'We just been forced to do it': Exploring victimization and agency among internally displaced young mothers in Bogotá

Yazmin Cadena-Camargo*, Anja Krumeich, Maria Claudia Duque-Paramo, Klasien Horstman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Armed conflict in Colombia has a history of 50 years that continues to this day. According to the Victims Record of Colombia, from 1985 to 2013 2.683.335 women have been victims of the armed conflict. Women have been described as the main victims of the armed conflict, especially in the Colombian cultural context that in some regions is still considered to be a 'machista' and patriarchal one. In contrast, some authors have explicitly stressed Colombian women's agency instead of positioning them only as victims. Some of them are described as 'survivors' of the war, emphasizing their impressive resistance to the outcomes of war and forced displacement. In contrast to the background of these scholarly discussions, our study focused on how displaced women living in Bogotá themselves articulate their experiences of agency and victimization. This paper will therefore explore how women, in reconstructing their life stories, expressed the tussles between victimization and agency. Methods: We used qualitative methods conducted within an ethnographic approach. Based on ten years of experience in the neighborhood and one year of fieldwork, we collected the life stories of twenty internally displaced mothers, and ran eight workshops with them. We analyzed the narratives with a specific focus on how women expressed victimization and agency in four important periods in their life that related to the process of displacement: when they left home, when they became pregnant, when they were forced to leave their towns, and when they arrived in Bogotá. Results: Participants' life stories showed how they struggled with agency during their lives. They were victims of abuse and violence during childhood and finally decided to leave their homes. They decided to have their babies despite the fact that they were abandoned by their partners and families, and after doubts about and attempts to have an abortion. Throughout the process of displacement the participants had been engaged in ambiguous relationships with armed groups. Finally they arrived in Bogotá and faced adverse circumstances but were looking for better opportunities for them and their children. Conclusion: The analysis of how internally displaced women narrated their life stories showed us that the concepts that dominate scholarly debates about agency, victimization and survivorship do not do justice to the life stories of the participants in our study. These stories show that changes with a major impact were loaded with ambiguity and were characterized by helplessness, lack of control and agency simultaneously. The reconstruction of these life stories goes beyond the stereotype of displaced women as only 'victims', but points also to their agency and courageous decisions they made in contexts that were not controlled by them and where support was often lacking. Instead of label them, it is important to understand the complexity of the life experiences of IDW, in order to build policies that offer them aids as victims, but also build policies and intervention programs that empower them as agents in order to support them during resettlement.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21
Number of pages15
JournalConflict and Health
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2019


  • Internally displaced women
  • Victims
  • Agency
  • Survivors
  • Colombia

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