How women in Brazil are fighting back against street harassment

Image of two women at Brazil's Slutwalk. Both women are black, one with the words "My body" and the other with "Citizen" written in Portuguese on their chest.

Images from Brazil’s 2013 Slutwalks. Left: “My Body.” Right: “Citizen.” From María María Acha-Kutscher’s incredible Indignadas series.

A few months ago, the Brazilian Research Institute published a report documenting that 65 percent of Brazilians believed that if a woman showed too much skin, she deserved to be raped. Before that, Adidas created a shirt that promoted the World Cup through the objectification of women’s bodies. Developments and increased militarization for upcoming mega-events continue to hurt primarily women of color, as seen in the horrific killing of Claudia Silva Ferreira back in March.

The struggle for women’s human rights in Brazil is real, but as the World Cup looms ever closer, let’s resist the temptation to believe that Brazilian women are victims who need saving. Brazilian women are creatively fighting back.

After the Brazilian Research Institute published their report — which was later proven to be incorrect  though still disturbing — Nana Queiroz — along with other Brazilian feminists on Twitter – started a campaign against victim blaming using the hashtag #EuNaoMerecoSerEstuprada (“I don’t deserve to be raped”). People shared images of themselves wearing varying degrees of clothing with the words “I don’t deserve to be raped” on them and the campaign grew so big that the Brazilian president herself met with Queiroz.

This campaign has spurred a larger conversation about street harassment and access to public spaces in Brazil, a wound that has been opened again as land and space are made increasingly valuable — and inaccessible — leading up to the World Cup. Earlier this year, we covered Brazil’s rolezinhos movement to integrate some of those public spaces in Brazil, which — similarly to in the U.S. — are dictated by gender, class and race. ”In big cities, the rich and poor operate under fragile social norms that dictate where people live eat, or work….These norms around who belongs where are rarely articulated, but constantly enforced.”

The first step in changing these norms is naming them. One exciting example can be found at Think Olga, a think tank dedicated to elevating feminist discussion in Brazil. (Check out our coverage of their art series “100 Times Claudia” about the murder of Claudia Silva Ferreira at the hands of Rio’s military police.) Their most recent campaign Chega de Fiu Fiu (Stop the Catcalls) is an attempt to visibilize the sexual harassment women in Brazil experience in public spaces every day.

A screenshot of the Chega de Fiu Fiu map.

“Our idea to register problematic places in Brazil related to violence against women is not to identify even more public and private spaces that victims should not frequent. Our lens, in reality, is one of transformation. Upon identifying these critical points, we can understand the motivation that makes things this way… With these facts in our hand, we can also pressure governmental institutions to look more attentively at violence against women.” 

I love that the project is particularly interested in the complexities of harassment, the specific spaces that people harass, and the intersecting identities that exacerbate it. Think Olga’s results break down sexual harassment at work, at clubs, on the street, and prove that women are constantly limited to how they move within public spaces because of it. Anyone can add their experience to the map  and categories available include racism, homophobia and transphobia. For example, 81% of the 7,762 survey participants chose not to do something (go shopping, walk home from work, walk in front of a construction site) for fear that they would be harassed.

Chega de Fiu Fiu is not the first map of its kind: between HarassmapHollaback and more, digital storytelling and mapping is coming forth as an important way for women to visualize the systemic nature of the harassment they face. This latest map matters because of how similar it looks to the map of street harassment in Buenos Aires, or New York City. It’s everywhere. Stop Street Harassment just published a report showing that over half of women in the U.S. have been harassed in some form. Though we are working from different continents, we are all working to unlearn the idea that ”some harassment is just the price we pay for stepping outside into a public space.” By honoring each individual contribution to a worldwide movement, we can face down common enemies.

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Juliana is such a sucker for good political art.

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