When Bertha lost her husband in 1991, she also lost her economic stability. Displaced from a village called El Moral in Ovejas, in 2001 she found the opportunity to work with nine other head-of-household women, who were also victims of violence. After five years, this group of women received from the Colombian Institute for Rural Development-INCODER a common property called Tolima.
Since then, these ten women and their families have worked their land together growing cassava, yams, plantains and snuff. Two years ago, Bertha and nine other women began to see the need to divide the property, so they could have access to loans, productive projects and to be able to improve the property. Individual ownership, unlike a collective one, would allow them to access financial services and make decisions without all the families´ agreement.
The process of formalization and individualization of Tolima took four months and was completed under the National Consolidation Policy, thanks to the project called Historical Identification of Property Rights in Rural Areas, which assessed land tenure in El Carmen de Bolivar, San Onofre, Ovejas and San Jacinto. The project was implemented with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, through the Land Restitution Unit, INCODER, the municipal governments and Colombia Responde. The project began in July 2011 with the aim of collecting information to enable, identify and study major issues related to land tenure, in order to deliver information to the competent entities in this field, such as INCODER and the Land Restitution Unit so they could move forward in formalizing and restituting properties. Through this project, Bertha and each of the other nine women became the owners of an individual property formed by 9,466 hectares.
The 94 hectare-property that Bertha now owns is just a small example of what CHF is doing to restore property rights. The actions are mainly based on collecting historical information to determine the land tenure status, supporting the entities in charge of formalization and restitution. Colombia Responde, an initiative implemented by CHF International and funded by the USAID to support the Government of Colombia, is supporting the Land Restitution Unit and INCODER to organize and consolidate the territory, based on the "reconstruction" of property rights in Montes de Maria. These processes are embedded in the Victims and Land Restitution Law, which determines special provisions to ensure the effective restoration of abandoned or disposed lands.
According to Maribel Romero, Consolidation Manager in Montes de Maria, "the importance of this process is that it individualized the lots and homes for each woman, so now they can more easily access financial and economic services. This project has a different approach that encourages special attention to women because they were particularly deprived of their economic rights, and have been highly helpless due to the Colombian internal conflict. For this reason, the project was based on a methodology called Ownership and Gender, with the goal that women could fully understand and access their rights."
Marlene Lopez, one of the women, expressed that on January 17th, 2001 she was forced to leave her properties after 250 members of an illegal armed group killed 27 people in her community. Three of her brothers were killed that day. "Losing our things did not matter at that time. I arrived in the rural area of Ovejas with nothing. I started looking for leased or rented land to be able to work, until we got the 94 hectares of this property. Today, each one of us owns nine hectares, but that does not mean that we will be disjointed, on the contrary, this will encourage new common achievements."