Tag Archives: brazilian protests

The Pro-Choice Fight in Brazil


This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. It is part of my Beyond the Sex and Sunshine series, where I write about Brazilian women and try to change the sexualized narrative around them. To read the full text please click here and support my work.

Jandira Magdalena dos Santos Cruz, 27, was last seen alive on her way to an illegal abortion clinic in Campo Grande, Rio de Janeiro. Weeks later, her body was found carbonized in a burnt car, without limbs or a dental arch. A divorced mother of two daughters, Jandira resorted to abortion when her boyfriend refused to take responsibility for the pregnancy.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger. This illegality what led Jandira to pay USD$1,200 for a procedure in an illegal clinic. Her case is not a rare one: according to the World Health Organization (WHO) one woman dies every two days because of unsafe abortions in Brazil. Brazilian public health care estimates indicate that 1.5 million women get abortions yearly while the Ministry of Health’s calculations reveal that 3.7 million Brazilian women between the ages of 15 and 49 have had at least one abortion in their lifetime. In Latin America, 95% of abortions are considered unsafe by WHO.

In Brazil, having an abortion is punishable by law and could result in one to four years in prison. In 2005, a proposed bill of law threatened to take away the already existing provisions for abortions and to make abortion a heinous crime. The law would also forbid stem cell research.

In an election year, the subject of abortion is curiously absent from electoral campaigns and debates. Despite Jandira’s death and that of thousands of women which has caught the attention of mainstream media, advocating for the legalization of abortion is considered political suicide in a country where 79% of people are against any change in legislation.

“Abortion is a taboo, religion and the media display dead babies of eight or nine months and say this is abortion, which causes discomfort in any person,” says activist Isabella Medeiros, organizer of a pro-choice march in Rio de Janeiro on September 28. “This image of taboo that the media shows the population is very fictitious; the rate of women who get abortions is immense. In truth, it is a great manipulation because of religion, more so than politics, where conservative values are predominant.”

Mariana* says this predominant attitude in society makes it harder for women who have abortions to speak out or even heal mentally from the procedure. She got an abortion after paying R$12,000 ($5,000) to a doctor who instructed her to go to a high-class hospital and pretend she was having a miscarriage so she could be operated safely.

“He told me to come to a hospital – a good hospital in Rio – and pretend I was having a miscarriage. I would have to arrive in the early hours of the day. I was lucky – we paid a lot of money. My father got a loan from the bank, my mother didn’t go on a planned trip. I was lucky to have a family that was looking out for me, that supported me. They understood it wasn’t the time for me to have a kid.”

While Mariana was fortunate to have the procedure done in a proper hospital, this is not the reality of most Brazilian women.

“Jandira’s case is an example of what we call unsafe abortion,” explains Dr Ligia Bahia in an interview to newspaper O Globo. “It’s an abortion performed outside of a medical unit with proper credentials. In Brazil, because abortion is illegal, interventions in illegal clinics are more common. Women put themselves in a situation of extreme risk when they seek this kind of operation. Ideally, society would debate this theme without an ideology, focusing only on the grave issue of public health.”

Since the legalization of abortion in Uruguay, the number of abortions has decreased and there have been no deaths as a result of the procedures. Despite this positive result, political leaders in Brazil seldom mention a direct change in legislation, with presidential candidate Marina Silva only going as far as proposing a referendum on the issue. According to Uruguay’s Public Health sub-secretary Leonel Briozzo, “that’s not the best way to solve the problem.”

“For the life of women,” they chanted


On September 28, Latin American and Caribbean Day for the Legalization of Abortion, women took to the streets in several cities across Latin America to protest for their bodily autonomy. In Brazil in particular, organizers of the movement hoped to bring attention to the issue in times of election.

At the end of Copacabana beach, a small group of feminist activists painted pro-choice signs for the march later in the day. They were of all colors and backgrounds, but all of them recognize that the criminalization of abortion is a bigger danger to low-income women of color. One of the signs read: “The rich women pay, the poor women die.”

Besides remembering the death of thousands of women across Latin America who died from unsafe abortion, the march in Copacabana had as an objective to start a political conversation about the legalization and decriminalization of the procedure.

Protester Desirée Carvalho, 23, said: “We think this is something to be debated since we are in an election year and this is a subject that isn’t debated, even though we have more than one woman running for president so our objective is this, to talk about the need of the legalization of abortion by the public health system.”

The march was peaceful, but also met with a bit of hostility. Many people shook their heads in disapproval when the protesters chanted pro-choice songs to call attention to the march. A few others observers pumped their fists and joined in, but the march was mostly met with silence.

In a Lugar de Mulher (A Woman’s Place) blog post that went viral last month, Brazilian feminist writer Clara Averbuck summarizes an approach to the legalization of abortion that might work for Brazil.

She wrote: “Your personal opinion about abortion doesn’t matter. Women will continue to have abortions and to risk their lives while it’s not a legal and safe procedure (…) You hate the idea of abortion? OK, so don’t have one. Your opinion won’t change that women have abortions (…) All kinds of women have abortions and there is not one personal opinion that will change that.”

*Not her real name.

This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. To read the full text please click here and support my work in changing the narrative around Brazilian women.

BBC World Have Your Say: Brazilian Protests & 2014 World Cup


BBC World Have Your Say (Radio World Service) asked me to discuss the Brazilian protests on Monday, July 15th and the 2014 World Cup on Friday, July 18th. Below are links for you to listen! Enjoy.

Listen to me discuss the Brazilian protests on BBC World Have Your Say (Radio World Service).

Listen to me discuss the 2014 World Cup on BBC World Have Your Say (Radio World Service).

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How to report on protests – getting involved or staying impartial?

It was an unexpected development of the Confederations Cup. Out of nowhere thousands of Brazilians were marching down the streets in anti-government protests. Some of the protesters were violent too and trashed the city.

Except it wasn’t out of nowhere at all, and the world outside of Brazil found it difficult to see that. But as a Brazilian journalist stationed at the heart of the unrest it was easy for me to understand what was happening and why.

Read the rest here.

The meek damage control of Dilma Rousseff


After two weeks of protests all over Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff had a cabinet meeting and finally spoke to the nation about the unrest. In a 10 minute speech, she vaguely alluded to the course she is taking in the future to meet the demands of the protesters. Rousseff is an ex-revolutionary and her roots are of change but her words and promises weren’t concrete. A dissection of her discourse follows below.

“[These protests] show the strength of our democracy and the desire of our youth to make Brazil go forward. If we take advantage of this new political impulse we will be able to do, better and faster, many things Brazil still hasn’t been able to because of political and economic limitations.”

Rousseff is playing it safe and condoning the peaceful protests. Later she says the violence should not overshadow the tranquil and unthreatening movement. She got one thing right: the Brazilian political system is a huge barrier to the country’s progress, not only because it gives way to corruption but also because it is lengthy and inefficient. The protests themselves are proof that the parties in power at the moment no longer represent the values and morals of the people.

Huge parts of Brazil are uneducated, don’t really understand the political system (I am not even sure I understand it fully) and have to vote obligatorily every two years (one of the problems with the Brazilian political system is that federal and state elections occur within a two year gap of municipal elections). This means two things: research and the forming of opinion is not done in most communities and corrupt politicians are often re-elected (impeached president Fernando Collor is an acting federal senator since 2007. He was impeached due to corruption charges).

The mandatory vote also encourages buying of votes in more remote and unsupervised parts of the country.

But in terms of economic limitations, there is no real evidence to support that. Brazil has been bragging of economic growth and being the country of the future for two decades. What happened to that money? The lack of transparency leads the people to believe this money has gone to the politicians’ and private companies’ bank accounts.

“My generation fought a lot so that the voices in the streets could be heard.”

It is unsurprising that Rousseff mentioned her revolutionary activist past to create a linear connection with the protesters. However, it doesn’t seem like she has been fighting for her country when she finally has incredible power to do so. And the people have noticed that.

“I will invite the mayors and governors of the main cities in the country to make a great pact for the betterment of the public services.”

This is one of the vague sentences that makes me wonder if one of the main points of the protests has been misunderstood: the people want transparency. She might be aiming for a pact but what will it encompass? The people need to know exactly what will be done, this weak promise tells them nothing. Thankfully, Rousseff gets a little more explicit in the next paragraph.

“The focus will first be on the elaboration of a Plan of National Urban Mobility that will make mass transport better. Secondly, 100% of royalties from oil profits will go to education. Thirdly, we will bring doctors from abroad to Brazil immediately.”

This is concrete, but these options will either not make a big enough impact on society or have already been struggling to be accomplished in the last few years.

The first is already an on-going project that will supposedly have its first facility opening this year in Rio de Janeiro. The project has been in motion since 2011 and will supposedly invest R$18 billion in public transport.

However one of the major problems with building facilities for transport (or of any kind) in Brazil is over-billing by private companies that carry out the projects. More often than not there are big sums of money being transferred under the table to both parties – the politicians and the businessmen.

Another issue is the lack of follow through due to bureaucracy. The São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro train project has been on paper for about ten years and its predicted launch has been changed from 2014 to 2020.

Secondly, the 100% of oil royalties going to education don’t really mean that much more money will be put into education. Senator Cristovam Buarque said the project won’t make any big changes in Brazil’s education system.

He said: “Actually 100% is a small part of the profits.”

He explains that it is 100% of the money that would go to the federal government.

“So that won’t even be 20% [of the royalties].”

And lastly, the problem with Brazilian health is not the competency of its doctors but the lack of beds, hospitals and upkeep of the ones we already have. The salaries of public health doctors are extremely low as well, so most medicine graduates go for the private line of work. Work conditions are also very poor, there is no funding for research, spots and resources in intensive care are extremely scarce and there is no career planning service. In more secluded parts of Brazil, physicians can go months without their salary.

“We need […] better ways to deal with corruption. The Lei de Acesso a Informação (Freedom of Information Act) must be amplified to all powers of the Republic and federal establishments.. It is a powerful instrument the citizen can use to watch over the correct use of public money.”

The problem is not the press exposure of corruption, but the impunity that is entrenched in the government. The press can expose as many crimes as they can, but they will not be punished, even if they are found guilty. The Supreme Federal Court has only found five people guilty of such crimes and none of them are in jail.

And so with talks of peace, democracy and the great nation Brazil is, Rousseff ended her speech with no real conclusion. Her weak attempt to charm the nation has only emphasized that she isn’t using her power as president efficiently, and throwing the ball to the Congress.

This week I will be tackling nepotism, benefit culture, short-sighted measures, excess of ministries, ways into corruption in Brazil and much more. To stay tuned like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter.

Brazil World Cup protests: How Ronaldo, Pele betrayed their people

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: In a press conference about the Confederation Cup, Ronaldo renounced his Brazilian heritage in two short sentences. He said, amidst protests against the international events being hosted by Brazil that “A World Cup isn’t made with hospitals, my friend. It’s made with stadiums”. He even shook his head in disbelief, as if Brazil’s population seemed too dumb to understand that simple fact.

I’m blogging at FirstPost today – read the rest here

Edit: Ronaldo’s statements were made a couple of years ago, not last week. The author still believes this is relevant to the protests.