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Black women in the vanguard

Black Feminism
Women march during the National Black Consciousness Day in Sao Paulo, Brazil November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
Women march during the National Black Consciousness Day in Sao Paulo, Brazil November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Black women’s movements are leading the feminist resistance to Jair Bolsonaro’s dismantling of social rights.

Three centuries of enslavement and daily reaffirmation of structural racism help explain why black women are so pro­minent in this fight-back. So do the statistics: according to the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, the rate of homicide against black women rose by almost 30 per cent between 2007 and 2017; the rate for non-black women increased by 4.5 per cent.

Black women organizing and developing awareness of their exploitation is the product of generations of feminists since the 1970s, in the process that led to Brazil’s re-democratization.

They cause discomfort to the Right and to the Left by pointing out our privileges and stating that any project for the country will only succeed if black women actively participate in its design. This challenges our traditional white male-dominated model.

One of the symbols of this struggle was Marielle Franco, the Rio de Janeiro city councillor murdered on 14 March two years ago – a crime for which no-one has yet been brought to justice. A black lesbian born in a favela, an activist against gender violence and for human rights, Franco is still, even after her death, a victim of smear campaigns by the President’s supporters. In life she represented exactly the resistance they so totally reject, and her memory encourages new generations of feminists.

Bolsonaro has been criticized for his misogynistic behaviour throughout his almost three-decade long career in Congress. (He was fined for telling a congresswoman that she did not ‘deserve to be raped because she was very ugly’.) It is not surprising that as president his favourite targets have been female journalists.

In a recent attack he told a press conference that Patrícia Campos Mello – a respected and award-winning Folha de S Paulo reporter – had offered sex in exchange for information that would be damaging to him. In 2018, Mello provoked Bolsonaro’s anger by publishing an investigative report showing that business people had commissioned large amounts of illegal WhatsApp messaging to benefit him as candidate.

In addition to firing up the president’s loyal followers, these misogynist attacks serve to divert the population’s attention away from issues that are especially sensitive to him: reports of misappropriation of public funds, links with paramilitary groups involving one of his sons, a senator, and low economic growth.

All of us men have been raised in machismo and have a long way to go to deconstruct it – even more so, given Latin America’s fragile, insecure and toxic masculinity.

There are men who are unhappy with and feel trapped by the discourse that says that, in order to combat several forms of gender-based violence, much of what we have been taught about our rights, duties and limits needs to be revised. They do not accept any criticism.

Bolsonaro is a role model and leader for these men. Therefore, the clash between women who are aware of their exploitation and men disgruntled about losing their privileges continues.

Women have managed to get gender violence onto the media’s and the country’s agenda, but unlike Chile, which is experiencing a feminist upheaval, in Brazil the International Women’s Day demonstrations did not gather as large crowds as did the women’s protests against Bolsonaro’s candidacy in 2018.

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