Tag Archives: domestic violence

Violence Against Women: This Isn’t the World We Want

Violence against women isn’t acceptable anywhere. It hurts everyone. However, women standing up and fighting together is powerful everywhere. It inspires us.

"Violence Against Women: This Isn't the World We Want"

“Violence Against Women: This Isn’t the World We Want”

On February 1st of this year, Amanda Figueroa, a professor in the nursing program at UNIVASF in Petrolina, was followed home by her ex-boyfriend and brutally attacked in front of her six-year-old daughter. After her agressor was detained, Amanda bravely shared her story with the Petrolina/Juazeiro community via Facebook and a local blog, bringing attention to the countless cases of violence against women in our region and in Brazil. The picture shared by Amanda is horrifying; her face is so beaten that it looks unreal.

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The picture and story provoked strong reactions here in the region. One of these reactions was a rally on the UNIVASF campus, organized by the Women’s Collective. The goal of the rally was to raise awareness of Amanda’s experience and to protest against violence against women as well as the machismo that still exists in Brazilian, and particularly Northeast, culture. The speeches and songs at the rally also touched on the deeper issues of the unjust political and economic systems that bring about inequality.

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The rally was in many ways familiar to us–group songs and chants (see below), a march through the campus, protest signs, and a theatrical presentation to illustrate the ways in which women are still oppressed in our society. Yet the Women’s Collective gave the event a particularly Northeast flavor. One of the songs we sang has its roots in a traditional Northeast folk song that emphasizes the domestic role of women, except the version we sang turned that song into a call to “leave the kitchen and come to the street to fight.”  At the end of the rally, we gathered together to sing and dance a cirandar, another classic folkloric tradition, where people hold hands circling clockwise in rhythmic step– a symbolic unifying act made more beautiful by historic roots.

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This was our first Women’s Collective event, and it inspired us as we enter our second (Chelsea) and third (Cara) years of Northeast life. Society in general places an unnatural value on women’s looks, but it seems especially prevalent here in Brazil, a country that is famed for its beautiful women. This stereotype clearly plays out in the psyche of women here, as makeup, high heels, hair-straightening, and other alterations to natural appearance are ubiquitous. It was so refreshing to be part of a group of beautiful women who define that beauty on their own terms. It’s inspiring to see that progressive movements are gaining strength even in interior Northeast Brazilian cities–from rallies like this one to a gay pride parade that we attended last year.

International Women’s Day (March 8), which goes virtually unacknowledged in the U.S., is a big deal in Brazil. Women are congratulated for their contributions and varied roles in society, and encouraged to continue the struggle for gender equality. The women’s collective is planning another, grander event this year with an emphasis on domestic violence awareness and women’s liberation (details to follow).

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Mulher não foi feita pra serviço de cozinha
Salsa, cebola, batata e cebolinha
Mulher não foi feita pra levar nenhuma tapinha
No braço, na cara, nem bundinha!
Women were not made for kitchen service
Salsa, onions, potatoes and scallions
Women were not made to be hit
On her arms, face, or her butt
A nossa luta é todo dia
Somos mulheres e não mercadoria!
A nossa luta é por respeito
Mulher não é só bunda e peito!
Our fight is every day
We are women and not material goods
Our fight is for respect
Women are not just ass and tits
A violência contra mulher
Não é o mundo que a gente quer!
Violence against women
This isn’t the world we want!
Olê mulher rendeira
Olê mulher rendá
Sai do pé desse fogão
Vem prá rua, vem lutar
Ole, lacemaker woman
Ole, woman who makes lace
Leave your place at the stove
Come to the street, come to fight

If you know anyone who has suffered domestic violence in the Petrolina/Juazeiro region, contact the Secretaria da Mulher (3867-3516), the Centro de Referência de Atendimento à Mulher – CRAM (3861-4620).

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Domestic Violence and the Women’s Commission in Pernambuco, Brazil

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The Government of the state of Pernambuco where I live has a special Secretaria da Mulher, a Women’s Comission.  At the invitation of the marvelous Dr. Rossana, Professor of Portuguese at the UPE where Chelsea works,* I gave a talk about Domestic Violence and Gender Issues in the US to Brazilian social workers, police officers and other socially-minded Pernambucans as part of a certification program run by the state.  Thanks to my training with Kim Frendak, Community Educator from the Women´s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence and my life-changing Women’s Studies course with Professor Elizabeth Hackett, I was ready for their challenging questions.

For instance, I was asked what I saw as the biggest barrier to women’s advancement here in Petrolina.  Due to my mother’s lead-by-example feminism and Agnes Scott’s all women’s education, I had already thought deeply about the question: the constant and nearly exclusive focus on women’s physical appearance (as opposed to anything else that humans value in their “equals,” such as intelligence, creativity, etc.).

Instead of fomenting feminist revolution, women here from a very young age spend vast amounts of time and money in the name of achieving a white, eurocentric, capitalistic beauty ideal.   One obvious  example is that due to the mysogenation of races, 80 % of Brazilian women have some sort of curl pattern in their hair, yet I would estimate that 70% of that population use chemical straighteners, pass countless hours applying expensive products and damaging heat to their hair, and a good majority dye their dark hair with blonde highlights.   The pervasive ideas of good hair–straight, and fine– vs bad hair—tight curls—reinforces the intersectionality of oppression, the fact that race and gender are very intertwined.  The white hair ideal pumps women’s bodies with chemicals, discourages them from engaging in phyical activity since sweat reverses the chemical proccess, and has other damaging effects.

Flat-ironing and dying your hair may seem far removed from Domestic Violence,  but these issues are all connected; everything that belittles women, that puts them below their male counterparts and devalues their thoughts, their bodies and their self-worth, contributes to a climate of oppression that is responsible for violence.

It was refreshing to be around a group of feminists.  It felt like home.  I am constantly reminded that mysogeny (the hatred of women) is an international problem that cripples the advancement of the world.  But on days like this I am also reminded of the powerful desire of most women and a few good men to change things and I fill with hope basking in the presence of an international sisterhood.

*Correction, 4/12/12: We mistakenly identified Professora Rossana as the Coordinator of Portuguese at UPE. The Coordinator is Professora Maria Aparecida Ventura Brandão. Our apologies!

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