Dispatches from Brazil: Part Three

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Today people all over the world are celebrating IWD and I'm reflecting on the time I've spent in Brazil over the past week.

I arrived in the country with only a basic knowledge of gender issues here and really didn't know what to expect from the people we were going to be spending time with. I knew it was going to be interesting but it's turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience involving some truly amazing and inspiring people.

In time for this year's IWD, ActionAid commissioned some research among young people in the UK regarding their views on equality. It was eye opening for me because although I'm only just outside the age-group surveyed, a lot of my time spent discussing equality is spent discussing it with other feminists, activists and bloggers.

This means that I don't often get an idea of what your average young person thinks about it – or actually, whether they think about it at all.

What the research found was that young people have a lot to say about equality. They have concern about women in the workplace and sexual violence. They have concern about objectification. They have concern about freedom of choice.

But there's a disconnect between their concept of 'feminism' and their concept of 'women's rights'. The former: negative; the latter: positive. There was also concern that men were not 'allowed' to participate in fighting for equality, or that they find it hard to get involved because other men might react badly.

Above all, there's a feeling that the problems faced by women in other countries are not easy to relate to and therefore difficult to react to.

This isn't unusual. It might be hard to forge personal links with those from other cultures but if there's one thing this trip has taught me it's that it shouldn't be, because the issues we care about are exactly the same and that there really are so many similarities between the lives of young people here and the lives of young people in the UK.

When I talked to the people of Maré, when I talked to the people of Santarém, the issues they were always quick to highlight were equality in the workplace. Freedom of choice. Sexual violence. Pressures regarding appearance and the way women are portrayed in music and on television.

Of course, there are different cultural issues which come into play but at the heart of the matter is the belief than men and women are of equal worth and should have equal rights – and that gender inequality should not be an issue in the world today.

Now the word 'rights', somewhat sadly, makes a lot of people roll their eyes. But this week I've talked to people who say that a lot of women they know quite literally feel they don't have the right to report a rape to the police, or to leave an abusive partner. You characterize the fight for equal rights as 'silly' and 'going too far' and you do these women a great disservice.

One of the stand-out elements of the Bollocks to Inequality trip has been seeing just what young people can do when they're motivated to fight for change and are empowered as leaders in their communities. They have so much potential and passion and I felt proud to have the chance to hang out with them.

Despite the language barrier, despite the fact that to all intents and purposes our lives are a world apart, we had fun together and I think we were able to take away a lot. The unanimous affirmatives from them when we asked whether they want men and women to be treated equally, or if they think women should be free to live the lives they want for themselves showed their commitment and dedication to their community.

Watching Lucas and his friends immersed in their role as a knowledge base for gender issues made me pleased that ActionAid have supported their work and really happy that it will be replicated elsewhere.

This International Women's Day it's time to draw on our common experiences and know that even from thousands of miles away, we can support each other. Know that even if we're young, or from a poor background, or a guy who's anti-sexism - our voices can be heard. And know that when we fight for equality, it's not in vain.

Check out more on the equality debate by visiting the EQUALS website.

This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz.

Top: Lucas Gomes and members of GADA at Santarém carnival. Above: Me with fellow blogger Shan Phearon, Lucas and friends at Alter do Chão.
Photos: Eduardo Martino / Documentography / ActionAid.

1 comment:

Megan said...

Sounds like a fantastic experience... and makes me realize I need to think more about such things in my daily life.


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