Women in Brazil fighting for Human Rights and Against Bolsonaro

by Nayara Lima

 Protest against Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Protest against Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Jair Bolsonaro won a run-off election in October 2018 and will take office as president of Brazil on January 1, 2019 for the coming 4-year term. Bolsonaro, who has been elected for successive tenures as a congressman since 1991, is well known for his extremist views and racist, misogynistic and homophobic remarks that undermine minority rights, as well as for his controversial endorsement and praise of abusive practices carried out by authorities under the military dictatorship, which led the country for decades in the recent past.

Bolsonaro, who has four sons and one daughter, has mentioned on several occasions that his only daughter was born due to a moment of “weakness”. He has said that women should be paid lower salaries compared to men because they “get pregnant”, and even commanded women to stop “whining” about femicide. In 2014, during a heated discussion with his  fellow congresswoman Maria do Rosario, he told her that the only reason he wouldn’t rape her was because “she did not deserve it”.

Women United Against Bolsonaro

All the popularity and support recently gained by Bolsonaro has been opposed and resisted by movements that have sprung up during the campaign, some of them led by women, such as “Mulheres Unidas Contra Bolsonaro” (Women United Against Bolsonaro).

The women’s campaign launched on Facebook in early September 2018, right before the election, called on women from all political backgrounds to come together “against the advancement and strengthening of machismo, misogyny, racism and homophobia and other prejudice”. This organization, which uses a closed Facebook group as its headquarters and is meant for only those who identify as women, witnessed its membership rising up to almost 4 million members in about three weeks. The group is aligned with the #EleNão (#NotHim) movement, which also emerged during the electoral campaign and called on Brazilian voters to vote against an openly sexist candidate that disseminates hate and authoritarian speech towards minorities in general, and women in particular.

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In late September, a week before the first round of the elections, thousands of people took to the streets and marched in several cities across Brazil, as part of a number of protests under the leadership of “Women United Against Bolsonaro” movement. As a result of such protests, Bolsonaro’s candidacy has attracted international attention and was even referred to as an example of the trend seen globally of the emergence of populist and extremist politicians.

In Brazil, Latin America’s largest democracy, women represent 52.5 percent of the electorate. But while it has already had a female president, Dilma Rousseff, in 2011-2016, it remains a deeply patriarchal country. Women were given the right to vote in 1932, a lot later compared to the rest of the world, and feminist movements were restricted from organizing during the country’s military dictatorship.

Brazil is one of the most violent countries in the world for women, with nearly 4,500 deaths and more than 60,000 rapes this past year alone, according to the Brazilian Forum for Public Security, a nonprofit group. Brazil also remains a deeply religious country and a increasingly conservative one at that.

Although it is still the most populous Catholic country on the planet, evangelicals have been growing at a rapid pace in recent decades. Many of them oppose gay rights and abortion. In Brazil, one woman dies every two days of complications from illegal abortions, according to the Brazilian Ministry of Health. Bolsonaro’s campaign, which includes keeping abortion illegal, and his victory showed how far the country has yet to go when it comes to basic universal human rights.


The Brazilian Backdrop

Behind this frightening backdrop was a story that has become alarmingly common among the world’s democracies; the rise of the populist movement. Brazil is experiencing a moment of intense and unusual polarization after a tumultuous few years, when the country was emerging from its worst-ever recession, which is to a great extent usually attributed to mismanagement and wrongdoings perpetrated throughout more than a decade while the Worker’s Party was ahead of the country, under the leadership of former Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016).

A broad investigation called Operation Car Wash has revealed an intricate corruption scheme in the government on a larger scale than anyone expected. Lula has been convicted and is currently serving time in prison for corruption (and is a respondent in several other judicial proceedings). His successor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and, as a result, the country was handed to her Vice-President, Michael Temer, who is also under investigation.

 Protest against Bolsonaro in New York City.

Protest against Bolsonaro in New York City.

Against such backdrop, Brazilians were, and are, anxious for any changes whatsoever in the domestic politics scenario. After all the years of corruption under the Workers Party long tenure, it’s not very far-fetched that for some Brazilians, voting for Bolsonaro was much more a matter of pushing and keeping the Workers Party out of office than anything else.


The Rise of Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro took advantage of the situation and used it for his benefit. Despite long being a peripheral figure who has authored only two laws in a 27-year period serving as a Congressman, Bolsonaro’s campaign has both benefited from and contributed to the political divide. His campaign was pretty much built around and focused on a promise that, under his administration, Brazil would be cleaned out of corruption, whilst the most “traditional” family values (some rooted in religious dogmas) would re-assume the relevance and spotlight that Bolsonaro and his supporters so much praise. And he would do that by disrupting and putting an end to the long-standing common practice in Brazil of distributing positions in Ministries, public companies and the like among allies and even political adversaries to obtain support and majority needed for implementing the measures and reforms intended. In order to gain more support during election times, Bolsonaro was fast in presenting the left-leaning Workers Party as the public enemy to be fought against. Such a strategy was successful in this regard and a great turnaround has happened, with many people who were already disgusted and disillusioned with the Worker’s Party adhering to Bolsonaro’s campaign.


What now?

 Protest against Bolsonaro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Protest against Bolsonaro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Considering Bolsonaro’s praise of Brazil’s former dictatorship and his comments on race, women, and homosexuality, opponents voiced concerns that his victory could ultimately represent a threat to relevant victories and progress attained in the past decades in respect to human and minorities’ rights in the world’s fourth largest democracy.

Just a few weeks after being pronounced as the winner in the Brazilian presidential election, Bolsonaro and his inner-circle started to announce names of members of the team who, together with Bolsonaro, will be in charge of the country’s business and affairs as of January 2019. However, as some of the names chosen for his team are already announced, it seems that the choosing process is inconsistent with Bolsonaro’s campaign promise to break out the chains and connections with traditional parties, given that some of the names are of politicians who either have been convicted or are under investigation for wrongdoings and corruption practices.  

In spite of the results of the election and of any threat that his election may represent towards minorities’ rights, it is not yet clear whether Bolsonaro and his team will effectively be able to put in practice all the measures and actions promised along his entire vociferous campaign.

But one notable thing that the latest Brazilian presidential elections showed us all, is that women played an extremely important role and that they are out and up again, perhaps stronger than ever, in a somewhat of a revamping of the preceding feminist movements that contributed to and allowed so many recent women’s conquests. The “Women United Against Bolsonaro” is a good example of that, as are other feminist initiatives spread recently across the whole world, such as the Women’s March.

The “Women United Against Bolsonaro” movement has suffered massive attacks from Bolsonaro’s followers, with some of their messages incorporating actual physical and life threats against whoever is behind or supporting such a movement. Yet, this is certainly one of the largest feminist mobilizations ever organized in Brazil. The Facebook group is still active and its members keep fostering and strengthening feminist networks. As the name of the group hints, when working and demanding in an organized and united manner, women can better position themselves to stand strongly for their rights and beliefs, aiming at reaffirming a political view as to a more respectful, ethical, equal and inclusive society.

Protests against Bolsonaro in over 300 cities around the world in September, 2018


The writer is a Kota Volunteer from Brazil, who is herself an active member of the movement.

The Dignity Project - the Voices Of A New Generation

By Rhea Bhandari

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"The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world, you need to change your story. This truth applies both to individuals and institutions."

-Michael Margolis

With everything that’s going on in the world right now, storytelling might be one of the only few tools that work effectively to cut through the noise and reach the audience. The French filmmaker Jean Luc Godard says, “Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form." Storytelling is not just important because people don’t have time to consume information in other ways, it is essential because, if done right, it brings the emotion across. We use stories to make sense of our world and share that understanding with others and raise awareness around it.

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This fall, I had the pleasure of working on a project that does exactly that. The Dignity Project is a New York based collaboration between The Kota Alliance, Saba Ismail of Aware Girls and Florence Montmare,. The program was supported by Eileen Fisher Community Partnerships and by the Lower East Side Girls Club. The project empowers young women to become agents of change by creating their own expression through digital storytelling. The ultimate goal of the project is to end violence against women, and to protect women’s rights.

For four weekends, five strong and talented girls ages 15-18 came together to share their individual stories and the causes they stood for. The young South Asian women - Amira, Mahiyat, Ishrat, Sadia, and Elizabeth - came into the project with such different perspectives of what it is like to be a South Asian woman in today’s world. Each of them had distinctive lenses that they used to talk about women, their lives and struggles. They contrasted from focusing on global warming to code-switching, digging deep into the day to day life of a Brown woman, to teenage pregnancy and even religious stereotypes.

 During the first sessions we discussed the gender stereotypes a lot.

During the first sessions we discussed the gender stereotypes a lot.

Being a Brown woman myself, I very well recognized some of the struggles they pointed out. I was amazed during the process about the level of articulation and creativity that they had - and it showed clearly in the way each film was crafted. The narration, sound and the choice of film shots made the artwork real and personal, just like the young women who created them.

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Knowingly or unknowingly, they are trying to push against the idea of being colorblind. The mentality of colorblindness can only result in erasing the individualism of people and can be detrimental to the preservation of their rich culture. The Dignity Project celebrates the uniqueness of their culture, and empowers young women to be their authentic selves.

Their stories are important to tell, not only for those who get to relive them, but for those who can listen and learn from them. Stories allow everyone to express all of their identities and be proud of themselves, just as they are.

What the project taught me, is that this generation has the power to affect change. I can’t wait for all that they have to offer to the world!

The writer is a Kota Volunteer from India, who is doing her master’s program in the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

The Kota Alliance is screening the short films made during the project at Lower East Side Girls Club on 12/15/2018 2pm - 4pm.. During the event, besides seeing the products of their work, the participants of the program will receive a certificate of graduating from the program. RSVP to the screenings here.


The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon: Challenges Facing Women, Children and Displaced Families

By Etali Genesis Akwaji, Sustain Cameroon

 Web source picture: Blocked road access and deserted community in Kumbo Bui Division.

Web source picture: Blocked road access and deserted community in Kumbo Bui Division.

The advent of the social and political crisis in Cameroon has led to enormous destruction of both property and human lives. Many communities have been completely burnt down and many lives lost and the trend continues daily. The conflict is gradually degenerating into a genocide, people are killed on daily basis and dumped in bushes, communities and houses are also raided daily. This has resulted in homelessness for tens of thousands of persons whose homes and communities have been erased through arson attacks by the military. So many families are forced to flee their homes to reside in bushes, crossing the borders to neighboring Nigeria as refugees and or simply internally displaced. Women and children make up the bulk of the refugees, the displaced and those living in bushes. The regions have been devastated by the crisis and social strife, leading to dysfunctional educational, health and economic sectors.

It should be recalled that the crisis rocking the Anglophone regions of the country came into being in late 2016 after protests of the acculturation and annihilation of the anglophone cultures by the French systems. The teachers and the common law lawyers and later on the entire population took to the streets staging peaceful protests and demonstrations to denounce the encroachment, submersion and assimilation of the English subsystems of education and the common law practice by the French subsystem of education and civil law practice. This started a later bigger trend with the entire anglophone populations (North West & South West Regions of Cameroon) joining to clamor for fairer and better living conditions and fairer access to employment opportunities, rising against the government for its marginalization and discrimination of the Anglophones in public and private sectors.

The government's inability to manage the crisis and to provide palpable solutions to the demands of the Anglophones, led the crisis into another phase that escalated into a full-blown war between government forces and separatists who today are demanding independence of the English speaking part of Cameroon. 

Today, this crisis has affected the social, economic and political life of the population of the two regions. The living conditions of the peoples of these regions has been stifled and access to basic mandatory needs for human existence, ie. healthcare, shelter, food, economic welfare, education and livelihood, is becoming impossible, especially to women and children and affected communities in these two regions of Cameroon.  Any limitation to and or denial of these basic needs is tantamount to snatching life out of the individual.

Health

Access to healthcare and provision is a sine-qua-non for living a healthy and productive life for human existence. Complicating access to basic health care for the populations, especially women and children, is the fact that medical facilities (hospitals and health centers) have been vacated by personnel in most of the rural communities witnessing heavy fighting between the government forces and the separatists. The service providers fear being killed in the crossfire.

Women and children face challenges accessing medical services and attention. They suffer from skin diseases which are common in the rural communities. A large percentage of births in these vacated rural communities are done in traditional ways with the absence of health personnel, while some happen in the bushes, where a majority of people have escaped for safety. This is putting pregnant women and girls at high risk for maternal and child death. 

 Web source picture: Children under plastic sheets to avoid being soaked by rain after their homes were destroyed.

Web source picture: Children under plastic sheets to avoid being soaked by rain after their homes were destroyed.

Medical facilities and personnel are sometimes being targeted during invasions. This has caused the medical personnel to flee their areas of work, leaving the villagers at the mercy of their illnesses. Some health personnel have been victims of the conflict and were killed in the line of duty. This has instilled enormous fear in the midst of the rest of those working in these communities.

Physical destruction

Many communities in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon have been completely burnt down and ravaged by the warring parties, and yet there is no hope of this ceasing. Several individuals have been killed, many have lost their homes, and communities have been completely vacated or simply erased. There has been no real intervention made to address the situation or attempt at reconstruction and provision of adequate humanitarian assistance to enable the displaced families and homeless to recover from the post conflict situation and the trauma emanating from the shock of having to experience war.

Tens of thousands of persons, especially women and children, are still without shelter and in desperate need of food, water and basic healthcare since they had to flee, after the conflict destroyed their homes and communities. The displaced and homeless population in some of the affected communities needs to be assisted to regain their normal flow of life. The reconstruction and reconstitution of these communities is an urgent emergency need for the suffering masses.

Economy

The economy of these regions is in ruins. Agriculture and livestock breeding are the mainstay of the economy for the people of the region, and food is ferried into the cities from the rural communities and peripheral towns and villages. This is the main food supply chain for the dwellers in the cities and a source of livelihood of the rural poor, particularly for women and children. Since the advent of the crisis, local dwellers (farming families constituted by women for the most part) have fled from their communities further into the bushes while others have relocated into the main city of Bamenda and even beyond in quest for safety.

 Web Source Picture: The Guardian (photograph excerpt, Peter Zongo). Villagers (women and children) from Belo, in Cameroon's north-west, flee the fighting, heading for nearby Bamenda.

Web Source Picture: The Guardian (photograph excerpt, Peter Zongo). Villagers (women and children) from Belo, in Cameroon's north-west, flee the fighting, heading for nearby Bamenda.

This has caused them to abandon their food crops, and they themselves cannot safely access their farms which constituted the major source of their livelihood and for the education of their children. This has resulted in food insecurity and scarcity. Prices of the little foodstuff available have skyrocketed and there is eminent threat of hunger and famine lurking around the city of Bamenda. This will obviously lead to another phase of the crisis. The Anglophone separatist fighters have destroyed some major bridges and blocked roadways linking these communities to the cities in an attempt to prevent the military from accessing these communities, thus affecting food supply to the city. This has contributed enormously to slowed down economic activities in the city. Hunger threatens the lives of millions of peasant farmers and their families. 

Many city dwellers vacated the regions to other Francophone cities and towns such as Bafoussam, Douala and Yaounde for safety and security. 

Education

Effective schooling ceased in 2017 when the crisis began and although some schools attempted to open their doors for studies, they were later forced to close their doors by both the government forces and the Anglophone separatist movements. As we speak, schools are not operating, and children are back home as their schooling has been disrupted.  More than 40,000 children and youths are not able to pursue education for two years and their futures are in jeopardy.

 Web source picture (excerpted from MM Info 5 October 2018): Medical facilities shut down as women, girls and children seek medical care.

Web source picture (excerpted from MM Info 5 October 2018): Medical facilities shut down as women, girls and children seek medical care.

These children and youth are at home not able to go to school because their schools are being attacked. Teachers and students will come to terms with the reality that portions of the institutions have been razed by flames, while some teachers and principals have received and are still receiving threats that their schools will be burnt down if they open their doors. These threats are also directed at their lives should they go to school. This current stalemate in the smooth running of schools has caused many adolescent girls to get pregnant as they idle around and have nothing to occupy them. There are also rampant rapes of both women and girls, even sometimes in broad day light. There is no order and respect for human rights by the military that is assigned to protect the citizens.  The law has been flawed in these areas and human rights have become so meaningless as to be taken away at will by the military. 

Achieving Peace and Security would entail the introduction of alternative dispute resolution approaches, and an approach to restorative justice would be important in these communities to increase processes of improving social cohesion. The world seems so silent about the situation in Cameroon. I begin to wonder the type of humanity that is existing, placing more value on money and material things than on human beings?

Reconstruction of burnt/destroyed institutions, health facilities, schools, homes, and social and economic empowering structures is urgent for the displaced to rapidly reinsert themselves into mainstream society.

We have a responsibility to prevent a larger humanitarian crisis and we need your help. Make a gift and difference today in lifesaving support for displaced women and children, and survivors of the conflict in our communities.

Donate to MSFhttps://www.msf.org/
Donate via the Red Cross : https://www.icrc.org/en/home

Sustain Cameroon Website:  https://www.sustaincmr.wordpress.com

More information about Cameroon:

New York Times: https://nyti.ms/2yRVcVS

BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-45723211

Presenting our Crowdfunding Campaign: Beyond #MeToo: Our World. Our Future.

By Katariina Haapea

As you might already know, we launched our crowdfunding campaign a couple of weeks ago. The campaign’s name, Beyond #MeToo: Our World. Our Future., is our statement for a different world order with complete equality of all genders. Here at Kota, we’re working relentlessly for a future where there’s simply no need for the hashtag #MeToo anymore.

On October 16th, we had an amazing campaign launch party, where The Kota Alliance and our partner organizations Aware Girls, Colors of Connection, and WomenStrong, shared insights of their work. During the evening we went - literally - beyond #MeToo, as we presented the main focuses of our missions and how they empower women locally and globally. The Founder of Aware Girls, Saba Ismail, summarised the whole point of our campaign perfectly by asking: “What is beyond #MeToo? It is exactly to take action underground, in the communities, to change that.” That is what we are doing here at Kota; taking action for a future where no one has to say “me too.” anymore.

It’s impossible to speak about our campaign without addressing the original movement first. The “me too.” movement was founded by Tamara Burke in 2006 to help sexual violence survivors, with a particular focus on black women and girls. The website of the movement states the following:

Our vision from the beginning was to address both the dearth in resources for survivors of sexual violence and to build a community of advocates, driven by survivors, who will be at the forefront of creating solutions to interrupt sexual violence in their communities.”

As we both know, the hashtag #MeToo went viral after the Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano told her story a year ago; it created a snowball effect and inspired hundreds of thousands of women around the world to join the movement by posting their personal experiences of sexual harassment and assault on social media. We, just like the 2nd wave feminists, noticed that the personal indeed is political, and you can have a huge impact in the world just by telling your own story.

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Now, a year later, we can see that we were desperately in the need of change. In fact, we still are. Although the movement shifted things in the right direction, there’s still loads to do.

"To ensure no more #MeToo for future generations of girls, support nonprofits that work for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls."

-Kota President and Founder Jaana Rehnstrom

The ultimate goal of The Kota Alliance is to create a World Center for Women. Our mission is to promote gender equality by offering both virtual and physical co-working spaces for like-minded organizations that work towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as women social entrepreneurs. Aside from subsidized work, conference, and event space, Kota will also provide other physical and virtual tools and services that organizations making a difference need. Our mission is also to reduce our members' overhead spending, so that they are able to channel more resources into their actual programs and mission; as well as bring like-minded organizations together, fostering a physical proximity to foster collaboration. Also, wouldn’t it be amazing to have like-minded people working in the same space, supporting each other’s work, all aiming for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Just think about the change that would make in the world!

 An architect’s vision of what the World Center for Women might look like.

An architect’s vision of what the World Center for Women might look like.

This is what our campaign is all about. Everything we do here at Kota takes us a bit closer to our goal, and the ongoing crowdfunding campaign is a big leap towards the future; raising $5,000 makes us eligible for a 3:1 matching grant, so by helping us get to our - quite humble - goal, you are actually making a huge difference. Kota wants to personally thank everyone who helps us meet our goal, and thus the donations come with some awesome rewards, which you can look up here.

By now, we have raised a bit over $2,500, so that makes us half way through our goal (some of the checks are still pending, but will show in the campaign page shortly!). A huge thank you to everyone who has already contributed; your support means the world to us. We aim to hit $5,000 by Thanksgiving, and we hope that you help us get there! And remember; there are also a lot of other ways to help us do our work than by donating, if that isn’t currently an option - you can help our mission get visibility online by liking, sharing and commenting our posts. Our Social Media team thanks you for that.

So, that is our campaign in a nutshell. It is vital to us that we hit our goal, so check out our campaign page and see if you could make a contribution to help us get there, no matter how big or small; every penny donated counts and your support means everything to us.

Help us make the world a better place, where no girl or a woman has to say “me too.” ever again. It is our world, and it is our future - join us to make a difference.

 The Kota Team thanks you for all the support!

The Kota Team thanks you for all the support!

PS.

Have you already familiarized yourself with our 2018 program, Digital Storytelling? Check out the toolkit here, it’s completely free and at your service. Let the world hear your story!