Ni Una Menos Reaches Rio: Is There Hope To End Gender Violence In Brazil?

Thousands of women took to the streets in Rio de Janeiro to pick up the Ni Una Menos rallying cry and protest against gender violence.

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Inspired by the thousands of Argentine woman who went on strike and launched protests last week in Argentina, Rio de Janeiro stepped up to join the fight against femicide and gender-based violence in Latin America yesterday.

Thousands gathered on Tuesday at Rio de Janerio’s Tiradentes Palace, where the Legislative Assembly meets, to carry out what was the first Ni Una Menos protest to take place in Rio, following marches in São Paulo last week. Organizers hope this won’t be the last time as they plan for more protests in cities across the country, including Belo Horizonte, in the coming weeks.

The Rio protest marks yet another clear sign that Ni Una Menos has become a rallying cry for the region.

In Brazil, there is no shortage of reasons to hld the protests. Shortly before the Tuesday demonstration began, news broke that a woman was gang raped in the Rio neighborhood of São Gonçalo. Her plight was felt at Tuesday’s march, where someone held up a sign that read, “We are all women from São Gonçalo.” Banners also displayed the name and photo of Lucía Pérez — the 16-year-old from Mar del Plata whose violent gang rape and murder has given the Ni Una Menos movement much of its recent momentum.

Photo by Ciara Ní Longaigh
Photo by Ciara Ní Longaigh

The steps of the Palacio were crowded with demonstrators clad in all-black and holding lilac balloons that read “#NiUnaMenos.” The overwhelming majority were women, some with small children in tow. They displayed banners that spoke to solidarity with the women across Latin America who suffer from gender-based violence. Outside the Palace organizers shouted slogans into a microphone: “Mess with one of us, mess with all of us.” The “us” did not just refer to Brazilian women, but Mexican women, Argentine women — “Latinas united,” as one woman’s banner put it.

Rio’s protest also reflected Brazil’s unique political situation, with many banners and stickers including the words “Fora Temer,” referring to President Michel Temer who took power following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.

Taken on their own, many of the banners the marchers held could read like something out of a horror film — “Every 11 minutes a woman is raped in Brazil,” “13 women killed each day in Brazil,” “Stop killing us.”

But this is the reality for women across Brazil and Latin America, and the rates of violence are even more horrific for black women, trans women and women from impoverished areas.

Photo via EFE
Photo via EFE

Gender violence continues in Brazil even though it has some laudable laws in the books. Earlier this year, for example, the country celebrated the 10th anniversary of the so-called Maria da Penha law, which increased punishments for perpetrators of gender violence. On the Rio de Janeiro metro, every train has a women-only car. In 2015, then-president Dilma Rousseff enacted harsher penalties for murders linked to gender violence. Since the 1980s Brazil has had women’s police stations (Delegacia da Mulher) throughout the country, which provide assistance to female victims of violence.

And yet, despite all these measures, a woman is killed every two hours in Brazil, according to the non-profit Mapa de Violencia. Even with provisions to protect women in place, Brazil still has one of the highest rates of gender violence in the world.

As Brazilian women join the Ni Una Menos movement, the question remains, if a decade of legislation has done little to curb violence against women, what can be done? Liliana Maiques, one of the organizers of Tuesday’s march, says Brazil needs to approach gender violence as a two-pronged problem.

“There needs to be investment into the networks in place for women who are victims of violence,” Maiques told The Bubble. “When there are budget cuts, they’re the first to suffer. We’re in a fragile point, socially, and it’s worse still for black and trans women. All the politics of cuts to education, health, employment, affect us more deeply. It interferes with our economic autonomy, which is one of the things that often impedes women from breaking the cycle of violence.”

And, Liliana adds, there needs to be a cultural shift as well as an institutional one. “We also want campaigns that combat rape culture,” she said. That’s what “cements the idea in men’s heads that our bodies belong to them.”

Photo by Ciara Ní Longaigh
Photo by Ciara Ní Longaigh

Many of the women who attended Tuesday night’s march, especially the younger ones, didn’t seem exactly hopeful the government would be able to intervene, particularly now that Michel Temer has been officially sworn-in as president. They see social change and education as the only way out of a culture that propagates so much violence against women.

“We lost everything with the coup,” said Camilla, one of the protestors. “Temer threw out all the women, all the black people, out of his Cabinet. All that’s left are white men like him.”

A call for decriminalizing abortion was also present throughout the protest. “Legalize our body!” the leaders of the march shouted. “My uterus is secular,” a woman’s banner read. In Brazil, abortion is legal only in cases of rape or if the woman’s life is in danger.

Whether it’s further legislation or education, or a combination of the two, that puts an end to Brazil’s rampant violence against women remains to be seen. Banners and stickers at Tuesday’s march also outlined Ni Una Menos’ most ambitious goal: “All of Latin America will be feminist.” If that were the case, the women of Latin America may finally have a chance.

Photo via EFE
Photo via EFE