Natalia Ponce de León is a Colombian campaigner who, in 2016, was instrumental in the introduction of a new, eponymous law to target perpetrators of attacks with chemical agents in her country.
Her work is inspired by personal experience. In March 2014, Natalia – a successful businesswoman – was brutally assaulted by a former neighbour, Jonathan Vega, who threw a litre of sulphuric acid across her face and body. Vega had been apparently ‘obsessed’ with her.
As a result of the attack, 37% of Natalia’s body, including her entire face, was severely burned and she has since had to undergo over 31 reconstructive surgeries. Sadly, hers was not an isolated case. Three years before the incident, Colombia already reported one of the highest rates of acid attacks per capita in the world, but it was only after Natalia Ponce de Leon’s campaign that an effective law with more severe penalties was introduced. This new law, which takes her name, defines attacks with chemical agents as a specific crime and increases maximum sentences to up to 50 years in prison for convicted offenders. It is Natalia’s expressed wish that the law serve as a deterrent against future attacks.
Natalia’s bravery is well-documented. She credits the attack with having made her stronger – reinforcing the power of the mind, the importance of love and the incredible resilience of the human body. Through her work at Fundación Natalia Ponce de León, she strives to defend, promote and protect the human rights of victims of attacks with chemical agents, providing counselling, psychological and legal support services as well as a strong campaigning platform, in a bid to offer an improved quality of life and assist with survivors’ reintegration in to family, work and social life. In 2017, she joined forces with Fundación Avon Colombia as the ambassador for their campaign against violence towards women #ReconoceLasSeñales.
Having largely campaigned wearing a protective mask, she bared her face in April 2015 to mark the publication of El Renacimiento de Natalia Ponce de León (The Rebirth of Natalia Ponce de León), the book which charts her dramatic journey. Her tireless campaigning has been met with several awards including being named as one of the BBC 100 Women of the Year (2016), Leaders of Colombia (2016), BBC World Service 50th Anniversary Outlook Inspirations (2016) and the International Woman of Courage Award in 2017.