Stories of Change

Top and Bottom: Members of "Mujeres Libres Colombia"

Empowerment and Freedom: Claudia’s Story

Claudia Cardona, changemaker and women’s advocate, has turned her life story into a platform for the voices of many incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women. Through her work and devotion, she has earned a place in national and regional debates, hearings and meetings on the subject. Behind Claudia’s work is a difficult past that has left her with many valuable lessons.

Like the women she fights for, Claudia herself was once incarcerated. During her time in prison, she was often an advocate for human rights protection, but since she was unaware of many rights and requests she could make, she usually limited her requests to food and hygiene products.

In 2017 when Claudia was released from prison, she joined the Commission for Monitoring the Unconstitutional State of Affairs of Colombia, and encountered something that left her stunned: the Bangkok Rules*. “I couldn’t believe it,” she stated; after nine years and three months in prison, she learned about this resource that would have helped her had she known about it much earlier.

Less than a year later, and with the knowledge she had been cultivating, Claudia and her colleagues founded Mujeres Libres Colombia. The organization champions the rights of incarcerated women and their families while offering vital assistance, such as psychological and legal support.

“Here, women found a place to vent because they couldn’t talk about this [their experiences and challenges] at home. Here we have a safe space for all,” comments Claudia. She added that when women leave prison, they face the challenge of rebuilding a disconnected family or finding out that their children have suffered abuse; all this while looking for work, trying to integrate into society and recovering psychologically.

While examining the rights of incarcerated women, Claudia also realized the need to protect what she cared most about: her daughter. Soon, Claudia’s daughter would not just become a motivator, but a fellow activist.

One of the moments that inspired Claudia’s daughter was when Claudia was invited to give a lecture in Chile and decided to bring her along. Due to immigration issues, Claudia was detained for 12 hours and ended up missing her flight but encouraged her daughter to continue the journey with a colleague who was authorized as her guardian.

Claudia’s daughter filled in for her mother at the lecture and shared her impactful reflections and memories, such as learning to cook through a phone call while Claudia was incarcerated. “She saw the opportunity in what I was doing to live her process and learn,” Claudia said. In the following years, her daughter became more involved in the activities of Mujeres Libres Colombia.

Since its creation, Mujeres Libres Colombia has been groundbreaking, affecting policies across the region and changing the lives of incarcerated women. For Claudia, however, her pride is found in the women who make up the organization; women who previously struggled to get words out to advocate for themselves, now speak loudly and proudly. She added that many of these women had never left their own cities and now travel and meet other women throughout Latin America.

Beyond the powerful changes she has made in the region, the true value of Claudia’s work is seen in her closest circle. Through her drive, she has forever impacted the lives of the women who now stand by her side and demand their rights be protected. And in an even smaller circle, Claudia’s daughter has been a change maker too; not only in fighting for her own rights but also making up for the time she spent without her mother and turning it into something powerful.

*The Bangkok Rules, formerly known as The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders, is a guidebook with 70 rules on the treatment and protection of female prisoners.

To learn more about our work in Latin America and the Carribean, click here.