Brazil: Women show the way – the streets, the struggle and no going back!

We are entering a new age of struggle for women’s liberation! You only have to open a newspaper, log on to social networks, turn on the TV or go out on to the streets to witness actions, demonstrations and protests that speak about the rights of women in this unequal and unjust society. Complaints of harassment and sexism are no longer being swept under the rug – not even the Hollywood red carpet has stifled the sexism that even famous women suffer.

Since 2017, with the inauguration of Trump, the “Ni una Menos” (Not one fewer) movement and other feminist struggles, the 8th of March has gained visibility on the world stage with a renewed radicalisation that has achieved a level of international expression, including calls for strikes and stoppages. All this demonstrates that the solution to our problems transcends national borders: after all, we are speaking the “same language”. In addition to this phenomenon, the economic crisis reveals the fact that capitalism is a world system, and women are showing that one of the best ways to combat this crisis is with international action.

In Brazil, 2017 was a year marked by the largest general strike of recent times, generating a major blow to capital. It had as its catalyst and inspiration the massive and beautiful protests of the 8th of March, where thousands of women took to the streets. We were present in all the struggles against the counter-reforms and the illegitimate government of Michel Temer. By the end of 2017, when fatigue began to set in and belief in the effectiveness of protest was waning, thousands of women once again showed the way by taking to the streets against the constitutional amendment PEC 181, which would signify major setbacks in the already limited rights to legal abortions.

Austerity hits women hardest

The economic crisis, which began in 2008, has hit us working women brutally. The Folha de São Paulo headline of October 17, 2017 pointed out that “Unemployment in 2016 was higher among blacks, women and youth.” In total we are 13 million unemployed. Therefore, young black women are the biggest victims of this crisis. The level of unemployment among women at the end of 2017 was three percentage points higher than men, according to the National Survey of Households (PNAD). The only reason these numbers are not higher is because many women simply stop looking for formal jobs and make do with informal stop gaps and odd jobs.

The pension reform also works against women; it is only not yet approved thanks to the mobilisations against it. Part of the reform proposes increasing the contribution of women, ignoring the double and triple working hours that they already face, and in practice it prevents many workers from retiring with healthy and comfortable lives.

All this reveals the anti-woman dimension of the counter-reforms. With these policies – austerity and the freezing of public spending in the social sectors for 20 years – the burden of care falls squarely on the shoulders of women, while at the same time they make up the majority amongst the total number of unemployed.

The difference in total working hours of men and women also increased after the crisis hit. IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) data show that in 2005 women worked 6.9 hours more than men and in 2015 the difference grew to 7.5 hours. According to a study, in 2015 the average total working week for women was 53.6 hours compared to 46.1 hours for men. When you include unpaid activities, the proportion is shown to have remained almost unchanged for over 20 years: more than 90% of women declared that they carry out domestic activities; men, around 50%. IBGE found that in 2016 about one quarter of the working-age population were unpaid carers for other people. The percentage of women (32.4%) who cared for people was higher than that of men (21%).

Violence and killings

The impact of this crisis is also revealing the level barbarism and violence in this society. According to the Brazilian Directory on Public Security, every two hours a woman is killed in Brazil. The Violence Map, prepared by the Latin American Faculty of Social Studies, indicates that there was a 54% increase in the deaths of black women in the last decade. According to an article in Folha de São Paulo, there are ten reported cases of gang rape per day, and Brazil is still leading the world rankings in murders of trans. women.

Femicide is a national problem that has, in practice, been ignored by the Brazilian state. In Argentina more than a million women went to the streets to denounce femicide that sees one woman dying every 40 hours in that country. This movement has expanded to the whole of Latin America and is prominent in the agenda of women’s struggles.

The data show that it is no exaggeration to say that we pay with our lives for the effects of one of the greatest economic crises ever experienced. A toxic mix of unemployment and violence has been an all too common part of most women’s lives.

Women fight back

This terrible scenario is only not a complete catastrophe because of the reaction of women. Online, on the streets and in workplaces, we are witnessing resistance, complaints/reports to the police and struggles. Our task now is to unify these struggles, because together we are strong! And strong enough that, together with our comrades, we can shoulder to shoulder overcome this unequal, chauvinistic and oppressive society.

At the end of 2017, thousands of women took to the streets in less than 48 hours in all the major state capitals in Brazil in defence of our rights against legal retrogression. At the time, there was an attempt by the Temer Government to approve a bill (PEC 181) that gave a guarantee of life to the foetus, making any act of abortion, even in legal cases, to be considered as crimes. This represented a major setback. But the bill was removed from the voting procedure, thanks to the women’s movement, especially the Left Feminist Front and the Women of PSOL, who led the struggle against these attacks. But we cannot rest here; any slowing down of the momentum can result in renewed attacks.

Recently in São Paulo, a group of women from the MTST (Movement of Homeless Workers) in the Eastern Zone – one of the poorest and most populous regions of the city – occupied a building to demand the construction of shelters and centres of assistance to victims. These kind of spaces are central for the prevention and care in cases of violence against women. The women’s fight in 2018 can grow to be even bigger!

The tasks ahead include:-:

• Link up the struggle against the economic crisis and the policies of austerity with the anti-sexist struggle
• Strengthen the foundations of working class feminism;
• Build a strong national campaign against femicide;
• Strengthen the Fora Temer! (Temer Out!) battles against all counter reforms!

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