Brazilian Women’s Rights Struggle, Strife, and Successes

Pamela Machado is a contributor to Conatus News, and a journalist based in London, UK. She took some time to sit down and talk feminism and Brazil. Here is her thoughts, the first session of them.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You and I have written together, especially on the subjects of women’s rights. Something of note since, at least, the Suffragettes. The development of women as legal persons in First Wave feminism, as deserving of equal access to work in Second Wave feminism, and, at present, deserving of the right to reproductive health services in Third Wave feminism.

Third Wave feminism is the current battleground. Associated with each of these changes is the increased inclusion of women into society on multiple levels, whether cultural, economic, political, even religious, and social. You lived in Brazil. You moved to London. You work and study there. So we have researched these things. You have seen the modern situation for men and women.

What is the current state of affairs for the relations between men and women in London?

Pamela Machado: As a Brazilian, the reality for women in London surprised me greatly. Despite being the capital and a busy city, I feel very safe at any time during the day or night – a ‘luxury’ I do not enjoy in many cities in Brazil. There are plenty of women acting as CEOs, Directors and it seems to me, in general, we as a gender as well represented in the job market. That said, this might not be the view of British and European women, as you can see in papers like the Guardian.

Brazil and Latin America as a whole is a very sexist place. I am not able to give a scientific reason behind that. It probably is a result of a lot of things but mostly religion and lack of education. Feminism is a much more needed fight where I come from – I am not saying that the UK and Europe enjoy perfect gender equality. It is just a matter of perspective.

Numbers of rape and ‘femicide’ in Latin America speak for themselves.

Jacobsen: If we responded directly, frankly, does religion seem like the main impediment to women’s equality, especially patriarchal religions?

Machado: It does play a role but, in my opinion, is not the main one. I would particularly blame a ‘coward’ political representation, an inefficient judiciary system and, unfortunately, poor education.

Jacobsen: But doesn’t religious faith, in general, enshrine male values, superiority, divinity – as in being the main image-bearers of the creator of the universe – and as the owners and protectors of women?

Machado: Yes, that is true and it is definitely a challenge to be faced. Brazil is one of the most Catholic countries in the world and the vast majority of the population is Christian. Some local churches and religious leaders seem to be more… let’s say, modern, recognizing things such as divorce and contraception but they are still rare cases. And we have more reasons worry: religious political parties are becoming stronger – and they are very conservatives in their beliefs. If all goes well, next year Brazil will have presidential elections and Jair Bolsonaro, a religious far right congressman seem to be getting increasingly popular support.

Jacobsen: Also, if you take the more explicit examples in the United States, the conscious, cynical misrepresentation of women’s rights and feminism, and the historical and pervasive denigration and distrust of women in general, and disgust reactions to women’s bodies and especially the strange enshrinement of virginity (and so the control of women’s sexuality). In a Catholic culture, and so country and society, how can women overcome this, or at a minimum liberalize the non-reality-based belief systems found in this ubiquitous faith?

Machado: I think the best way to fight this regressive system is to educate. We need to spread the word about what feminism is really about – there still people in Latin America who don’t know. It is true though that some women do condone such behavior, simply because they are strong believers. We need to have empathy, we cannot blame them. In a country where the government does not look after its people and education are very poor, people hold on to what they have.

I would say that above all, we need empathy, understanding, and patience. Implementing feminism in Brazil will be a long process, it might take generations, but it is possible and is already happening. Despite still low female representativity in Congress, we do have laws to protect women and abortion is a recurrent topic in discussion. We just need to hope and act to minimize the growing influence of far right and church-affiliated parties, otherwise, our achievements so far are at risk of being useless.

Jacobsen: What policies underly the cowardly aspects of the political system in the appropriate recognition and the implementation of women’s rights? Of course, and bearing in mind, the young nature of the women’s rights movement and women’s rights in general, as well as human rights, and so their general fragility. Something of concern to me.

Machado: As I noted above, the main threat to progress in women’s rights is the rise of far right and conservative views. Leaving aside economic aspects, the left government left a good legacy for women and human rights in general.

However, with the impeachment brought to office former vice president Michel Temer, from the right front. On this year women’s day speech, he went so far as in praising women for the housekeeping skills, saying that ‘we are vital to the economy because we note the changes in price at the supermarket.’ After having a woman in the highest position in the country, hearing such thing is insulting and infuriating.

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