Here be dragons.

Caminante,
no hay puentes,
se hace puentes al andar.
– Gloria Anzaldúa

Colorlines: ‘We Women Warriors’ Challenges the Way We Think about Colombia’s Civil War

Colombia’s civil war will soon enter its fiftieth year. The media narrative about the bloody conflict, which has claimed a 250,000 lives and displaced millions of people is often focused on the armed insurgents, the Colombian military, and right-wing paramilitary squads—the latter of which have been largely demobilized. This frame leaves little room to consider those people who make an effort to resist the violence that’s become an everyday phenomenon for rural people in Colombia. It also fails to remind us that, aside from drug cartels, the war is fueled by the US. Now, a new independent documentary challenges the way we think about the conflict.

We Women Warriors” features three indigenous women in northern and southern Colombia who develop courageous strategies against violence—after a long organizing effort, for example, one woman leads a group to completely dismantle a set of military barracks. Indigenous groups that take no side in the conflict have become targets; since men are often the ones killed by military or guerrilla troops, more women are taking leadership roles.

According to government officials, a third of Colombia’s 102 indigenous groups may disappear entirely because of the armed conflict, so the need for survival becomes the motivating factor for these women to act. As they do so, they face humiliation, jail time, and death threats. Their own sons grow up with the sense that they must avenge their fathers’ death, elucidating the generational—and unsettling—cycle of violence that grips Colombia. 

A particularly tense scene in the film is only partially captured because a military patrol orders filmmaker Nicole Karsin to turn off her camera while one of the women featured in the film, Nasa governor Flor Ilva Trochez, and her people’s spiritual advisor are needlessly questioned and searched. Karsin manages to turn the mic and camera back on to capture the anxiety indigenous people face daily in Colombia’s rural regions. A thoughtful filmmaker, Karsin often uses low camera angels so that we are made to look up at the film’s protagonists. We begin to recognize that these women are more than victims of violence—they are organizers for their own survival. 

The film also reminds us that the United States has pumped more than $8 billion to Colombia in the past decade. The bulk of the money hasn’t been used for infrastructure and education projects, but instead to fund the military and police forces, and coca eradication projects. Nevertheless, Colombia continues to supply about 80% of the cocaine used in the United States. In response to a government plan to fumigate a coca field, Awá leader Doris Puchana publicly challenges the proposal, which leads to one of several small victories that remind the viewer that indigenous women in Colombia are devising new ways to call into question the effects of US foreign policy on their own soil. In doing so, we are nudged to consider what we might do about the fact that our tax dollars are supporting a half-century-long war that put women like the ones featured in the film at grave risk. 

We Women Warriors” runs through Thursday at New York’s IFC, and August 24-20 at Laemmle’s NoHo in Los Angeles. Director Nicole Karsin, and protagonist Flor Ilva Torchez, will be on hand at select viewings for Q+A with the audience.