According to research published in A Country Called Favela by Renato Meirelles and Celso Athayde, favelas across Brazil house around six million women. Around 40% of homes in favelas are supported financially by women, who are responsible for earning USD$8.2 billion (R$24 billion) of the resources entering these communities. Most women who live in favelas are Afro-descendant, married and have kids. The study also reveals that 66% of favela women do not want to move away from their community.
In honor of International Women’s Day and the six million women who live in favelas across the country, RioOnWatch has compiled stories of female community leaders whose important work on behalf of their communities we have featured in the past.
Cíntia Luna – Fogueteiro, Santa Teresa, Central Rio
Cíntia Luna is president of Fogueteiro’s United of Santa Teresa Neighborhood Association (AMUST) and has led the development of the association over the past eight years. A long term resident of Fogueteiro, one of the favelas in Santa Teresa in central Rio de Janeiro, Cíntia grew up in the community and remembers her childhood when development began in the area. She goes beyond her duties to help her community: most recently, she welcomed a sewing class into her home after the project EcoModa was evicted from its adapted classroom in Quadra do Fogueteiro. She is also a big part of conflict resolution in her community.
“I like to help when it is necessary, maybe that’s it,” she said in her interview with RioOnWatch. “It’s difficult because at times we don’t have any financial motivation, but I’ve got the impetus to help people.”
Neuza Nascimento – Parque Jardim Beira Mar, Parada de Lucas, North Zone
Known for years of drug wars with neighboring Vigário Geral, Parada de Lucas had no alternative activities for its children until Neuza Nascimento, a mother and book-lover, at the time working as a housecleaner, decided to take her son and some friends on a field trip one weekend to tease them away from the baile funk. That small act sparked Neuza on a new path—one of guaranteeing that children in her community would have a different relationship with the world than that which was “written for them.” She set off to found the Integrated Center in Support of Community Children and Teens (CIACAC).
“[These last ten years I have learned] that wishing and thinking are not enough,” she told RioOnWatch in an interview. “It is necessary to take action.”
Iara Oliveira – City of God, West Zone
Cidade de Deus, Rio’s most well-known West Zone favela, was made (in)famous thanks to the book and international blockbuster by the same name, City of God. The community today is occupied by a Pacifying Policy Unit (UPP). Iara Oliveira is a teacher and political activist. She is the coordinator of Alfazendo, a community-based organization that focuses on literacy for community residents of all ages. The NGO also serves as an advocacy organization and provides general educational opportunities and enrichment for the community. Mostly self-educated, Iara has built her career as a teacher and political activist for over 30 years and has seen Rio de Janeiro and the community evolve dramatically. She is undeniably passionate about her community, and dedicated to improving the lives of the people who live there.
“I don’t believe in success, I think success is only a word,” she said, when asked in an interview what her greatest success is. “I believe in collective work. I’m not a person who is in this world to try to be a success; I am here to leave something for people. I am very…collaborative. Everything with me is collaborative, so I’m not searching for success exactly, I’m looking for a better life for me, for the people in my life, and for the people who are from where I am from. So, my greatest success, I think, is not to need or want to have success.”
Regina Tchelly – Babilônia, South Zone
In the Babilônia Residents’ Association building in the pacified community overlooking Leme, Regina Tchelly and her team serve up a range of gourmet dishes made with ingredients commonly regarded as trash. The full vegetarian feijoada with watercress root farofa, watermelon peel risotto and pumpkin peel dessert may sound like unreasonably experimental cooking, but in fact combine for delicious, satisfying dishes that maximize the nutritious and economical value of the ingredients. Tchelly founded Favela Orgânica with USD$50 (R$140) out of her home in Babilonia.
She said: “The idea is that people with low incomes and high incomes alike learn how to use all the food they bring to their homes and produce delicious meals like we’re serving today. It’s low cost, healthier and more economical in the home.” Regina’s work is featured in the film Favela as a Sustainable Model.
Mothers, sisters and wives of young victims of police violence across Rio’s favelas
With a rising number of teenage homicides in Brazil and a worrying human rights crisis recently reported by Amnesty International, it is no wonder that mothers, sisters and wives of victims of police violence in favelas have started mobilizing against the militarization of the police and asking for justice for those who are killed by authorities. The murder of 26-year-old dancer DG in Pavão-Pavãozinho, the assassination of Jonatha de Oliveira Silva, 19 in Manguinhos, the disappearance of Amarildo in Rocinha and many other violations have led women like Jonatha’s mother Ana Paula Oliveira into activism.
In a protest last September, Ana Paula said: “I am here today to ask for justice because my biggest desire is that this violence end. We see this all the time, young people dying in the community, with no right to come and go in the place where they were born and raised. People don’t have freedom.”
Jane Nascimento – Vila Autódromo, West Zone
Jane has been resisting eviction in Vila Autódromo since 1992 and continues to be a constant in a community that is being threatened with removal because of the Olympics. Although the building of the Media Center and the Olympic Training Center has been moved to the Port Zone, the City has found new reasons to force Vila Autódromo out. Jane, however, sees through these excuses.
“Now they have created a [new argument, that a] ‘security perimeter’ [is needed] around the racetrack, which the residents will be unable to cross during the games,” she told RioOnWatch in 2011. “There has never been an assault on race days at the track. (…) They want to confuse people, have them think that the issue has already been resolved, and stop complaining. I’m not going to rest, I’ll continue until I die.”
Bárbara Nascimento – Vidigal, South Zone
Bárbara Nascimento was born and raised in Vidigal. She is a Portuguese and literature teacher in a public state school and is gathering information about her community so as to preserve it. In her view, the occupation of Vidigal by the middle class and foreigners will create an exodus and destroy the identity of the favela. As an activist and scholar, she is fighting for the preservation of favela culture and speaking out against cultural appropriation and gentrification.
“When a person knows his place he (or she) recognizes himself as an individual,” she said in an interview with O Globo, which can be read in English here. “Here, a population that is already marginalized runs the risk of losing its sense of belonging: our home is being denied us. (Documenting) memory can teach us that there is a history, an identity, and that we need to stay and fight against gentrification. And that this might inspire other people.”
Giordana Moreira – Nova Iguaçu, Baixada Fluminense
Giordana Moreira became interested in graffiti after she covered Brazil’s first National Meeting of Women Graffiti Artists in 2005. She realized that being a female graffiti artist was a radical action since the field is mainly made up of male artists. Joining forces with the NGO ComCausa, the group Women Graffiti Artists for the Maria da Penha Law–in honor of the Brazilian law that combats domestic violence–was born to fight sexism and promote debate on gender issues. Giordana is also a founding member of Roque Pense, a group sponsoring workshops, fanzine, radio, and rock music initiatives born out of a partnership between Artefeito and Let’s Pense!, a poetry fanzine. “Pense”, literally “Think” is Artefeito’s abbreviation for “Para uma educação não sexista,” or “for a non-sexist education.” She constantly challenges male protagonism in traditionally male fields, and this year for International Women’s Day her group Roque Pense has organized a female-only band rock festival in Duque de Caxias that will also feature debates about violence against women and workshops.
To Giordana, the participation of women in social movements is essential. She said: “Without women’s participation, this humanity, solidarity and organization are lost. It’s wrong to make women responsible for the psychological well being of families, but this makes women develop this skill, much more so than men.” Check out a RioOnWatch video featuring Giordana in 2012.