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Home > Basin > Andes > Facilitating women’s participation and impact in Colombia

Este blog es disponible tambien en Español.

The citizen call to action (in Spanish, a conversatorio de acción ciudadana) is a process that articulates environmental conflicts and citizens’ rights. The approach enables traditionally excluded groups to participate in the analysis of issues affecting them and also take part in decision-making. Citizen call to action is one of the tools adopted by CPWF’s Andes 3 project with the aim of identifying and promoting mechanisms to share benefits at the Coello-Combeima Rivers basin in Tolima, Colombia.


A citizen call to action/conversatorio is a participatory mechanism that aims to promote environmental justice, defense of territorial rights, and social and institutional governance. This mechanism is used as a platform to improve local knowledge and capacities to negotiate conflicts involving access to natural resources and the distribution of common goods benefits.

Several training meetings were carried out between June 2011 and September 2012, allowing interactions between women and men from the upper, middle and lower zones of the basin. Local members from the different zones participated in the analysis, reflection and search for alternatives to solve watershed management conflict. Afterwards, they took part in negotiations with the institutions responsible for ensuring solutions.

‘Liberating the voices’ of women

In the case of the Coello watershed, promotion of a citizen call to action empowered women. Through enhanced recognition of their rights, women were able to “liberate their voice”, which led to a transformation of the state-community relationship in the form of increased social accountability and transparency.

“The most important thing is that I now understand the meaning of the National Constitution. I learned that laws, regulation and institutions were created to protect water sources, a very important natural resource, but those laws are violated, ignored and used irresponsibly. I understood in this process that rights are inalienable. I learned to use legal tools and regulation to undertake popular actions, to achieve mutual beneficial agreements and to have an impact in the decision-making process. They also depend on the constancy and commitment of those who are part of this initiative”. María del Carmen Mantilla Guerrero, CEO Community Action Board, Vereda Puerto Perú, Ibagué, Tolima

Women, particularly those from rural areas, are generally discriminated against in the area of institutional management. They have found in legal rules, however, support for their statements and demands. The grounds for this social change is based on rights prescribed under the Colombian legal framework. Since 1991 it has allowed citizens to actively participate in the planning, following-up, surveillance and control of public management results. This reduces power asymmetries and, therefore, promotes a better exchange between community and state.

“ …I am recognized by the Rural Development Secretary of Ibague municipality and I can explain my problem and they pay attention because they know that I can hold them accountable and that I know that communities have rights. -Deisy Frasicca De Santofimio, Micro basin leader of the Asociación de Mujeres

Organizing to demand change

But this type of change requires capacity and social organization, as the women’s group of Hato de Virgen micro-basin has shown. Women have formed citizen oversight groups through which they have achieved important investments for planning, management and inter-institutional participation. The effectiveness of citizen participation has promoted institutional accountability and moved the discussion from words to actions.

“Citizenship actions have helped us to achieve goals that I never imagined. With the support of the Mayor’s Office we now have 67 water filters for rural areas. They provide 95% of our potable water. There is no longer a need to boil water. We have used injunction rights on issues related to education, health and using our knowledge to negotiate powerlines benefiting 99 families. It is a lot we have achieved and what we are going to achieve, that is the reason that I keep training. I feel the need to be better prepared, that is the reason that I am studying.”- Ms. Blanca Nieve Martines, 53 years old of Osera Community at Rovira municipality

Testimonies and experience shows that gender equity is key to improving socio-economic conditions, as well as environmental and cultural polices by strengthening democracy and promoting effective governance.

by Carmen Candelo Reina, Directora Programa Gobernanza y Medios de Vida Sostenible – WWF Colombia



1 Comment

  1. Amanda Harding says:

    This makes fascinating reading – showing very concrete changes in local resource management supported by existing national legislation and policy. How far have similar mechanisms and processes been put in place that across the basin, i.e. seeing women up and down stream engaging in dialogue, negotiation and solution identification? How far has citizen participation been informed by bio-physical and socio-economic research within the same basin and has this been able to reflect a gender dimension that assists in equitable decision making?