Global Human Rights Defence

Femicides continue to increase due to the lockdown in Colombia

Verónica Delgado, June 2021

Women have been historically discriminated against all around the world. There are some specific types of violence against them based on their sex and gender identity, such as femicide. Women are still not untailed to have the same rights and privileges as men. However, in Latin American context and context such as Colombia, some particular situations exacerbate these types of violence. For example, the armed conflict, race, being a human rights defender or the social-economic status. 

Maria Carolina Espitia, feminist, Colombian Lawyer, advocacy adviser with experience in Women’s Rights, expressed: 

“This is also related to gender stereotypes, which are preconceptions or active attributes or characteristics that possess roles that are or should be done by women or male. 

(…) These traditional attitudes towards women are considered as subordinated or attributed, perpetuating stereotypes that are spread violence in coercion against women. This, of course, has a direct impact on the exercise and guarantee of the rights.”

The COVID–19 and femicides

During the pandemic, prejudice and discrimination against women were exacerbated. Obstacles to access to justice in the reception of complaints and institutional barriers related to the lack of sensitivity and empathy from authorities increased. 

As a result of the restrictive measures imposed (mandatory lockdown, curfews and restriction of movement), many women were confined with their aggressors. Most of them could not go out to file a complaint because the law did not allow it, and all the attention centres were closed; even in criminal matters, the face-to-face hearings were cancelled. 

Although all state services became virtual, there have been many difficulties when investigating and prosecuting femicides. Most women do not have access to the internet, and even in the country’s poorest areas, women do not have phones with cameras through which they can take pictures of a document and send it or show the injuries caused.1

For Nidia Olaya, Colombian Lawyer, Consultant at UN Women, Coordinator of a part of the litigation team of the District Secretary for Women in Bogotá, Colombia:

“After a few months of the pandemic, it began to be alerted that the current emergency measures did not have the approach in which women were in danger, and they were being mistreated. 

They were confined with their aggressors; they could not ask for help. The police stations were closed, the prosecutor’s office was closed, and the police did not show up because they feared being infected. 

The restrictive measures addressed to stop the pandemic were counterproductive to women’s human rights. Actually, the government failed.”

According to the national newsletter Vivas nos queremos, 2 drawn up by the Observatorio Feminicidios Colombia,3 of the Red Feminista Antimilitarista, as of November 2020, a total of 568 femicides were registered throughout the territory. 

Figure 1 Femicides in Colombia, Observatorio Feminicidios Colombia

As can be seen, the highest case record was presented in September. Never in the history of the Observatorio has      such a high record. Although femicides were maintained during the pandemic after the measures were relaxed and the “normality” began in September, it shot up significantly.

The Observatorio Feminicidios Colombia, expressed:

“What the pandemic proved is that family is one of the most insecure environments for women. 

The state does not have an answer for women who call and alert about their life protection (…) 

The state does not have protection strategies, only to file complaints, but there are no clear strategies for protecting women when they are with their aggressors, and they depend on them. Women do not have support networks.”

International and domestic law in Colombia

Colombia has undertaken several international obligations and has enacted several domestic laws to ensure      protection of women’s lives. Thus, at the international level, Colombia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women “Convention Belem do Para”, and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which recognised women and human rights as an inalienable, integral, and indivisible part of universal human rights.   

Besides that, the government ratified the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. It is also considered as a normative framework the UN Resolution 1325 adopted by the Security Council on October 31st, 2000, through which it established a historical, legal and political framework recognising the relevance of women’s participation as the inclusion of gender perspective. 

At the domestic level, Colombia enacted Law 1257 of 2008, which established mechanisms for awareness, prevention and punishment of forms of violence against women. In the criminal field, the main consequence of the law was the inclusion of aggravating circumstances to the crime of homicide if it was committed because of being a woman. 

“The crime was not enough; it does not give solutions. From this arose the need to create an autonomous crime which makes visible the specific circumstances that denote violence for being a woman, and that would allow it to be positioned from the symbolic and from the legal language.”

Nidia Olaya

Subsequently, as a result of the murder of Rosa Elvira Cely 5 in May 2012 in Bogotá Law 1761 of 2015 was issued, which recognised femicide as an autonomous crime.6

The case of Rosa Elvira Cely included sexual violence, rape and impalement, a package of elements that revealed the instrumentalisation, the possession, the objectification of the women’s body, the destruction and the disposition about the intimate decisions of women related to their life project. 

For Blanca Gonzalez, Human Rights Defender, a litigation attorney at the guidance and advisory level of the District Secretary for Women in Bogotá, Colombia:

“The law is relevant because not only established the autonomous crime of femicide but also because it projects state actions that allow legal assistance to victims. 

Also, it imposed other obligations on the Colombian state, such as including training processes for authorities related to gender perspective and human rights.”

The recognition of the crime of femicide is the result of the work of the feminist movement in Latin American and in Colombia to recognise is an extreme form of violence against women.

“This expression is also a way to denounce an existing reality that defines misogyny, inequality, and exercise of power against girls and women.” 

Maria Carolina Espitia

Women in Colombia need protection for their rights —      What are the great challenges?

Despite Colombia’s obligation to protect, respect, and ensure women’s rights, the pandemic had worsened the exercise of their rights. Women continue to be cruelly murdered; there are no public policies to address femicides. 

“We have a patriarchal state that does not have the routes of attention, the money, or the economic resources to serve more than half of the population (women). It is a state that does not see sexual violence and femicide as systematic, public, and political.”

Observatorio Feminicidios Colombia

The state is not ensuring the safety of women at high risk of femicide during the pandemic. Additionally, the violence reported trends to be reduced and considered exaggerated due to the lack of training of authorities in gender issues. 
In many cases, the judicial police procedure is deficient. There is no proper chain of custody with the evidence collected; there is no diligence within the investigation and prosecution. 
The environment of impunity motivates the aggressors to repeat and escalate their behaviours. There are not enough condemnatory judgments and many unjustified delays within the judicial system. 

Adriana Cely, an activist, social worker, and member of the team of the District Secretary of Women in Bogotá, sister of Rosa Elvira Cely, and promoter of Law 1761 of 2015, expressed:

“The knowledge and training are needed in our authorities, but also there is legal ignorance. We have several laws, but we never give them the relevance to implement it.”

One of the great challenges for Colombia is developing a public policy through which it fights against femicide and gender violence. The state must guarantee a life free of violence, prioritise political agenda actions to prevent femicides, promote women’s human rights and equality through affirmative actions, participatory processes, and alliances between different civil society actors. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Colombian government must assume specific obligations related to food aid, psychological assistance and comprehensive reparation to make women and victims of femicides reintegrated into the social fabric.

“Colombia has a historical debt to women to transform the structural causes of gender violence. Colombia must ensure to women victims of violence that when they return to their communities or their regions, guarantees of non-repetition exists, not only with aggressors but with all people who make up their social group.”

Nidia Olaya

The state must consider the satisfaction of the basic needs within its political agenda and establish long-term measures which allow economic empowerment to women and the link to social and political spheres addressed to break up the cycle of violence. 


  1. El país, Internet, un espacio aun por conquistar para la mujer en Colombia, 2020. Available in:
  2.  Observatorio Feminicidios Colombia, Vivas nos queremos, 2020. Available in: 

  3.  It is an information system of the feminist antimilatist network that, based on the local, regional and national press, tracks cases of femicide and violence against women in Colombia. 

  4.  Observatorio Feminicidios Colombia, Ibid.; p. 14.
  5.  Forero, Fabian. Las últimas horas de Rosa Elvira Cely, la mujer que conmovio al país. El Tiempo, June 2012. Available in:
  6.  In 2012 other Latin American countries already had it criminalized including Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and 10 federal states of Mexico.


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