Tag Archives: women

The Pro-Choice Fight in Brazil

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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

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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.

Beyond Sex and Sunshine

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It’s not news that Brazilian women are used to sell plane tickets, hotel stays, tours, and whatever else there is to do in Brazil. In the last year covering Brazil, I’ve come to realize that the mainstream press is reluctant to cover anything other than Brazilian women’s sexuality – which enforces stereotypes and dehumanizes women in a way that puts them in danger.

So far I have reported on the fact that here in Brazil there are more rapes than murders, that 80% of Brazilian women have been sexually harassed in the street, how one woman dies every hour and a half in this country, how the former Human Rights Committee president was sexist and how sexual exploitation of minors is considered normal in Brazil.

While Brazilian women are depicted as hypersexual, they live in an extremely sexist and conservative society. It’s not really surprising since most women around the world live in that kind of environment, but I believe this fallacy is especially harmful in Brazil. While we, women, are viewed as sexual objects, beckoning Brazilian and foreign men alike to a ‘sexual paradise, we are also human and we support the country in so many more important ways.

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For example, did you know 25% of Brazilian households are financially supported by women? Yet, men receive, on average, salaries that are 42% higher than women’s? Did you even imagine that native indian women and black women have the hardest time getting health care in Brazil? Or that in eleven years, rape rates have risen by 88% in Rio de Janeiro – a supposedly sexually free city?

These statistics are terrifying to me. I know women here in Brazil from all walks of life, and they are so much more than sexual objects. I want to tell their stories and explore how their particular lives are affected by their nationality and its stereotypes.

This is why I have launched the project Beyond Sex and Sunshine at Beacon Reader. Although I have pitched similar projects / reports to mainstream publications they have been widely rejected – there is really no interest in selling such a humanizing project, I guess.

The cool thing about Beacon Reader is that you can back my work financially, so you will be helping me directly in making this project happen. I know a lot of people don’t have money to contribute, but I also believe writers should be paid for their work.

Here are the subjects I am planning to cover:

  • The life and stories of Brazilian women in the favelas
  • Afro Brazilian culture
  • Racism and gender
  • Transgender women and their struggles
  • Queer women and their struggles
  • Brazilian carnival, sexual harassment and the non-sexual aspects of carnival
  • Brazilian women and football
  • Native indian women’s lives in a colonized Brazil
  • Rape, rape culture and the failings of the Brazilian system
  • Women, politics and religion
  • Sex workers
  • Sexual exploitation of girls and its normalization
  • Women entrepreneurs

As I move forward with the project I am sure new subjects will come up. I also ask that if there is anything you think I should be covering you please get in touch with me through email at nicolefroio@gmail.com. I am so, so excited about it and I really hope I get the funding I need to get this project off the ground. It would be really amazing if you could fund me but I know that’s not always possible. For those who cannot fund me I will sporadically release shorter, edited versions of my work.

Things to note:
1) Any NGOs/communities I mention in my reporting will receive a donation from the funding raised on Beacon;
2) I will try my best to let these stories speak for themselves, distancing myself from privilege and biases. I want to be responsible.

If you can’t fund me, I only ask that you spread the project’s link around. Tweet and share, please please please. Thank you!

 

Forget tradition, Doctor Who needs a female star

The word ‘tradition’ brings about warm feelings. It represents the constant factors in life, things that don’t change and are always there for some comfort and security. But lately the word hasn’t been employed in that way; mostly, in fact, it has been used to defend prejudice, to argue against progress and change…

Read the rest here.

Intersectionality, let’s unite

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“Right here, in this conference room,” said a woman in her early twenties to Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace prize winner. “Only around five or six women are black, among a hundred or so. As a black woman yourself, what do you think we should do about the exclusion of black women from spaces like this?”

After years of speaking in conferences about her experience in the women’s peace movement in Liberia, Leymah had the answer at the tip of her tongue. Standing on the stage in her motley trademark dress and headdress, she looked at the young black woman straight in the eyes and assertively answered he charged question.

“We are all women, and we must stand together as women. We should not look at the colors between us, but fight together as a gender for each other’s’ interest. That is the way to inclusion.”

Leymah knows all about unity. In that particular moment, she was talking about intersectionality, which is just really another word for unity – more specifically, unity of women.

That’s how she brought peace to her country during the Liberia civil war. Leymah looked at others as well as herself. She recognized that though all women suffer because of their gender, all women have their own personal difficulties well. And though personal focus might change from woman to woman, the answer is to stick together and help each other overcome all hardships.

When Leymah yelled and protested against the civil war in Liberia, she rallied both Christian and Muslim women together to reach one goal – peace. They handed out flyers that illiterate women could understand, with simple drawings that conveyed their message. They were tired of violence, murder, rape and longed for unity.

Together, they stopped a war by protesting and going on a sex strike. They changed their world.

I heard Leymah speak in a conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil called Real Women Who Transform (Mulheres Reais Que Transformam). She looked strong and determined, occupying her ‘space’ – as she says – confidently. It was impossible not to pay attention, but I think more people should have been there to listen, and that it’s important to spread the message beyond that conference room. Brazil needs intersectionality more than anything, and that room was full of already successful women – women who were glad to meet such an inspirational icon, I am sure, but who didn’t exactly need that incentive.

Brazil is a country of diversity. Slavery was only abolished in 1888 and as a destination of runaways and people looking for a new, better life, it is rich in both culture and racial diversity. According to the 2010 census, out of 191 million Brazilians, 15 million are black, 82 million mixed race, 2 million Asians and 817 million native indians.

Still, the majority of successful men and women are not of colour. Indian natives are treated horrifically by the people who colonized them hundreds of years ago. The president of the Human Rights and Minorities Committee is an outspoken homophobe, racist and sexist.

The culture of individuality in Brazil is dangerous and has to change. As a Brazilian woman, I believe it can start with us, just like it started with Leymah and her friends. It doesn’t take much to be united, and look out for each other, no matter what our difficulties are – similar or completely different. It’s time to stop calling each other slags, and start seeing that even in a small scale we can help each other be bigger and better in life.

Perhaps it is a little presumptuous to think that as a 22-year-old I can change anything on a global scale. However, I do believe I can change something in my space, just like Leymah did. She is an example to all of us, but I took a few months to understand what she was about; she kept saying “Stand in your own space, and change that before doing anything else. Plant your feet in your space and don’t move until something changes.”

Once it was pointed out to me that women don’t support their own sports, and that’s why they don’t get nearly as much coverage in the media – men’s football is mainly supported by mena. We should do the same for our gender!

We need unity, women. Wake up.

2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner and I at the end of the event.
2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner and I at the end of the event.

Photos taken and edited by Nicole Froio.

Real Women Who Transform Meet Up

2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner and I at the end of the event.

Click below to read my Storify coverage of the meet up that took place today in Rio de Janeiro, featuring Leymah Gbowee, Tony Porter and Graca Foster.

[View the story “Mulheres Reais Que Transformam” on Storify]

And here is a video of the wonderful Leymah speaking about perception:

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Photo by Nicole Froio.