2023 has been politically significant for Brazil. We celebrated the inauguration of President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva but were left reeling from the devastating coup attempt in Brasília on 8 January by Jair Bolsonaro supporters. After four years of a neofascist government, his supporters vandalised symbols of Brazilian democracy.
Shortly after the attempted coup, a humanitarian crisis shot onto the news. 570 Yanomami children – one of the remaining indigenous groups in the Amazon – have died in the last four years. Malnutrition and preventable diseases were blamed but the Yanomami’s region had suffered almost total neglect from the local, state, and federal governments. Coupled with illegal mining, the Yanomami people’s land had been completely devastated. According to Flávio Dino, Minister of Justice, this crisis had a “strong materiality of genocide”. There is also an ongoing investigation by the Ministry of Human Rights into the alleged rape of more than 30 young Yanomami girls by miners.
This recent crisis is one of many that has afflicted Brazil over the past eight years. Gender justice defenders and organisations have been fighting to counter gender backlash. With a new government now in charge, and for International Women’s Day 2023, here are five ways Brazil can better #EmbraceEquity.
1. Our democracy must expand based on gender equity
Women’s rights must be part of the basis of government policies in Brazil across all policies. Public policies should be written in a way that guarantees the reduction and/or elimination of gender inequalities.
Existing policies and laws in Brazil must be strengthened, used, and monitored in a way that furthers gender rights. The government must guarantee the equipment of Maria da Penha Law, which combats domestic violence in Brazil, and Feminicide Law, which qualifies the crime of homicide based on gender. The Brazilian government must guarantee reproductive justice in Brazil, especially regarding abortion provided by law.
2. The Government needs to work with feminist movements
In 2022, Brazilian feminist movements occupied the National Congress to demand change. This was led by two groups: ‘Frente Nacional contra a Criminalização de Mulheres and Legalização do Aborto’ and ‘Frente Parlamentar Feminista Antirracista com Participação Popular’.
This feminist movement was central to pressuring Congress to guarantee rights provided for by law for women and against setbacks. The action had the support of feminist parliamentarians, showing that alliances and networks between parliament and movements can happen and do work.
Their movement wasn’t realised until Brazil’s new government withdrew from the oppressive Geneva Consensus and revoked an ordinance that created obstacles for women and girls to terminate pregnancies resulting from rape. They also joined the Commitment of Santiago and the Declaration of Panama – two gender-progressive policies. The new government must ensure that these rights are protected and deliver on its promises for women.
3. Cash-transfer programmes must be strengthened
In recent years Brazil has seen a massive reduction in State services which were already marked with inequalities. This has led to millions of families going hungry – 33 million according to Rede PESSAN in a survey carried out in 2022.
In 2020 and 2021, more than 300 civil society organisations successfully pressured Bolsonaro’s government into increasing cash transfers to those most in need. Women who were single mothers were awarded double the amount, signifying a victory for the Brazilian women’s and feminist movements.
The fight for emergency income was so strong that, later, cash transfer programmes became a central issue in the presidential campaigns of the main candidates, especially Lula and Bolsonaro. Before Lula was inaugurated, his government managed to approve a Proposal for a Constitutional Amendment (PEC) which guaranteed a significant increase for the Bolsa Família Program. A major part of this programme – which was closed by Bolsonaro’s government – is to support women’s healthcare, particularly mothers. In March 2023, Lula’s government resumed the programme.
4. Resolve and investigate the humanitarian crisis against the Yanomami people
The feminist commitment to democracy and human rights is also based on solidarity with Indigenous communities and the demand for actions by the State and authorities to resolve and investigate the humanitarian crisis that is spreading across indigenous-owned territory.
There is an immediate need to expel all illegal miners from the indigenous land. It is important to remember that the region is occupied by 30,000 indigenous people, but with the invasion of more than 20,000 illegal miners, the situation of the Yanomami in particular has become unsustainable. Throughout his government, Bolsonaro encouraged illegal mining.
It is necessary to investigate and punish those responsible for the humanitarian crisis, and the alleged rape of the young girls. The current federal government must ensure the safety of the Yanomami people, and guarantee their territory, culture and traditional practices, in addition to strengthening their Bem Viver (‘Good Living’ in English). Young indigenous people must have their rights guaranteed and respected, including in accordance with their values and traditions.
5. Strengthen the Ministry of Women with the necessary budget and political force
The institution of a Ministry of Women is an important victory for the feminist and women’s movements. An earlier version of this Ministry, created during Lula’s government – the National Secretariat of Policies for Women – was weakened during Dilma Rousseff’s second government, as a consequence of conservative pressures from the opposition during the impeachment crisis. It was then shut down during Michel Temer’s presidential term. During the extreme right-wing government of Jair Bolsonaro, the Ministry of Women, Family and Human rights – among others – were dismantled as part of the attack on women’s rights and gender justice legislation.
It also means that we must demand greater participation from women in civil society and social movements in the production of public policies, giving space to their struggles and recognition of their expertise. Participatory state feminism must be resumed and expanded.
The Ministry must also have a robust budget that can manage women’s demands. This means that the federal government must guarantee the necessary budget for policies and equipment to protect women to be really efficient.
Brazil is experiencing a moment of relief compared to recent years. The coup suffered by Dilma Rousseff and the Bolsonaro government meant a period of marked defeats for women and for Brazilian society in general. Social movements were hampered, indigenous people were massacred, black people suffered from slaughter, racist statements and practices without control or punishment; women suffered from misallocated resources to combat domestic violence.
We thought we would not survive. But we won. And now the new government, which was elected with a lot of women’s strength, deliver to us what it promised. We are dreaming of a better world, one that is radically democratic and feminist, and that is willing to #EmbraceEquity.