Brazilians call it the “cultura do estupro.” The phrase, which means “rape culture” in the native Portuguese, came into popular use in Brazil following the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl by up to 30 men last year.
So prevalent is this culture in Brazil that Plan International has been working with young campaigners to demand better policies and legislation that protect girls from sexual assault and other injustices.
Estimates suggest that more than 500,000 rapes occur in the country every year.
“There’s a lot of resistance when it comes to gender matters here in Brazil so there’s a need for politicians to take girls’ rights seriously,” said Flavio Debique, advocacy and child protection technical manager at Plan International Brazil.
Our campaign is in line with part of Goal 5 of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which seeks to end all forms of violence against women and girls, including sexual and other types of exploitation.
December 2016 was a landmark moment: Brazil’s National Council for the Rights of Children and Adolescents (Conanda), an agency attached to the Department of Human Rights of Brazil, approved a policy resolution on gender equality and girls’ rights.
The resolution, which has the force of law, will mean politicians across the entire federal government will have to take into account data around gender inequality when forming new policies. Debique believes it has the potential to tackle the root cause of problems like sexual violence.
The groundwork for this achievement was laid in 2013 when Plan produced an in-depth report into the conditions for girls in Brazil based on research with 1,800 girls across the country.
Then, in 2015, girls from the five regions of Brazil wrote the “Declaration of the Girls of Brazil,” and delivered it to then-President Dilma Rousseff, and two of the girls participated in the United Nations General Assembly and UN Summit in New York, where they helped shape the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
Nineteen-year-old Irlane Félix, a campaigner who participated in the assembly, said the experience was life-changing.
“I now perceive the world in a different way,” she said. “The assembly made me realize that I have rights and I can fight for them, and I’m now truly motivated to do that.”
All these activities served to raise awareness of violence against girls in Brazil and ultimately captured the attention of Conanda. As a result, in January 2016, the body approached Plan and asked it to develop a draft policy resolution to ensure gender equality was featured prominently on the government’s agenda.
The organization developed the resolution with the help of legal experts over the course of the year, and in October 2016 it was submitted to Conanda’s public policy committee.
“We didn’t just tell them this was an important resolution, we actually backed it up with evidence – stats about inequality and a report showing the lack of policies around gender,” said Debique.
“We also created strong alliances with the organizations that make up Conanda to ensure the resolution would be approved,” she added.
Ten days later, the resolution was passed.
Debique believes it could ultimately spell an end to the days of Brazil’s “cultura do estupro.”
“Rape culture has its roots in gender inequality,” he said. “So, if the government focuses more heavily on this area in its policy-making, it follows that we’ll see a reduction in this kind of violence.”