with little boys dreaming of becoming assassins and drug traffickers, and girls of becoming chattels of the drug trade, all lured by the money.

Colombia is a patriarchal, macho society, and the drug culture has only increased those characteristics, said Salamanca.

Colombian women have been affected by the narcotrafficking culture, which has created a sexual stereotype of the desired woman, she said. Many women have bought into it, seeking the financial comforts of drug money.

"It will take time but a holistic revolution will take place. Women will do that, women will form a change with their persistence and constancy."