Organizing caravans to overcome militarization

Ruta Pacífica de Mujeres organizes caravans of thousands of women to visit regions of Colombia hardest hit by conflict to fight for an end to war.

Ruta Pacifica, or Peaceful Path, was founded in 1996 and is a women’s movement that seeks a negotiated solution for the armed conflict in Colombia. Ruta Pacífica is feminist and pacifist, and its political, cultural, and social actions aim to strengthen the ethical positions of nonviolence, civil resistance against the war, and feminism’s pacifist perspective. It works to make visible the effects of the war on the lives and bodies of women, and promotes the inclusion of Colombian women’s political and social proposals. One tactic that Ruta Pacífica uses to work towards its goals is the mass mobilization of women in caravans.

Thousands of women participate in the caravans that Ruta Pacífica organizes, visiting regions of Colombia that have suffered greatly in the conflict. The caravans serve as a way for women in different areas of the country to come together in support of the end of the conflict, exchange ideas, and fight for an end to human rights abuses. As a result of the ongoing civil war in Colombia, different areas of the country have become increasingly isolated from one another, as the roads and borders between them are frequently controlled or blocked by the various armed groups. By traveling these roads, the caravans of women break through not only the physical roadblocks, but also the psychological barriers of despair and isolation that allow the war to continue. Once the caravans of women arrive in the isolated areas, they often instigate academic presentations, demonstrations, community discussions, and vigils about the effects of the war.

Ruta Pacífica has achieved ten national mobilizations in the states of Antioquia, Chocó, Putumayo, Magdalena Medio, Bogotá, Cauca, and Bolívar with the participation of approximately 20,000 women in total and a distance of more than 1,700 kilometers traveled. One caravan, to the region of Putumayo, included 100 buses carrying 3500 women who, along with the residents of the area, marched in the streets of the main city and held a convocation about the effects of the war.

Ruta Pacífica’s caravans are highly organized, a necessity in a war-torn country where there are significant risks associated with travel and particular dangers to women. Prior to a mobilization, the organization carries out an analysis of the armed conflict and the situation of women in the region where the mobilization is directed. This analysis includes specific dangers to women, the local political agenda and climate, the best actions to carry out in the area (presentations, vigils, etc.), and possible strategic alliances, among other information. Ruta Pacífica also informs the local civilian and military authorities of their intent to enter the area.

Prior to the mobilization, Ruta Pacífica invites participant women to be involved in training sessions to learn about the logistics and protection plans in place for the caravan, and to clarify the political ideology they are marching to represent. All participant women are asked to sign an agreement regarding expectations and correct behavior. During the mobilization, the caravan is run by the Bus Coordinators (two on each bus) and the Protection Team (up to six women), who monitor the situation and ensure that the caravan is able to pass peacefully.

After the mobilization is complete, Ruta Pacífica evaluates its success and identifies the next steps to take in its fight against armed conflict in Colombia. They also compile and archive physical, photographic and audiovisual evidence of each mobilization. For the media and for its own assessment purposes, the group distributes this documentation in the form of a CD of photographs and videos in order to preserve the memory of the event. This evaluation and preservation process has resulted in the development of an organic and systemic method of mobilization, a more cohesive ideology within the movement, and an improvement in regional and national communication. Ruta Pacífica found that after the caravans, its members had a better collective and individual understanding of what it means to be a pacifist and a feminist and created a more stable network of international connections.

For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

Despite a difficult and volatile political and military situation, Ruta Pacífica has been successful in carrying out audacious activism in the form of caravans. Their success can be attributed to their high levels of organization and commitment to their overarching strategy. Other groups can learn from Ruta Pacífica’s organizational skills, even if their activism does not take place in a dangerous situation.

Ruta Pacífica commits to doing significant background research prior to a mobilization. Caravan leaders have an in-depth understanding of the political and military situation on the ground and know what they should expect during the mobilization. Contingency plans are in place should an unexpected situation occur. In addition, the Protection Team is small enough that all its members can keep in close contact, but large enough to cover a caravan of several thousand women. With help from the Bus Coordinators, they can quickly transmit information to the caravan participants.

Ruta Pacífica also helps caravan participants have a sufficient understanding of the activism they are undertaking, and work to make the mobilization itself a learning experience that builds solidarity. By holding training sessions prior to a mobilization and asking participants to sign an agreement, the organization ensures that the caravan will run more smoothly.

Extensive preparations such as these are not easy and they take time. This is not always appealing for an organization that would like to act quickly, and it may not always be possible should fast action be imperative. However, as Ruta Pacífica’s success shows, it can be very helpful to spend the time preparing prior to carrying out any kind of human rights tactic, because this can increase the odds of success even in difficult situations.