When Margarita's daughter was caught in crossfire between local drug cartels and shot in the head at the age of nine, she decided something had to change. Her options were limited: Their home, Palmira, had recently been decreed the eighth most violent city in the world, a standard that many Colombians have come to accept as depressingly normal in a country suffering the world's longest continuous civil war. So Margarita was amazed to discover Nashira, a haven for female enterprise, just miles from the city.
Nashira is a matriarchal village set up in 2003 by Angela Cuevas de Dolmetsch to provide free housing for vulnerable women. The community houses over 80 families, including men and boys, with women as the legal heads of the household. Only women can apply to live there, the community board is made up exclusively of women, and women make the key decisions in Nashira. This is a bold and unique experiment in a country ruled by a tradition of machismo, where domestic violence and femicide are a deep rooted problem.
Dolmetsch's vision is one of a self-sufficient community, where poverty can be eradicated through the gifting of land to build houses, and women can make a living through their own businesses. Success is evident in the Nashira Recycling Group, who are usurping the local council with their daily rubbish collections, and making enough money to expand the business and take on new employees. Elsewhere, Angela notes that women are marrying for love instead of financial security, and teenage pregnancy has been completely eradicated from the community.
The unique model of Nashira is now being recognized as one that could be replicated throughout the country. The government and the FARC are negotiating to end the country's conflict, which would necessitate the reintegration and rehousing of thousands of displaced guerrillas, many of whom have never owned homes or had to deal with money.
We visited Nashira in the run up to a referendum where Colombians were asked to vote "Yes" or "No" to ratify the ongoing peace talks. The question split the county in two, with an intensity felt poignantly in Nashira, where many of the women have been directly affected by the war.
So what can a country paralyzed by violence learn from matriarchal leadership, a new approach to eradicating poverty through gifting land, and a fervent desire for enterprise and self-sufficiency?
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