The continued struggle of women in Brazil – Bia Lacerda Ratton, PT London


“Unlike Covid, there is no vaccine for violence against women and girls, and the risk to life and health continues. But there is hope for change at the highest level.”

By Bia Lacerda Ratton, Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) London Youth Activist

This week saw International Women’s Day recognised across the globe. It’s important to re-emphasise the role and contribution of women to the creation of a new world order with peace, global justice and socialism at the centre.

Global estimates published by the WHO show that approximately one in three women worldwide have suffered physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or third parties during their lifetime

This number translates to about 736 million and has remained largely unchanged over the past decade. The WHO warns that this violence starts early: one in four young women (ages 15 to 24) who have been in a relationship will have experienced violence from their partners by their early twenties.

As a Brazilian, I have seen many examples of violence, repression and misogyny in the public sphere in my country of birth, and our politics has a significant influence on the extent to which these behaviours are tackled.

As is the case in many countries around the world, our nation has a complicated history when it comes to women’s rights. But in the last 20 years, there have been some important landmarks under left wing governments:

The 2006 Maria da Penha Law – which seeks to protect women from domestic violence: the number of deaths per 100,000 women decreased from 4.2 to 3.9 between 2006-2007

The 2015 Feminicide Law – which brought legal recognition of feminicide in Brazil via our first female President Dilma Rousseff

The law recognised feminicídio as legally different from homicide – and crimes judged as femicides carry sentences between a third to a half longer. But the architect of the 2015 Femicide Law was soon subject to a coup and removed from power. And the move to depose Brazil’s first female President Dilma Rousseff was not only a political action, but a sexist one.

Dilma was referred to as crazy, unbalanced and by all the other tired sexist tropes heard around the world when referring to women in power.

On top of this, there was a popularisation of violent and obscene images, for example car stickers that went over fuel tank openings of the former president with her legs open where the gas is inserted.

In this context, it is no surprise then that subsequent governments dominated by right-wing politicians and conservatives have reversed previous progress being made.

Elected in 2018, current president Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right government has been the worst Brazil has experienced since becoming a democracy for a host of reasons. But notably, it has seen a wide scale rollback of women’s rights and a discourse of anti-feminism and misogyny. Notably, before he became president, Bolsonaro himself had previously said of a congresswoman that she was not worth raping as she was too ugly.

Before the pandemic, one of the biggest blows to women in Brazil was the appointment of Pastor Damares Alves. One of only two women in the far-right government, she is the Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights of Brazil, which replaced the Ministry of Human Rights under Bolsonaro’s leadership. Yet Damares defends the prohibition of abortion after rape and in risky pregnancies. Her focus instead is on role of the woman in the home and in traditional gender roles.

Against this backdrop, building for years in public discourse even before Bolsonaro swept to power, these aggressive comments from public figures, pundits and leaders created an environment where violence against women was able to spread like a cancer.

Even before the pandemic. In 2019 data 1,326 femicides were recorded in Brazil (an increase of 7.1% compared to 2018), and rape occurred every eight minutes.

This violence is also racialised, and reflects the need for a fiercely intersectional approach to feminist responses to violence as the racist nature of the state makes the lot of black women, who make up 66.6% of femicide victims, particularly stark.

And so the language of violence against women endorsed in the halls of power echoes into the home. Women are almost three times as likely to be murdered in their own residence than men, according to 2013 evidence from the UN.

The nature of the pandemic means these figures are likely to have drastically worsened, as women were trapped in the home with their abusers. 4.3 million Brazilian women (6.3%) were physically assaulted with slaps, punches or kicks during the pandemic.

This means that every minute, 8 women were beaten in Brazil.

Unlike Covid, there is no vaccine for violence against women and girls, and the risk to life and health continues. But there is hope for change at the highest level:

Bolsonaro’s record in government suggests that if there are free and fair elections, former president Lula is likely to win the presidency in 2022, who is polling as high as 42%.

It was in Lula’s first term that the Maria da Penha Law was passed. Lula’s candidacy has also focused on rights of minorities: women, poor, black LGBTQ+, indigenous peoples.

While Lula remains the favourite, it’s extremely important for Brazil that Lula wins next year’s election – so we can’t relax.

Whatever happens with the presidency, the left, centre-left and progressives need to form a majority in Congress so they can play the leading role in the next government and effect real change again. This will directly impact the lives of women.

Brazil needs to rebuild after Bolsonaro. Not only to reverse the shocking trend of government enabling and condoning misogyny and violence against women. But also to save the environment, indigenous groups, women, LGBTQ+, the poor, the black population and other minoritised groups.

It’s the kind of challenge that Lula has excelled at before, and we hope against hope he will do it again in 2022.

Featured image: Bia Ratton, PT london Youth Activist. Photo credit: Ana Rojas

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