Boa tarde! This issue of the WRI Women's Newsletter focuses on Latin America. Inside, you will find interviews with feminists from Brazil, Bolivia and Columbia; articles on women in Brazil's environmental movement and on street girls; and information on the continent-wide struggle against violence against women. We hope this will provide some background on women's struggles in Latin America, as preparation for the next War Resisters' International Triennial, which will be held in Sao Leopoldo, Brazil, December 10-17, this year.
Virginia Feix works as a lawyer in the human rights commission of the state assembly in Porto Alegre. It was a natural step for her, as she had been working on human rights issues--specifically, amnesty for prisoners of the dictatorship--since 1985. While the changes since then have encouraged her, "all the apparatus for oppressing the people is still there," she says. "Now, instead of repressing dissidents, the poor and blacks are repressed in the name of national security."
The 6th Feminist Encuentro (Gathering) for Latin American and Caribbean women took place in Costa del Sol, El Salvador, from October 30 to November 5, last year. Approximately 1,100 women attended the conference.
Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world. Under the military government (1964-1985), Brazil also accumulated the largest foreign debt in the world--US $121 billion. A constitutional process began in 1986, culminating in a new Constitution in 1988. Fernando Collor de Mello was elected President in 1990, the first directly-elected president since 1960.
Economy: Gross National Product per capita is $2,540 (to compare, GNP per capita in the US is $20,910). High inflation, with almost half the population living below the poverty line.
Brazil has paid a high price for the development policies that transformed it, within four decades, from one of Latin America's poorest coffee-growing countries into one of the world's ten largest economies. Brazil today is plagued by massive debt, galloping inflation, stagnant economic growth and widening disparity between the rich and the poor. For example, the richest 20 percent of the population earn over 65 percent of the national income while the poorest 20 percent earn less than 3 percent.
Brazilian women won the right to vote in 1932. Today, women represent 5 percent of the House of Deputies and .24 percent of the Senate.
Some 20 percent of Brazil's 35 million families are now headed by women. Most are poor and live with inadequate sanitation: over 90 percent of children under a year old in the Northeast live in homes with inadequate sewage systems.
Women in Brazil earn, on the average, 52 percent of what men do.
"My family's got a house and a bit of land, but I've been living on the streets since I was seven, the year after my mother died. I worked as a servant in a family house, but then a friend told me to come to the city.
"I got by in the city, picking up men, though I had to put up with them hitting me. What really makes me angry is the way that these machos beat you up all the time. It makes you want to kill them, that's why I don't live with a guy. I just sell my body to them from time to time." Katia
Adele Kirsten, Training Co-ordinator with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, has been a WRI supporter for many years. She attended the WRI women's gatherings in Glencree, Ireland and in Bangkok, Thailand. The following is an excerpt from a letter she recently wrote from her homeland, South Africa:
In June of last year, Canada granted political refugee status to an Ecuadoran women who had escaped ten years of domestic violence, including marital rape. Her husband had threatened to kill her and local police had refused protection. The Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board ruled that this constituted persecution if she returned to her home country. The board cited Canada's new immigration guidelines--the first in the world that grant asylum to women facing gender violence.
"I want to avert the end through work. Through work by healthy men. Thanks to that the ghetto exists...The Germans wouldn't keep a ghetto for women and children for very long: they won't give them food for one extra day."
(Translated from "Uruguay las Produce, Europa las Consume," by Carmen Tornaria in Mujer/Fempress, No. 120, October 1991, reprinted from Connexions, "The Global Factory", No. 44, 1994.)
Just as in the old days, today Europe is once again taking material produced in the Americas for use at home. The materials, this time, are human and the demand stems from a worldwide shortage of trained nurses.
"Death Without Weeping: Daily Life in Northeast Brazil" is the theme of the April 1994 The New Internationalist. Based on the book Death Without Weeping (600 pages, 1992, University of California Press) by anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes, the lives of slum women and their children in Brazil's poverty-stricken Northeast are shocking and moving by turns. The exploitation, by sugar cane plantations, is endless and gives rise both to desperation and resistance.
Hear My Testimony by María Teresa Tula (1994, 224 pages, $14).
What is artistic, political and, most of all, FUN, all at the same time? Comics! The last twenty years have seen an explosion of women's comics, most often in small magazines that women publish themselves. Adriana Batista and Ana Barreto of Mexico produce Esporádica, the comic magazine with the adventures of two women who face problems like rising rents or the debt crisis without ever losing their dignity or sense of humor.