I would like to say good morning to everyone here and thank you for inviting me and allowing me to tell you a story. As a writer, my life has been about telling stories, and stories have been one of the most powerful strategies throughout human history. And because of this, over the centuries, women, especially black women or women of other ethnicities who have been marginalized, have lost the right to speak. Because stories shape the culture and stories shape the world.
My story begins with a colonized country in which indigenous women were tortured, raped, and exterminated, along with their children and the men of their ethnic groups. The violence of those who dominated them had a sexual characteristic, not only because of the cruelty or mere hatred of the female sex, but because sexual violence is one of the biggest tools of control and containment used against women as a class, because it breaks us, fragments us from the inside out, and also destroys the male notion of a “worthy woman,” pushing us to the margin.
And so it occurred in the beginning, but it occurs now in this colonized country. Indigenous women and their children are still raped by some of the new colonizers – the miners – in the northern part of the country. In the Yanomami community of Roraima, a 12-year-old indigenous girl was raped to death, while her aunt, who could do nothing, had to watch as the new colonizers threw another child who was with them into the river.
The domination of indigenous lands occurs in this colonized country, as a strategy of exploitation and extermination that has been strengthened in this chaotic, far-right, religious fundamentalist political context. To exploit the land and to exploit the women in this country is not very different. Because from them they get everything, the sustenance, the work, the new citizens, and the continuity of a colonial power that has only passed from the hands of the old colonizers to the new ones, who are currently on the agribusiness, Christian religion, and pro-violence parties in the national politics.
And in this country, other people have also been exploited since its genesis. This nation was formed from the transatlantic traffic of African people and the exploitation of black women as enslaved labor and sexual objects. At the time of slavery, sexual violence was used against black women to break their spirits and make them submissive, scared, and without any hope that they could live any other way. And this violence continues to this day, because this country, my country, has seven rapes registered every hour, and the most recurrent victims are black women. Black girls, because the legal age of the victims is 14 years old. They still want to break our spirits to maintain their domination over us and leave us without hope.
In this country, black women are also the majority of the population in situations of vulnerability, precarious jobs, suffering from food insecurity, poor access to health care, and high rates of sexual violence, femicide, and domestic violence. In addition, most single-parent families are headed by black women. In the years 2020 and 2021, during the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic, black women were the class most affected by the economic and social fallout of the pandemic in the country. But they are also among the most psychologically affected groups, as they had a higher incidence of mental disorders as a result of the pandemic scenario.
In a context in which black women have their sexual and labor capacities doubly exploited and remain mostly alone, the COVID-19 pandemic has left them even more burdened and made them even more recurrent victims of domestic violence. In addition to the difficulties already mentioned, other fundamental pillars have affected the lives of women and girls in my country. According to data from the survey conducted by the NGO Plan International, 95% of girls have been negatively affected by the health crisis. Education was the pillar that has been weakened the most, due to the difficulties of access to technology, poverty, the absence of appropriate places for studies, the acquisition of mobile data, and the need to supplement the family income. Keeping girls out of school is also a strategy of class domination.
In my country, where we have memorable voices standing up for women’s rights, we have resisted despite fear. Yes, fear. Because the rights of women in this country, Brazil, have been attacked by a conservative wave that wants to promote unimaginable setbacks in public policies for the female class. We need to know, above all, that the paradox of domination is economic, social, and psychological. After all, most of the people within the evangelical churches, a religious segment that is growing and becoming stronger in political circles, are black women. However, those who dominate these spaces and dictate not only the discourse, but also the social organization, are men, and mostly white.
The advances of these religious fundamentalists and of people pro-Bolsonaro, want to turn Brazil into a tropical version of The Handmaid’s Tale. Abortion in my country is legalized only in cases of rape and anencephaly of the fetus. Except for these cases, any woman who has an abortion in Brazil, as well as the person who performs the abortion, can be arrested. Because of this legislation, unsafe abortion is one of the biggest causes of maternal death in Brazil, with black women being the most affected. However, I am sorry to inform you that this story will get even worse before it gets better. Because with the advance of the ultra-conservative agenda, men are trying to undermine the right to abortion as provided by law, so that the practice becomes illegal in every instance. In Brazil, we have cases of girls who were raped and denied an abortion, even though the law allows it.
One of the most emblematic cases occurred this year, where a 10-year-old girl got pregnant after a rape and was taken away from her mother and kept under state custody with the permission of a judge to prevent the child from having an abortion. The case gained repercussions after an article published by The Intercept Brazil, and only after this, the girl was able to have an abortion. The judge’s illegal maneuver caused the girl to have an abortion at seven months of pregnancy, causing her extreme psychological suffering. And yet, recently an investigation was opened to try to blame the child and those who helped her… for having a legal abortion.
And besides the ultra-conservatism of the Brazilian religious right, we are also affected by those who claim to be our allies but want us to deny that the oppression of women in Brazil and the world is grounded in the materiality of our biological sex, our ethnicities, and our economic classes. Women who fight for women’s rights in Brazil are persecuted, humiliated, and lose jobs and popularity, as well as receiving death threats and also… rape threats. After all, as I said at the beginning of the story, this is one of the most used tools to break our spirits and keep us paralyzed. To keep us silent, unable to tell our own story.
However, despite threats and violence, women in Brazil continue to self-organize and fight so that our rights are not taken away and new rights can be guaranteed. As Councilwoman Marielle Franco, murdered in Rio de Janeiro in 2018, said, “We will not be interrupted“. Our story will continue to be told. And I ask this morning, that the eyes of the world be turned on Brazil, on black and indigenous women in Brazil, and on the struggle we have built.
Despite the threats from conservatives, despite the hatred of those who deny women’s sex-based rights, despite the persecution and silence, despite the government of Jair Bolsonaro, despite the extreme poverty and the maintenance of black women in the lowest places of Brazilian society, despite the very sad beginning of this story, I would just like to say for all of them that still try to destroy us: “In spite of you / Tomorrow will be another day / I will still pay to see / The garden bloom / The one you didn’t want to / You’re going to become embittered / Seeing the day break / Without asking your permission / And I’m going to die of laughter / And that day is bound to come / Sooner than you think”.
In spite of you, tomorrow will be another day.
And we, the women of Brazil, will fight until the end. Until the sun comes on.
Women of the world, join us.