Alba Stella Barreto
In Cali, Colombia, a group of women from the District of Aguablanca is helping to bring peace and justice to one of the country’s poorest and most violent urban areas. Using skills and information disseminated through a network of weekly meetings, local women assist local residents both by providing a range of essential services – from mediation to adult education – and by referring residents to other service providers and resources in the community. This group, which is strikingly community-based, female, well-led, disciplined, and holistic, is now being touted as a model for communities elsewhere in Colombia. Communities, policy-makers and restorative justice advocates – both in Colombia and abroad – can learn much from their approach to restorative justice, and more broadly, from their network-based approach to governing ungoverned spaces. Much of the debate about the conflict in Colombia focuses on national events and neglects the efforts of local communities to nurture peace and justice in their immediate environment. The Aguablanca program demonstrates that local initiatives can make a big difference in the lives of ordinary Colombians. To replicate the success of this program in communities elsewhere, however, it will be necessary to identify local citizens who can provide the same leadership and commitment as the women of Aguablanca.