4th Global Retreat of the SEMA Network

Written by: Carmen, Isabela, Maria, and Rosario (SEMA members from Colombia and Guatemala)

After more than two years of travel restrictions, members of the SEMA Network were finally able to reunite in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, at the start of June. We were invited by the Mukwege Foundation to co-create a space to demand justice and reparations for victims of sexual violence in conflict. During the retreat we formulated joint strategies for the future, engaged in dialogues, shared our knowledge, strengthened our global and national survivor movements, and honed our collective skills for advocacy. 

SEMA members during the SEMA retreat in Amersfoort, June 2022

Considering that COVID-19 is still around us, the journey to the Netherlands was not an easy one. The PCR tests and obstacles in obtaining Schengen visas are just some of the difficulties faced by our members. Many invitees could not attend the retreat because their visa applications were rejected. This “incident” demonstrates how survivors are still targeted for being women’s rights activists, indigenous peoples, and victims of impunity. 

For those who were able to attend, this retreat was all the more important because the contribution of each member will strengthen SEMA to reach out to more victims and survivors who are still living in isolation. This retreat was also special because we reflected on the path that SEMA has followed in the last 5 years. We are proud to see many empowered women in SEMA, with all our diversity. 

As part of the self-care programme, and to create a collective memory, participants collaborated with the Make Music Matter team to create a second single: SOLIDARITY. 

“I like every group workshop and the song we created together”

Maria, SEMA member from Guatemala

The retreat was organised by the Mukwege Foundation to promote a world without sexual violence in war. We met many staff of the Mukwege Foundation who were facilitating these sessions, as well as other external facilitators from partner organisations. It is a very well-organised retreat with sufficient support of psychologists and interpreters. 

Carmen from Colombia said,

“I personally met the wife of Dr Denis Mukwege and was able to talk with Esther, Dominique, and Camila to share the work of ‘Aliate’ in Colombia and the needs of survivors who have children with disabilities”. 

It was gratifying to meet other survivors while keeping in mind the retreat’s aim to form a joint advocacy strategy. 

Isabel adds that,

“Our participation is particularly important to be able to bring political/administrative support for the application of the immediate reparation measures for the survivors of the armed conflict in Guatemala. The Ixil people has, for many years, resisted the dispossession we have suffered. Despite this, we continue to fight for a life free of sexual violence against women.” 

All participants have contributed from their own experiences and battles, helping other participants to find their own paths. In total, 38 of us speaking 7 different languages felt connected at the retreat. Thanks to the interpreters for all their support – in and out of the workshops. Everything went very well.