Women’s rights are daily conquests
During the military dictatorship we women fought for the redemocratization of the country’s political institutions and the qualification of the concept of democracy to include the principle of equality between women and men.
In 1985 the creation of a National Council of Women’s Rights was a political conquest on the part of the feminist movement and various other women’s movements united in the affirmation of the need to create a body with administrative autonomy and budgetary resources to allow the implementation of public policies for women, in all of their diversity.
The Council began the institutionalization of public policies for women at the federal level. It worked with Brazilian women in the struggle to put into the 1988 Constitution the principles of equality and equity in all the dimensions of their lives: family, work, health, education, politics, to affirm full equality between spouses in marriage, the expansion of maternity leave, the duty of the state to prevent domestic violence, the right to freely decide about their reproductive lives. Covering the heterogeneity of the category of women, rights were created for female domestic workers, rural women, black women, and women in situations of prison.
In 2002 during the second mandate of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso the State Secretariat of Women’s Rights was created with the status of a ministry, linked to the Ministry of Justice. Added to the new level of institutionality was an important measure by President Lula which in 2003 established the Special Secretariat of Women’s Policy, attached to the Presidency of the Republic, with ministerial status. It was strengthened and consolidated in the administration of President Dilma, with its own budgets and staff.
Until 2016, public policies for women were institutionalized in Brazil through various programs. In dialogue with women’s movements and actions linked to other ministries, gender equality advanced. Many conquests were formalized through the Women’s Policy Conferences and the drafting of National Plans of Women’s Policy, the National Pact for Tackling Violence Against Women, the implementation of the Central de Atendimento à Mulher (Ligue 180), the Program Mulher, viver sem violência and the creation of Casa da Mulher Brasileira, the Pro-Equity of Gender and Race Program, support for the approval and implementation of the Maria da Penha Law, the Feminicide Law, the Gender and Diversity in Schools Program, Women and Science, PNAISM aimed at women’s health, Pronatec for improving labor qualifications, and the PEC of Domestic Workers are some examples of this.
In international forums, Brazil was listened to and respected for its posture of commitment to the advance of human rights for women. Initially represented by the National Council of Women’s Rights and afterwards by the Secretariat of Women’s Policy (SPM), the country contributed examples of an institutional policy aimed at full equality and autonomy for women, in all their diversity.
During this democratic path, at the beginning of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s first mandate, CNDM was responsible for Brazil’s official delegation to the Fourth Global Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995). They returned from this with the Beijing Platform for Action, a set of compromises assumed by the country. Furthermore, they would also concern themselves with the implementation of these commitments in Strategies of Equality.
In the 2000s, the SPM continued its role in international policy, expanding the participation of the federal government in regional and international human rights forums. As a result of this process, important alliances were constructed with countries which defended the rights of women, their sexual and reproductive autonomy, and fought against inequalities of gender in all their expression, especially violence against girls and women.
For 40 years, in diverse political and economic contexts, the principles of equality and equity of women in relation to men, respect for diversity and pluralism and the affirmation of the secularism of the state, were considered pillars of public policies developed by the successive democratic governments. Pillars that were also affirmed in the international spheres where Brazil was always respected for its affirmation of human rights.
The May 2016 institutional coup against President Dilma Rousseff marked the point of inflection in this process and we came to watch the dismantling of what was constructed during these decades and the ending of a virtuous cycle of the affirmation of the human rights of women.
We, who between 1986 and 2016 exercised the positions of Minister, Secretary, or Head of agencies linked to the exercise of women’s rights, find ourselves profoundly dismayed with the thousands of lives lost in our country because of the coronavirus pandemic. Due to the serious moment of setbacks and disrespect for spaces of social control, which characterize the actions of the federal government, especially in relation to the conquests and advances of public policy for women, young people, and the elderly.
We want to raise an alert about the advance of a political agenda of morals and customs which disrespects the secularism of the state and uses religion to attack women’s human rights, won with much effort in the Constitution, governed by national legislation, contained in international treaties, conventions, and accords of which the country is a signatory, and exercised through public policies.
The current Ministry of Women, the Family, and Human Rights, acts as the “strong arm” of the so-called ideological group of this government. It imposes a fundamentalist/religious and patriarchal perspective, as well as narrow conservative view of the family, on its programs which is then transmitted to the Ministries of Health, Foreign Relations, and Education, under the orientation of the Presidency of the Republic and with the backing of the conservative groups present in the Legislature and the Judiciary.
In a concerted effort involving various ministries, the government acts nationally and internationally to deny to all women the right to interrupt pregnancy, even in the cases allowed in law, aiming to impose collective rules in the name of religious principles, which should only guide individual lives. It also hinders the functioning of services for sexual and reproductive health, also rejecting WHO advice in this sense, with serious consequences for the integral health of women and the aggravation of maternal morality during COVID-19.
The current Secretariat of Women ignores previous advances, disregards the monitoring and deliberative role of the National Council of Women’s Rights, and lacks the budgetary resources to implement public policies for women, notably in this moment of the increase of poverty, hunger, unemployment, domestic violence.
Education is also suffering from the current conservativism – the concept of gender and the confrontation of violence against women are banished from educational spheres and governmental programs, prohibiting sexual education in schools.
We would like to highlight three important laws approved by the National Congress and sanctioned by former President Lula and former President Dilma, which are now facing serious risks of being undermined by bills from the fundamentalist caucus: the Maria da Penha Law, the Feminicide Law, and the PEC of Domestic Workers.
Brazil’s posture in international forums is shameful, uniting it to countries which historically denied women’s human rights, exemplified in the leadership exercised by Brazil in the so-called Geneva Consensus, which brings together the Arab countries, as well as Hungry and Poland, with extreme right governments.
It is urgent to call the attention of women, in all of their diversity, to this project for the destruction of their rights – prejudiced, racist, homophobic, and transphobic and, for the need that it be reverted by us, from the generation which contributed to achieve these rights, and above all, by young women, so that future generations can live in a country which respects women as full citizens with rights in their educational, professional, affective, family, sexual, reproductive and political lives. So that they can live without violence or the imposition of dogmas and prejudices which impede dreams, liberties, autonomy and dignity.
Our joint path has made and with certainty will continue to make a difference. Resist and strengthen the trenches of the fight in defense of women’s rights.
São Paulo, 14 May 2021.
Jacqueline Pitanguy, head of the National Council of Women’s Rights (1986-1989)
Rosiska Darcy de Oliveira, head of the National Council of Women’s Rights (1995-1999)
Solange Bentes Jurema, head of the National Council of Women’s Rights (1999-2002)
Emília Fernandes, Minister of the Special Secretariat for Women’s Policies (2003-2004)
Iriny Lopes, Minister of Policies for Women (2011-2012)
Eleonora Menicucci, Minister of Policies for Women (2012-2015)
Nilma Lino Gomes, Minister of Women, Racial Equality and Human Rights (2015-2016)
Translated by Eoin O’Neill.