SÃO PAULO – A viral social media campaign against rape and sexual harassment that spawned nationwide protests in Brazil is giving Brazil’s feminists fresh support, which they intend to use to change the way Brazil’s schoolchildren are taught women’s rights.
The surge in support was sparked by the shocking findings of a study published on 27 March by the Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) on the attitudes of Brazilians towards sexual harassment and rape.
The research found 65% of the 3,810 people surveyed agreed, partly or completely, with the statement: “Women who used clothes that show off their body deserve to be attacked.”
Tens of thousands of Brazilians immediately went online to express their shock and disgust at the findings, among them Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, who decried such attitudes and said Brazil had “a long way to go on combatting violence against women.”
The next day journalist Nana Queiroz walked out in front of Congress in the capital, Brasília, and took a picture of herself, undressed to the waist. Folded across her chest, her forearms bore a phrase which has now rung out across Brazil:
“Eu Não Mereço Ser Estuprada”
“I Don’t Deserve To Be Raped”
Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were soon awash with the slogan, emblazoned on a rapidly-growing number of “selfies” and group photos of impassioned Brazilian women – and men.
Ten of thousands of Brazilians showed their solidarity with the cause and the campaign soon saw Queiroz thrust onto TV and radio talk shows, and news sites in Brazil and across the world.
‘Outraged but empowered’
A week later, as the campaign prepared for coordinated nationwide street protests, IPEA said that it made a mistake that only 26%, not 65% agreed with the study’s most controversial statement.
But the shift in statistics was drowned out by concern that so many Brazilians still believe victims of rape are themselves to blame.
“The mistake was actually good for the campaign: women were outraged and realized they have power they never knew they had,” said Queiroz, speaking to the Anadolu Agency.
“Plus, 26% is still far too much. We’re campaigning for zero. Nobody deserves to be raped.”
Buoyed by overwhelming support online and an array of celebrities and politicians, street protests in a number of cities united feminist groups and organizations.
“This is a campaign to raise awareness,” Brasília protest organizer Georgiana Calimeris told Folha de S.Paulo newspaper. “In Brazil, we treat this like a monster in the closet; it’s still very much a taboo.”
Some 527,000 rapes or attempted rapes took place in Brazil last year, but only 10% of these were reported to police, according to official figures.
Leaders and members of the campaign have received direct threats as a result of their actions.
Undeterred, they want to focus efforts on educating the nation on women’s rights and the importance of speaking out and reporting sexual assaults.
This struggle, they suggest, begins in the classroom, and the movement has organized meetings with influential members of the Brazilian Congress this week to convince lawmakers to approve the country’s new National Education Plan and include clear messages on women’s rights.
“Our main goal is now to get the National Education Plan passed and we are pushing for schools to be made to teach pupils about women’s rights and gender issues. This should be the legacy of our campaign,” Queiroz told AA.
The new Plan – with women’s rights included – has the backing of President Rousseff’s Workers Party and should finally be up for a vote in the coming days, after being batted back and forth between deputies and senators since 2010.
Feminist organisations say that the inclusion of lessons on women’s rights and gender equality has been one of the sticking points, with religious and conservative factions fearing the introduction of gender equality will lead to enforced education on LGBT rights, which they have successfully opposed in the past.
But now is the time to get schools to play their role in ensuring children are better educated on women’s rights, said activist Sonia Coelho, from militant feminist organisation SOS.
“We’ve been fighting for many years to get this implemented into the national curriculum in schools at all levels,” Coelho told AA.
“Sexist violence is something that is learned throughout a child’s life, and schools have a fundamental social role in this, ensuring prejudices aren’t repeated.”
But although feminist organizations are enjoying increased support, they warn there is no room for complacency.
Opinions are only changing slowly and although rape is illegal in Brazil and punishable by up to 10 years in prison, convictions are uncommon, particularly in cases of marital rape, and society still often views victims as guilty for the crime committed against them.
“There is still plenty to fight for,” says Coelho.
Written for Anadolu Agency | SÃO PAULO | 8 April 2014