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Girls challenge rape culture in Brazil

Plan International is working with young activists and policymakers to tackle sexual assault on girls in Brazil.

Young activists rally against rape culture
Young activists raise their voices at the rally against rape culture in Codó city.

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 in May last year.

So prevalent is this culture in Brazil that Plan International has been working with young campaigners to demand better policies and legislation to protect girls from sexual assault and other injustices. Estimates suggest that over 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.” says 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, which seeks to end all forms of violence against women and girls, including sexual and other types of exploitation.

Tackling the root causes of sexual violence

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.

I have rights and I can fight for them and I’m now truly motivated to do that.

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 such as sexual violence.

The groundwork for this achievement was laid in 2013 when Plan International produced an in-depth report into the conditions for girls in Brazil based on research with 1,800 girls across the country.

Youth-led action

Then, in 2015, girls from the five regions of Brazil wrote the ‘Declaration of the Girls of Brazil’ and delivered it to the then President Dilma Rousseff, and two of the girls participated in the UN General Assembly and UN Summit in New York where they helped shape the 2030 Global Goals agenda.

Irlane Félix, 19, a campaigner who participated in the assembly, says the experience was life-changing. “I now perceive the world in a different way,” she says. “The assembly made me realise that I have rights and I can fight for them and I’m now truly motivated to do that.”

Girls give out leaflets at march against rape culture
Young activists give out leaflets at a march against rape culture in Codó city.

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 International Brazil and asked it to develop a draft policy resolution to ensure gender equality featured prominently on the government’s agenda.

The organisation developed this with the help of legal experts over the course of the year and in October 2016 we submitted it 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,” says Debique.

“We also created strong alliances with the organisations who make up Conanda to ensure the resolution would be approved.”

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 says. “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.”

Find out more about our child protection work around the world.

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