“Being a black woman means resisting and surviving all the time”, with this sentence by Marielle Franco the report begins Obstacles to the political participation of Afro-Brazilian womenpromoted and conducted by Isabelle Mamadou, from Team of the Afro-descendant Decade in Spain with the support of the Colombian producer rualfim and the technical and logistical collaboration of the Brazilian organization Das Pretas House.
That of Marielle, a Rio de Janeiro councilor for the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), shot dead in 2018 while traveling in a car with her driver and an adviser, is one of the cases named in a document that includes the results of an International Human Rights Mission carried out in Brazil in September 2022, with the objective of documenting the obstacles to the political participation of Afro-Brazilian women. Information collected in situ on the abuses and violence suffered by this group of women in accessing decision-making spaces.
Underrepresentation and political violence
When the new president, vice president, and members of the National Congress take office in their new elected positions in 2023, the Chamber of Deputies, made up of 513 representatives from all states and the Federal District, will only have 29 black women. This figure, which is the highest representation in history, assumes that Afro-Brazilian women will be only 6% of congressmen, when they represent 28% of the population.
Women of African descent who fight to confront power structures are often victims of harassment and death threats, forcing them to carry bodyguards and drive around in armored vehicles
Despite the fact that Brazil established new norms in 2021 aimed at preventing and combating political violence against women, the report notes that Afro-descendants who struggle to confront power structures, “in a society governed by whiteness, masculinity and heterosexuality”, are often victims of harassment and death threats, which forces them to carry escorts and circulate in armored vehicles.
Likewise, the document points out that the signs of incitement to hatred, sexism, racism and LGTBphobia are daily barriers for black women, in a country in which a woman is a victim of feminicide every seven hours, corresponding to black women greater number of victims. According to him Brazilian Public Security Forum (FBSP) in 2021, there were a total of 1,319 women victims of femicide.
Religious racism, genocide of black youth and LGBTphobia
The voices collected in the report put on the table the multifaceted violence that Afro-Brazilian women face in their daily lives. This is the case of Wanda Araújo, a Candomblé priestess, who denounces religious hatred and the constant looting and arson in houses where African-based religions are worshiped, professed by less than 2% of the Brazilian population.
Mônica Francisco, a deputy in the Rio de Janeiro State Legislative Assembly (ALERJ), points out that 70% of women who suffer obstetric violence are black. They are also the biggest victims of clandestine abortion procedures. As stated in the report, the Unified Health System (SUS) “reproduces discrimination, violence, and violations of the body of women, especially Afro-Brazilians, whose cultural values are far from the dominant model.”
Regarding LGTBphobia, it is reported that four out of ten transphobic murders in the world take place in Brazil. As in the previous situations, the profile of those who die the most from this violence are people of African descent, “impoverished, peripheral and who work in prostitution, a fact that shows that transfemicide intersects with the categories of class and race.” However, this has not prevented an increase in representation in the elections and that Erika Hilton, the first black trans legislator of Brazilian democracy, will reach the Chamber of Deputies in 2023.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in its latest report on Brazil, declared that the genocide of young people of African descent is part of a process carried out by the Brazilian State to exterminate people of African descent.
For her part, Lúcia Xavier, General Coordinator of the NGO Criola, focuses on police and judicial violence and points to the Brazilian State, which “implements security policies that encourage the murder of young blacks in the Favelas.” Similarly, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in its latest report on Brazil, declared that the genocide of young people of African descent is part of a process carried out by the Brazilian State to exterminate people of African descent.
As a consequence, according to figures compiled by the NGO FBSP, of the 6,416 people killed by the police in 2020, 78% were young people of African descent. During the investigation coordinated by Isabelle Mamadou in Brazil, they highlight in this regard that “the Team received information regarding the murders committed by the military police in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, where the raids turn the urban peripheries into war scenes, and the police sexually abuse women and carry out arbitrary executions, including boys and girls.”
Mass incarceration of black women
With almost a million inmates, Brazil currently has the third largest prison population in the world, behind only the United States and China. According to data from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, the majority of women imprisoned in Brazil are Afro-descendants. And although the number of women in prison is significantly lower than that of men, mass incarceration affects black women to a greater extent, who currently constitute the fastest growing group in Brazil’s prisons.
Thus, the report denounces that “racial disparities in prisons and the overrepresentation of Afro-descendant women and men in the criminal justice system are proof that prisons legitimize the racialization of punishment as a means of controlling black bodies, based on in the consideration of dangerousness of the same”.
A problem of historical racial discrimination
For Isabelle Mamadou, the period after 1888, the year in which the abolition of a slavery that took more than three million Africans forcibly transferred to Brazil was established, “marked the continuity of hierarchical systems and dehumanization practices that still maintain Afro-Brazilian women at the bottom of the social pyramid”. For centuries, they have been the most oppressed and exploited, which is why, according to the author, today they face a serious crisis in terms of access to rights, in terms of material and social well-being and quality of life.
Lula da Silva, who from next year will be president of Brazil again after beating Bolsonaro in the second round last October, will find himself in a polarized country shaken by years of ultra-liberal policies. For this reason, he must address the roots of the country’s structural inequalities and discrimination if he wants to rebuild society. In this report, it is they themselves, the Afro-Brazilian women affected by an unequal political practice, who denounce, fight and propose possibilities for change.