From where I stand: “We are the solution in Brazil, not the problem”
Valdecir Nascimento has been part of the women’s rights movement in Brazil for 40 years. When asked what inspired her, she said, “being a black woman in Brazil”.
Right now, there is a lot of aggression in the daily lives of black women in Brazil—in public spaces, in banks, hospitals, everywhere. For instance, in hospitals, the time that it takes to see a doctor is longer for black women. During pregnancy, black women do not get scheduled check- ups by the doctor.
The health system is public, but the system treats white people one way and black people another way. Maternal mortality rate varies depending on the regions. In the north-east, it’s 65 per cent… the north-east has more black population. Sexual and reproductive health services don’t reach black women. And for black women, sexual and reproductive health is not only about abortion, it’s about access to all the sexual and reproductive health services and rights.
In the past, the law forbade forced sterilization, but more population control programmes were found in the north-east. There were big movements against this sterilization of black women. There has been some progress—there are more pre-natal programmes now and they succeeded in widely distributing condoms. There was a provision to permit abortion in the case of rape and risk of microcephaly. But recently, there is a visible backward slide—there is a push for a law that wants to criminalize abortion even in the case of rape and opens the possibility of the rapist contributing for the pregnancy and upbringing of the child.
Black women from Brazil have never stopped fighting. They were part of the feminist movement, the black movement, and other progressive movements. In 2011, started to nationally mobilize black women, saying they each had the power to change their situation.
Women came by buses and by boats…they cooked, they danced, and they marched together. It was beautiful! Some 70,000 women came to Brasilia for the march. We stopped the capital.
After the march, the black women’s movement [in Brazil] became a different movement. For black women, it was an affirmation of their strength. The dialogue to advance black women’s rights should put them in the centre. We don’t want others to speak for black feminists—neither white feminists nor black men.
It’s necessary for young black women to take on this fight. We are the solution in Brazil, not the problem.”
Valdecir Nascimento, 59, is a prominent women’s rights advocate in Brazil and the Executive Coordinator of ODARA–Instituto da Mulher Negra (Black Women´s Institute), based in Salvador, Brazil. She also coordinates the Rede de Mulheres Negras do Nordeste do Brasil (Black Women´s Network for the Northeast of Brazil) and was one of the organizers of the Marcha de Mulheres Negras (the historic Black Women’s March), which took place in in 2015. During the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, Nascimento spoke to UN Women about the black women’s movement in Brazil and the mounting infringement of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.