Making Rights a Reality: Access to Health Care for Afro-Colombian Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

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Deborah Zalesne is a Professor of Law at the City University of New York School of Law.

In 2008, Colombia enacted Law 1257, which states that “women’s rights are human rights,” and that women’s rights include “the right to a dignified life,” including the right to “physical health” and “sexual and reproductive health.” In 2016, the Colombian government signed a peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (“FARC”), which included groundbreaking racial and gender justice provisions. In the years since, the government has failed to fully implement the accord’s protections against gender violence and has failed to rectify disparities in the availability, accessibility, and quality of women’s health services throughout Colombia. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian women in rural and remote areas have felt these failures more than anyone else. The intersection of race, class, and gender creates unique issues for AfroColombian victims of sexual violence, which can result in a complete lack of health care options. This Article spotlights the many structural barriers that Afro-Colombian women face in realizing their right to health and health care in Colombia. The Article draws heavily from conversations and interviews with Afro-descendant Colombian members of Proceso de Comunidades Negras (“PCN”) and community leaders and activists from the rural Pacific AfroColombian river communities of San Juan and Naya River. Part I of this Article gives a brief overview of the history of race discrimination and violence against women in Colombia and of the specific situation of Afro-Colombian women. Part II then gives an overview of the health care system in Colombia and the national health law, which guarantees health care as a right to all citizens, including free and compulsory basic health services. Part III details the many obstacles that cut off populations of Afro-Colombians from access to appropriate medical care altogether, despite the national guarantee of the right to health care. Finally, in the Conclusion, the Article proposes some basic responses to the deficits highlighted in Part III. To bring the provision of health services in line with the law’s mandate, policy makers must consider how the intersection of race, class, and gender uniquely affects Afro-Colombian victims of sexual violence. To obtain health equity, policy makers must address structural and institutional issues that cause the disparities.

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