Tag Archives brazil

Brazilian democracy – an aberration or a challenge?

Brazilian democracy – an aberration or a challenge?

The invasion of government offices in Brasília on 8 January by mobs of protestors and vandals forces us to revisit a fundamental question: is Brazil’s relatively recent move to democracy ...

COVID-19 and Conflict | COVID-19 in the Brazilian Amazon: forging solidarity bonds against devastation

COVID-19 and Conflict | COVID-19 in the Brazilian Amazon: forging solidarity bonds against devastation

The indigenous populations in the Amazon are putting up a commendable fight against the Brazilian government’s lack of adequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are fighting an epic battle, ...

COVID-19 and Conflict | Pandemic responses in Brazil’s favelas and beyond: making the invisible visible

The inaction of the Brazilian government during the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed some members of Brazilian society into an even more vulnerable position. Yet many of these groups seem to know what they need to do to fight the virus. Here, we highlight the capacity of some domestic workers and residents of favelas to organize both quickly and innovatively during the pandemic. Importantly, we show that favelas can be a site for empowering transformation, rather than just a place of misfortune.

“I watched a report on the TV. They were interviewing an upper-middle class family about the lockdown. But the domestic worker could be seen in the background, working. “Oh, this family is isolated”. But what about that worker back there? Isn’t she someone?” (Cleide Pinto, from FENATRAD, domestic workers union).

Sharing videos of life in quarantine has become a commonplace during the pandemic in Brazil. Television personalities have provided a glimpse of their lives at home, showing what it has been like for them to be in quarantine. Yet, staying home in Brazil is a privilege and not possible for more than 50 million Brazilians[i]. Although a large part of the population is dependent on informal jobs and must continue to leave their houses every day, they are virtually invisible—to most.

This scenario is just another reflection of the abysmal inequality where the richest 10% hold 41.9% of the country’s total income[ii]. In the labour market—where around 36% of employed people work under informal conditions—domestic workers number approximately 7 million[iii]. Despite these numbers, their jobs remain precarious—domestic work was finally recognized as formal work in 2015[1], but most of domestic workers still do not have formal contracts.

To aggravate this state of affairs, during the pandemic domestic work was declared an ‘essential service’ in several states of Brazil[2], forcing a large number of women to continue working and having to risk being infected whilst taking public transport or whilst toiling in the households of the elites. In cases where employers allowed them not to work for their own safety, many were also not paid or feared losing their jobs.

Crowded BRT by the reopening of commerce in Rio de Janeiro during the pandemic, on June 9th, 2020. Image: Yan Marcelo / @ yanzitx. Authorized by authors.

However, Brazilian civil society was organized and often vocal, playing an active and central role in the fight against COVID-19[3]. Collaborative initiatives based in solidarity emerged in various settings to provide temporary support for those in need. Civil society used existing networks and infrastructure of support, but was also innovative in its actions, forging new and strengthening existing solidarity networks. The trigger was the knowledge that the state was not going to see them, nor take care of them. On top of that, many of these workers, including domestic workers, live in communities with poor socioeconomic conditions, often known as favelas (informal settlements).

As a response to the pandemic, the national association of domestic workers (FENATRAD) organized national campaigns, such as the Cuida de quem te cuida (‘care for those who care’)[iv] to pressure public institutions not to consider domestic work as essential during the pandemic and to encourage employers to put workers on paid leave. FENATRAD published videos on social networks to raise awareness and promote other forms of support, such as gaining access to the online platform for the federal government’s emergency fund. Such organization played a crucial role in informing workers about their rights, particularly how to protect themselves.

Leaders from within the favelas took charge, organizing online fundraising campaigns and the distribution of primary goods. The Favela of Paraisópolis, situated next to a rich neighbourhood in São Paulo, made it to the Dutch news as an example of a community that managed to fight COVID-19 using its own means. Vital to this success has been a partnership with the network ‘G10 das Favelas’[v], an organization that supports entrepreneurship within different communities across the country. Their lemma is based on the idea of favelas as a place for empowering transformation rather than a place of misfortune, according to Gilson Rodrigues, a community leader in Paraisópolis.

Through the partnership, civil society created the idea of ‘presidents of the street’, employing 542 volunteers as ‘street presidents’ responsible for distributing food and hygiene products in their allocated areas. A further deficiency in social assistance is that of SAMU, public service for ambulance urgencies, as noted below:

“SAMU does not get to Paraisópolis. It did not do so even before the pandemic, even less so now” (Gilson Rodrigues).

As many public services were not available, they trained 240 first aid brigades within the community, hired private ambulances and medical staff, and organized information campaigns on hygiene procedures and on how to recognize symptoms of the disease.

Two schools in the neighbourhood were transformed into centres to host those who tested positive for the virus, allowing them to be in isolation, with food, a TV room, and a proper space in which to recover. To support domestic workers of the community, they created the program ‘Adote uma diarista’ (‘adopt a domestic worker’), providing financial resources, hygiene material, and/or food for more than one thousand informal workers.

These examples show an exceptional response from civil society in Paraisópolis[4]. However, not all favelas have the same level of organization. Although these initiatives temporarily alleviated the burden of the pandemic for the people in these communities, they do not offer structural solutions for their situation. Domestic workers unexpectedly became frontline workers. An optimistic future would be to imagine that these initiatives would result in greater recognition of domestic work and greater empowerment and rights for the people in these communities. However, with the present political scenario, this future is hard to imagine.

[1] http://g1.globo.com/politica/noticia/2015/06/dilma-assina-regulamentacao-dos-direitos-das-domesticas-diz-planalto.html

[2] Governments of the states of Pará, Maranhão, Rio Grande do Sul and Ceará are among some of the states in which domestic work was declared as essential during the pandemic.

[3] This is the second out of three posts to be published on Bliss presenting the main findings of the research work about COVID-19 in Brazil for the project ‘When Disaster Meets Conflict’. We performed desk research and a qualitative comparative analysis of in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted with members of three civil society groups in Brazil: residents of favelas (informal settlements), domestic workers, and indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Interviews took place in July 2020, at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in Brazil.

[4] For more info, please see: https://g1.globo.com/sp/sao-paulo/noticia/2020/04/07/paraisopolis-se-une-contra-o-coronavirus-contrata-ambulancias-medicos-e-distribui-mais-de-mil-marmitas-por-dia.ghtml and https://newsus.cgtn.com/news/2020-04-19/Favela-fights-coronavirus-PNzcVTweKk/index.html

[i] IBGE – Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística. Síntese de Indicadores Sociais 2017.

[ii] https://cee.fiocruz.br/?q=node/1090

[iii] According to FENATRAD.

[iv] The campaign Cuida de quem te cuida (Care for those who take care of you) is an attempt to pressure the Public Ministry to forbid states from filing decrees declaring domestic work as essential work. Despite the campaign, the decrees continued to happen and with the reopening of the economy, it became even hard to implement a monitoring system that would guarantee a safe work condition for these women.

[v] http://www.g10favelas.org

About the authors:

Fiorella Macchiavello is an economist and holds an MA degree in Urban and Regional Development from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Brazil. Currently, she is a PhD researcher in the third year of a Joint Degree between the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam and UnB, University of Brasilia, Brazil.

Renata Cavalcanti Muniz is a full time PhD researcher at ISS in the last year of her research. Her PhD research was funded by CNPQ-Brasil, and she is part of two research groups at ISS, DEC and CI.

Lee Pegler

Lee Pegler spent his early career working as an economist with the Australian Labour Movement. More recent times have seen him researching the labour implications of “new” management strategies of TNCs in Brazil/ Latin America. This interest expanded to a focus on the implications of value chain insertion on labour, both for formal and informal workers. Trained as an economist and sociologist (PhD – LSE), he currently works as Assistant Professor (Work, Organisation and Labour Rights) at the ISS.

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COVID-19 and Conflict | The state’s failure to respond to COVID-19 in Brazil: an intentional disaster

COVID-19 and Conflict | The state’s failure to respond to COVID-19 in Brazil: an intentional disaster

The COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil stretches beyond the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The inaction of the government over the past year to counter the effects of the pandemic has ...

Contesting the Amazon as an ‘Open Space for Development’ by Lee Pegler and Julienne Andrade Widmarck

Contesting the Amazon as an ‘Open Space for Development’ by Lee Pegler and Julienne Andrade Widmarck

The use of land for soya cultivation in the Brazilian Amazon has led to compelling debates on the sustainability of the movement of products globally through global value chains (GVC) ...

Urban heteronormativity and the queer city in Brasília, Brazil by Juliana Grangeiro

Brazil leads the numbers when it comes to LGBTQ+ death rates. Stories of prejudice against LGBTQ+ persons dominate newspapers and social media daily. But what about Brazilians building local social spaces of resistance and joy? Looking at the urban context of Brasília for my MA research, I talked to its residents to discover how spaces for inclusivity and innovation enriching queer lives are created and experienced.

In a country where hate speech and homophobic/transphobic crimes are on the rise, queer lives are constantly threatened. Often, LGBTQ+ youth in cities find public space to be the liberating environment they are denied in their family’s house. But in 2017, every 19 hours one LGBTQ+ person died in Brazil, 56% of them in public spaces and 6% in privately owned establishments.

The right to walk about freely in the city, to gather, and to perform multiple genders and sexualities (according to Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity) are often denied. But in the urban context of a highly planned city, Brasília, a segment of inhabitants are challenging the heterosexist tools of urban planning and the homophobic society.

Brasília: the reach for development

Designed and built during the 1950s, Brasília represents the country’s shift from agriculture to an industrial economy. Its modern architecture and planning were made to represent (economic) progress. Under this premise, an egalitarian city was built for an unequal society, producing dichotomies that are still deeply rooted. Poverty was made invisible through structured geography and anyone beyond the white middle-upper class spectrum was further marginalised.


Figure 1 – Brasília Esplanade with its National Museum, National Congress and Ministries

Why Brasília?

In a highly-planned context such as Brasília, state regulation is extensive; the city has a strong law enforcement unit focusing on noise made at night. Since 2008, with the popularly known “Silent Law”, dozens of restaurants, bars and clubs have been fined or closed due to “noise pollution”. The right to party and to gather as one form of our civic freedom is often denied and culture is easily framed as the enemy to life quality. In this highly regulated context, I investigated how non-normative lives and transgressive bodies were occupying places they were usually denied while also changing the social cityscape.

Having lived in Brasília for seven years, I witnessed initiatives led by its inhabitants to reclaim the city. Counterbalancing its large avenues, monumental scale and cars, people are following global city trends and re-signifying the city’s spaces. I went back to the concept of the right to the city by David Harvey to see how people “are changing their lives by changing the city”. I also saw the nuances within the different identities within the movement, focusing especially on class and gender within the queer community.

The homonormative, classicist, and misogynist city X the queer city

Among most of the research participants there is a consensus: producers and organisers are building diverse spaces. They want to move post-identity politics beyond and within the movement. According to interviewed producers, they have never claimed to be LGBTQ+ exclusive. They attracted diverse sexualities and genders by making sure to use an inclusive neutral language and equal prices.

Most of them are escaping what they called the “GGG movement” (the gay upper-class white man). Nonetheless, social segregation is also reflected within the LGBTQ+ community. For those coming from the outskirts and having a lower social economic background, challenges are still multiple. First, they have further infrastructural challenges to reach the central Queer spaces and have fewer options in their neighbourhoods. While some might find it safer to go out in the city centre in order to avoid meeting family members, they must save money to afford such a luxury. Meanwhile, they also face further social stigma coming from those of the upper social class.

Challenges are also constant for women. In the gendered urban experience, they are systematically targeted.  One of the research participants evidenced how, after two years of constant persecution, she closed her venue facing multiple charges on noise pollution and fees of thousands of euros in a process filled with misogyny and lesbophobia. Another (cis female lesbian) participant faces the backlash of trying to change a historically heteronormative venue into a more diverse one – having a place that isn’t queer enough for the LGBTQ+ community and not heterosexual enough for normative sexualities, leading to the loss of customers. Finally, a third participant shows how, being a trans artist woman, she needs to “put herself out there three times more” to have her work recognised when compared to male cisgender colleagues.

Nonetheless, the stories of those people and their initiatives aim to change their lives by changing the city. Relationships between people in marginalised social groups are reflected in the physical realm – in the landscape, on walls, in party settings. As you walk, pass by or occupy spaces, you change the space; you create shared feelings of belonging and/or community.

Most of them are doing this actively, either by assigning new meanings to abandoned underground tunnels or forgotten buildings and neighbourhoods, or by actively showing their affections in public. Others promote queer identities within the academic environment by promoting and building voguing communities and bringing back the ball culture, such as House of Caliandra.


Figure 2 – Group of friends walking towards one of the Carnival’s LGBTQI+ parties

Through the research we could see that spaces previously neglected or overlooked are now transformed and queered by those non-normative bodies, sexualities, and genders. Planning and space heteronormativity are contested daily, either by their lonely bodies navigating through the city or their power when walking in groups (especially during Carnival).

Meanwhile, Brasiília’s queer scene seems to be evolving slowly from the gay white patriarchy. Beyond the urban heteronormativity, those that do not qualify under homonormativity might still face segregation in those spaces. The strong incipient movement led by women, trans, and non-binary genders still has room to grow and truly queer the city and its bodies.

Juliana picAbout the author:

Juliana Grangeiro is a graduate student of ISS and a Brazilian activist towards LGBTQ+ rights. At ISS, she co-founded the Sexual Diversity Committee and volunteered at COC Haaglanden. In Brazil, Juliana has worked in international cooperation towards climate change mitigation and educational projects at USAID, UNDP and Nuffic.

The effect of Bolsonaro’s rhetoric on Brazil’s indigenous peoples by Dorothea Hilhorst

The effect of Bolsonaro’s rhetoric on Brazil’s indigenous peoples by Dorothea Hilhorst

Newly elected Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has immediately started making work of his animosity towards indigenous peoples by transferring the mandate to deal with indigenous land issues to the Ministry ...

The revival of Brazil’s cacao sector: is anything really changing?  by Lee Pegler and Luiza Teixeira

The revival of Brazil’s cacao sector: is anything really changing? by Lee Pegler and Luiza Teixeira

Bouncing back from a devastating crop disease (vassoura de bruxa), Brazilian cacao producers are showing a different face. Many of the old plantations have been ‘taken over’ by younger family ...

‘EleNão!’ ‘NotHim!’ Women’s resistance to ‘the Brazilian Donald Trump’ by Marina Graciolli de Paiva

The run-up to the Brazilian presidential election to be held on 7 October reminds spectators of the coming to power of Donald Trump two years ago. Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing politician, is running for the election, and while many are cheering him on, others are watching aghast as he heads the polls. In this article, Marina Graciolli de Paiva looks at the implications of the election of Bolsonaro and shows how the Brazilian women’s resistance movement is countering the rise of a fascist government.

Leading in the polls

The upcoming Brazilian presidential election is interesting for several reasons. Being in prison, former Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva cannot run as a presidential candidate. When Fernando Haddad was appointed as his replacement, he proved less popular than expected, and now polls show that nationally, only 16% of Brazilians support him as candidate. Alarmingly, far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro now leads the polls at 28%. Seven other presidential candidates share the remaining remaining 56% of votes in the polls.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, spent 27 unproductive years in the Brazilian Congress before becoming Social Liberal Party presidential candidate in 2018. Known as the ‘Brazilian Donald Trump’, his political career has been fuelled by social media. Even centrists are worried by far-right sentiments in the country. Although Bolsonaro is unlikely to beat a left-wing or WP (Workers’ Party—Partido dos Trabalhadores) candidate in the second round of Presidential elections, many middle- and upper-class voters, who blame Lula and the WP for Brazil’s problems, could ‘carry Bolsonaro in their arms’. The situation remains worrying as his coming to power threatens to shake the liberal foundations laid in the country over the past years, when the politician questions democratic rules, encourages violence, denies the legitimacy of his opponents and shows a willingness to restrict civil liberties.

Why worry about Bolsonaro?

Bolsonaro is an evangelical Catholic, known for his offensive and violent remarks towards almost everyone. His targets include descendants of African slaves, indigenous people, women, and LGBTQI groups, as well as the poor. The Federal Senate (2018) estimates that a woman is raped every 11 minutes in Brazil. Yet Bolsonaro says he will reverse femicide legislation if he is elected. He claims he would rather his son died than be a homosexual. To television cameras, he told one congresswoman that he would never rape her, as she was far too ugly (NY Times, 2018).

As a consequence of such shocking statements, Bolsonaro is often called a fascist. German International Relations teacher at PUC-Rio, Kai Michael Kenkel is worried:

When you live with well-developed antennae for the rebirth of intolerance and fascism, the alarm could not sound more clear than in the case of this man and his supporters. Just replace LGBT, black and woman for “Jew”, and we are clearly in 1933… concentration camps also began with words.

Not happy to confine his comments only to homosexuals, racial minorities and women, Bolsonaro defends forced sterilisation of the poor. He favours the death penalty, and like Trump, he hardly believes that public education or social protection can help economic growth. Instead, he favours deregulation and letting large capital run the show. There is much more: he has mocked torture victims, wants to end land rights for indigenous Brazilians, and claims Afro-Brazilians are ‘lazy’.

Why is this happening?

 What is causing this rise of the Brazilian far-right? Bolsonaro’s main supporters are men coming from a higher social class and schooled backgrounds. Since 2014, another factor has been Lava-Jato (carwash). This became the biggest anti-corruption drive in Brazilian history. Yet it exclusively targets the Workers Party of the Left. As a result, right-wing parties have emerged and now exploit Brazilians’ growing distrust of state institutions. The right promises radical and ‘moral’ solutions for the growing economic and political crisis in the country. From a fight against corruption, this has become a crusade for reaction.

Bolsonaro’s supporters demand changes; they share a few broad ideals: fighting corruption, supporting the military, shrinking government, deregulation, Christian ‘family values’, the right to bear arms; hatred of the left, especially the Workers Party. Among Bolsonaro’s voters, 87% have stated that they place greater trust in the military than in democratic government. They oppose sex education in schools, women and minority rights. Unfortunately, such ideas emerge among the least empowered and represented as well as among powerful elites.

#EleNão #NotHim

Brazilians and friends living in different part of the Netherlands got together at the Hofplaats in The Hague last Saturday, 29th of September, to manifest their repudiation against the presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Marina Graciolli de Paiva

Interestingly, Bolsonaro is ‘rejected by 49% of female voters’. Only 17%’ of women support him. Not surprisingly, therefore, the resistance movement against Bolsonaro’s ‘fascist’ views started with Brazilian women. On August 2018, the resistance movement was launched, and now includes other social groups (LGBTQI), also artists, journalists, academics and more. The movement uses the popular social media hashtag #EleNão (#nothim). Resisting his explosive mix of machismo, misogyny, racism, homophobia and anti-poor rhetoric, and other types of discrimination, the movement brings opposition by refusing to use the politician’s name. Instead they refer only to ‘Ele’ (Him).

A Facebook group ‘Women united against Bolsonaro’ reached more than 3 million followers in a month. The main idea is to oppose the candidate and to raise voices against intolerance and anti-democracy movements. The group, as its administrators’ rules, is only for posts against the candidate and NOT to post in favour of any other politician. This movement of resistance is a significant step in the growing polarisation. People from the movement have constantly mentioned that this is not only a matter of politics, but it is a matter of moral values and rights. On 29 September 2018 the movement called for marches all over Brazil and internationally, in defence of democracy, tolerance and against the candidate, it gathered thousands of people across the country in more than 30 cities. Although polls show ‘him’ in the lead, studies suggest that the poorest people in Brazil are often the last to decide how to vote. Since the majority of the country’s poorest people are black women, this could be grounds for optimism. Poor women in general will determine the fate of Bolsonaro.

As social justice advocate, and part of the women’s movement, I am cognisant thereof that words by themselves are not just rhetoric, but also action, both for ‘him’ and in the hands of people that resist ‘him’, is necessary. We should be alarmed. In my opinion, to vote for Bolsonaro is to vote for impoverishing Brazil and violating the rights of those frustrated and impoverished Brazilians who may ironically be tempted to vote for ‘him’. The hard-earned democratic political system of Brazil is certainly under threat, as the women’s movement understands.

With all the differences, we have chosen freedom from oppression. We have chosen respect for prejudice. We have chosen equality against racism. We have chosen the diversity of many against the hegemony of one. We have chosen peace against violence’ (Eliane Brum, 2018).

Profile picture copyAbout the author: 

Marina Graciolli de Paiva, former Wim Deetman Scholarship holder, is a Brazilian activist in peace and justice. A graduate of the ISS, she specialised in Conflict and Peace Studies. After graduating Marina worked for GPPAC (Global Partnership for Prevention of Armed Conflict) in knowledge-sharing, peace-building and conflict prevention. In Brazil, Marina worked in CEEB, a small NGO providing educational opportunities for disadvantaged children.

Emancipatory education in practice: perspectives from Rio de Janeiro’s favelas  by Veriene Melo

Emancipatory education in practice: perspectives from Rio de Janeiro’s favelas by Veriene Melo

Emancipatory education is a platform to humanise and redefine the educational process in liberatory terms. Linking theory and practice from this lens can help us explore the role of education ...

Resistance and persecution: fighting the politics of control by Salena Tramel

Resistance and persecution: fighting the politics of control by Salena Tramel

Social justice movements from around the world are pushing back against a shift toward nationalism, extraction and environmental destruction. Those who resist increasingly do so at risk of great personal ...