Living on the Streets
"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
The Anti-Slavery Society of Britain estimates that there are over 30 million street children in Brazil alone. "Meninos da rua" (street children) in Rio de Janeiro are regularly beaten up by police, and sometimes tortured and killed, in periodic "clean up the streets" campaigns. While all the children face problems like hunger and exploitation, girls are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. It is a bitter irony that many girls run away from home in the first place in order to escape sexual abuse from male relatives. A study of child prostitution in Cochabamba, Bolivia, found that 79 percent of the girls surveyed said they became prostitutes because of economic need when they ran away from home to escape incest and rape by male relatives.
Children are organizing for their survival: again in Rio de Janeiro, several dozen children have found shelter in the Republica dos Meninos (Children's Republic), an abandoned building taken over by Paulo Faustino. Faustino bought a similar abandoned house and set up a carpentry workshop to help the older children support the house by restoring furniture.
The National Street Children's Movement began in Brazil in 1975 to defend the rights of young people living on the streets. It is now organized in 22 of Brazil's 27 states with over 3,000 volunteers. One young girl, Andrea, talked about the work she does in the movement:
"We in the street, since we don't have anyone to help us denounce these things, get together and talk. We choose a place, one of the houses of the Street Children's Movement. We go there for the Thursday meeting of the children. We talk with the educators and tell them what's been happening. We have a little newspaper, and they ask us to give them details which come out in the pages of the paper. We ourselves have demonstrations, give interviews on the radio and have debates to see if things might get a little better. But the more we debate, the more denunciations or demonstrations we make, the worse it gets. The more dangerous it becomes." (from Gilberto Dimenstein's Brazil: War on Children, Monthly Review Press, NY, US, 1991.
Women's groups like Sempre Viva provide medical, legal, emotional and educational support for girls on the streets. Based in Rio de Janeiro's south zone, the group distributes information about contraception and the girls' legal rights under Brazil's Statute of the Child and Adolescent. The girls, says one educator, have a "kind of ignorance about themselves as citizens."
Sempre Viva has helped with group housing for five teen mothers, and leads small group discussions where the girls, between the ages of ten and 18, are encouraged to share their experiences. The group's professional educators meet with the girls on the streets in their neighborhoods, providing counseling, leadership training and help with looking for work. The educators, like the girls themselves, are threatened with violence, and one team member was murdered last year. Sempre Viva wants more contact with international human rights groups, in order to speak out against the abuses experienced by street girls.
CFSS is a feminist health action group, that provides training for women and professionals. They encourage self-help and offer information and health care around contraception, abortion, pregnancy, childbirth and women's mental health. CEM is a municipal government agency that is looking at institutionalized violence around women's and children's mortality, and organizing actions against such violence.
Dr. Simone Grilo Diniz has worked with CFSS in Sao Paulo since 1985. "health institutions are strong, powerful agenst of control over women's lives." She spoke at 1991 Center for Women's Global Leadership institute on "Women, Violence and Human Rights", on the whole range of the medical system's violence against women: forced strilization, gynecological rape, compulsory motherhood, and the 'medicalization' of pregnancy and birth. In Sao Paulo, 98.5 percent of the women give birth in hospitals, but poor women frequently have to go from hospital to hospital during labor in search of a free bed. One maternal mortality survey in Sao Paulo documented a case of one pregnant women in labor going to 11 hospitals before she was admitted. Once admitted to hoispital, a woman has a 50 percent chance of undergoing a caesarian section and 15 to 40 percent chance of contracting a hospital infection. Often she is allowed no contact with the baby or with anyone she knows for hours.
Diniz says such treatment is institutionalal violence. She is developing a new epidemiology of violent death that takes into account any avoidable death of a healthy individual and in particular the death of women from avoidable complications of pregnancy, childrebirth and battery. Lack of access to safe and legal abortion would be counted as 'violent death.' "denying a woman's riht to decide whether or not not to have a child is denying her status as a human being. Humanizing ourselves is gaining the right to decide about our own bodies." The reason why reproductive rights are not considered "human rights," she said, "is because men don't reproduce." CFSS, Pav. Pe. Manoel de Nobrega, sala 13-terreo, Cep-0498, Parque Ibirapuera, Sao Paulo-S.P., Brazil
CEFEMINA, founded in 1975, is a non-profit women's organization in Costa Rica. CEFEMINA works in five major areas: violence against women, women's health, women and the legal system, housing and environmental issues. It began its work against violence agaginst women in 1984 by helping women leave violent relationships. They started self-help groups and community housing projects which are safer for women and involved women in their design and implementation. CEFEMINA, Apartado 5355, San Jose 1000, Costa Rica. Tel. 244620.
In Costa Rica one organization that works with young mothers reported that 95 percent of pregnant clients under 16 are victims of incest.
In another study of 1,388 women seeking services (not related to violence) at Costa Rica's national child welfare agency, one in two reported being physically abused.
AVESA was founded in 1984. They have three programs: sexual education and consciousness raising; sexual and reproductive health; and services for victims of sexual violence. Their first task was to raise consciousness about violence against women. Now they are conducting research into penal law related to childre abuse and teaching women's mental health. They are also working to legalize abortion, which is now permitted only if the life of the mother is in danger. AVESA, Avenida Francisco Miranda, Edfc. Hollywood 3 #88, Chacao, Caracas 1060, Venezuela.
Centro Flora Tristan is a feminist nongovernmental organization which has played an important role in raising women' sissues in Peruvian society since 1979. The Center works to develop awareness of gender conscieousness and defending women's rights. They help to strengthen women leaders so they can develop local responses to violence as well as political proposals. The women's rights project provides legal services to victims of domestic violence and rape, training workshops for women police officers, and workshops on legal rights and citizenship for women. Centro de La Mujer Peruana Flora Tristan, Pque. Hernan Velarde 42, Cuadra 2 Av. Petit Thouars, Lima 1, Peru.
CAFRA was founded in 1985 to meet the communication, information, research and solidarity needs of women's activists and organizations in the Spanish, English, Dutch and French-speaking Caribbean. They carry out regional action/research programs which are developed collectively, on issues of concern to the regional women's movement. The Women and Law Project produces popular educatrion materials on legal issues affecting women; developes training programs for organizations whose work brings them into contact with women with legal prolems; and organizes national consultations inthe region. Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, (publishes CAFRA News), P.O. Box Bag 442, Tunapuna Post Office, Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies. Tel. 809 633 8670.
Lugar de la Mujer, Corrientes 2817 Piso 5 "B", 1193 Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tel. 961 8081.
Belize Women Against Violence Movement, P.O. Box 1190, Belize City, Belize. Tel. (02) 74845; fax (02) 77236.
Center for Information and Development of Women in Bolivia, Casilla 14036, La Paz, Bolivia. Tel. 37 4961
A Violencia Domestica, Instituto de Acao Cultural, Rua Visconde de Piraja 550, sala 1404, Ipanema 22410, Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
Isis Internacional, Casilla 2067, Correo Central, Santiago, Chile. Tel. 225 3629 or 490 271.
Casa de la Mujer, Apartado 36151, Bogota, Colombia. Tel. 248 2469.
National Coordinating Committee of Salvadoran Wpmen (CONAMUS), Apartado postal 3262, Centro de Gobierno, San Salvador, El Salvador. Fax (503) 262 080.
Comite Latinoamericano para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer, Honduras (CLADEM-H), P.O. Box 3124, Tegucigalpa, d.c. Honduras. Tel. 22 0674; fax 31 7073.
Say No to Violence! Sistren Theatre Collective, 20 Kensington Crescent, Kingston 5, Jamaica.
Red Contra la Violencia Hacia las Mujeres, Xola 1454, Colonia Narvante, Deleg. Benito Juarez, C.P. 03020 Mexico, D.F., Mexico.
St. Lucia Crisis Center, P.O. 1257, Castries, St. Lucia, West Indies. Tel. (809) 31521.