It is as widespread as a popular sport – from rural provinces to dense slums and high-wired towns. There are no real winners, only victims.
Violence against girls and women in Brazil pervades private and public landscapes across all social boundaries.
As the Latin American nation proudly wrapped up its stint as host country of the world’s biggest sporting event – the Rio 2016 Olympics – the screams of girls and women demanding game over are only beginning to get louder.
Thousands of women and girls across Brazil suffer violence at the hands of men every year, simply because of their gender. Much of this violence stems from the culture of machismo, which is deeply entrenched in many Brazilian communities. It affects the choices girls make and events that shape their future.
In a country where over 500,000 people are raped every year, yet only 10 percent of cases are reported, Girlene, 30, is a true survivor who’s standing up to the widespread violence against girls and women in Brazil.
“When I was a teenager, my mother went to live with another man,” she said. “I had enrolled in a dance course at school – I loved to dance. When I arrived home after class I went to take a shower. The shower was outside and there was no door – just a shower curtain. As I was showering, my stepfather barged in and put his hands on my mouth and forced himself on me… I was 13.”
Girlene has found hope and strength through dancing and she’s now determined to speak out about violence against women.
“Sexual violence is a serious issue in Brazil due to a lack of public policies and it stems from a lot of other issues,” she said. “In my case, my mother suffered too. She wasn’t sexually abused, but she suffered violence. If these issues are tackled through workshops and lectures, such as those run by Plan International, girls could have a different future. To all the girls and women who have suffered like I have, please, speak up! Don’t let this person get away with it. Let’s show society we don’t have to stay quiet.”
In São Paulo alone, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds. In São Luís, in the north east region of Maranhão, the situation is no different. For 17 years, Charlienne witnessed her father assault her mother on a daily basis. It deeply affected her as a child. Now she’s a mother herself and a wife. The 17-year-old is determined to have an equal relationship with her husband.
“If my husband were to beat me, I would go to my mother’s house and report him to the police,” she said. “Violence against women should not be tolerated.”
Violence for girls and women isn’t confined to households. It takes place in public places, too. Simple acts like going to school fill girls like 18-year-old Larice with fear. The teenager lives in a dangerous community in São Luís, where drugs and violence are rife. She always has to make sure her belongings are safely out of sight.
“Girls are more vulnerable in my community,” she said. “You can’t walk alone or you might get attacked like my sister did. The only place I feel safe is at school and at home.”
As part of Plan International Brazil’s Girls Leadership Project, a group of girls are following in Girlene and Charlienne’s footsteps and trying to put a stop to gender-based violence. From taking on the local government to questioning the current laws on violence, they are determined to make their voices heard.
“Girls should speak for themselves. When we see girls take on politicians and speak up for their rights, it makes a big difference,” said Luca Sinsei, Plan Brazil’s program director. “Their voice represents their lived realities and it is the first step to ensuring they can grow up in an environment where they can learn, lead, decide, and thrive.”
Authorities are making moves to combat violence against girls and women. This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the Maria de Penha Law – a landmark ruling that was in put in place with the intent of tackling domestic violence.
Kazumi Tanaka is Chief Commissioner of the Special Women’s Police Unit in Maranhão.
“Violence against women is the most common crime we have in Brazil and it’s one that needs to be tackled,” she said. “There are two reasons violence continues to take place. Women not only live in fear, but there is a deep-rooted emotional dependency, where women in Brazil feel they are not worthy without a man.
“The Maria de Penha Law is a legal landmark in the country, which has brought hope to many and provided an opportunity for women to speak out about this type of violence.”
To ensure all women across the region are able to report violence, Kazumi and her team have set up mobile units that visit rural communities across the region so women can visit workshops, learn about their rights, and report crimes.
It’s not just girls who are championing change. A group of boys from Plan Brazil’s Goals for Peace Project are getting in on the act, too.
“I want to make women realize they don’t deserve to be beaten,” said Taniel, 18, of São Luís, Brazil (right). “Together we can fight for girls’ rights. It inspires me when I see girls standing up for themselves and calling for gender equality. Girls deserve to have a voice and it makes me want to fight for girls’ rights too.”
These girls from São Luís represent a growing group of young people who are fired up and ready to change the attitudes in Brazilian society and put an end to violence.
“Violence against girls and women needs to stop,” said Maria Fernanda, 18, from São Luís. “Every day we face prejudice and we are excluded from society. It’s about time we had our turn and our voices were heard.”