Turbulence in Brazil

Brazil has been hitting the headlines quite a bit lately. All over the world.

Zika. The Olympics. The economy. And of course, the impeachment of the president.

But what probably hasn’t been getting through to the outside media are the controversial decisions that the new government has made, and how that will start to impact society.

Within weeks of getting into power, the interim government extinguished important ministries like Culture and Human Rights, and the new government is now made up of only white, religious and rich men.

In parallel, whilst all of this was happening, we had our first TIE placement in Rio, with Instituto Promundo, an organization that fights to promote gender equality and human rights. The campaign, lead by Haywood Watkins III from WPP, aimed to stimulate the discussion about the legalization of abortion.

Not easy in the new political climate.

To understand more about the societal impacts a government like this can have on a population, we asked both Promundo and Haywood what their impressions of the current political moment are.

Keep reading to see what they think.

Haywood, tell us why you applied for TIE.

I often think about legacy. What will I leave when I’m gone? The question loops in the background of my mind like elevator music. And though it is cliché, I want to be counted amongst those who left the world better than they entered it. TIE gives those who have a skill set like mine that opportunity.

What are some inspiring moments or people in your past that have shaped you today?

My mother is a breast cancer survivor. I was much younger when she was diagnosed and didn’t fully understand what she was going through. She shielded me from her pain. Now that I’m older she is more frank about the experience. Looking back on how she chose to face that battle is inspiring to me.

She went on to start a chapter of Sisters Network, which is a national African American breast cancer survivorship organization, in Richmond Virginia to support women who would face the same health concerns. I feel blessed to be able to say my mother is also one of my role models.

Why did you choose to work with Promundo? Can you also tell us a little bit about them and what they do? And why what they do is important?

As an African American I’m always delighted to see those who are not black fighting against the on going prejudices my community faces. In a similar fashion, as a man, I want to help eliminate the equality gap between men and women.

Promundo fights for women’s rights and involves men on that journey. They conduct in-depth research, host community conversations, and develop campaigns to sway citizens to the side of justice. I was immediately moved by their mission and programs. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to work with them.

What is it like to be in Brazil at this moment of political change?

I was living in Melbourne when many of the protests against police violence towards black men occurred. I missed the opportunity to experience my generation’s equivalent to the civil rights movement that my parents lived through. But I now know the feeling of that atmosphere.

There have been several protests since Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment process began. On a regular basis, signs and slogans are sprinkled throughout large crowds in front of municipal buildings. Each leak of information has highlighted the illegitimacy of this impeachment process, which has fueled the intensity and multiplied the number of protesters.

Tell us a bit about the development of your campaign with Promundo. How is it all going?

I learned the Brazilian culture with each headline. For the first two weeks I’d write roughly thirty headlines a day and review them with the communications manager. She would explain what worked and didn’t based on the culture, the politics, and the organization. It was an incredibly iterative process.

I’m now in a place where the concept and executions have been agreed upon and I’m working with Karen Khouth, a friend and designer based in NYC, on the look and feel. The campaign title is The State of Abortion. The several print executions lead with a storied headline and the body copy serves as a fact based explanation. Getting to that point was challenging due to the complexity of the topic, my inability to speak Portuguese, and the full schedules of my peers, but all parties are excited about what we have produced.

How has the new government impacted how you approach your campaign?

The new government didn’t change my approach, but I believed it changed what Promundo was willing to make. My copy is a step into a more abrasive and confronting tone that Promundo’s past work didn’t hold. Due to the new government’s rhetoric it is imperative our message is voiced with strength and proof, which this campaign does well.

At the present political context, where the president is being impeached and the first action of the interim government was to exclude the Ministry of Women, Racial Equality and Human Rights, and where the conservative agenda gets stronger by the day, how does that affect Promundo’s work? Which are some of the insights you’ve had over the past month?

We are living a moment of intense political regression and the impeachment process is just another example. The exclusion of this ministry is very symbolic, as it shows that protecting the rights of minorities is not a priority for the interim government. It’s harder now to fight for politics that promote the rights of minorities. And it’s very possible that Brazil go backwards in this area. For example, the new Secretary for Women’s Affairs is a former congresswoman, who have declared to be against abortion, even in cases of rape.

The interim government is made up exclusively of white, middle aged and religious men. What are the risks of having a government like that? Why is it important to have diversity in the government?

The risk is that this group – that already have so much power in our society, will rule for their own agenda. A government made up of only religious men that have little respect for the secularity of the State almost certainly means the population will have their rights revoked. The importance of a diverse government would be the first to promote a dialogue between the various sectors of our society, in order to guarantee equality of rights, especially for those in underprivileged situations. On the other hand, the actions of the interim government suggest that they are only interested in maintaining the privileges of those of who have been historically in power in Brazil. An example of this was the first action of the interim Ministry of Justice, that determined that all offices related to human rights will have their activities frozen for 90 days.

How has the positioning of the new government affected your strategy to develop this campaign about legalization of abortion with Haywood?

The positioning of the new government reinforces a conservative wave that has been growing stronger from the past 2 years. And that has a great impact on the rights of women, be it because of the lack of advancements or the imminence of regression. This movement has strong popular support, especially amongst evangelical congregations. This shows us that defending the legalization of abortion at this time is very tricky. With Haywood’s help, we understood that we needed to initiate a deeper conversation about the subject. Promoting conversation and spreading information about what legal abortion means for women was the key. Thinking of a message that would engage people in a conversation was very challenging, especially when opposite ideologies are so polarized and set in stone. But we believe we were able to find that message.

At the same time, we have two cases of rape that had a lot of repercussion in the past weeks. A collective rape in Rio and the Brock Turner case, in the US. What is Promundo’s view on those two cases and what do they have in common? What can we learn from those cases?

These cases show us how rape culture is still very present in many countries around the world. From people’s reactions, we see that our society still naturalizes violence against women and blames victims instead of culprits. There were thousands of comments on the internet blaming the girl in Rio, saying that she deserved that because she was in the wrong place with the wrong company. In the US, not only the judge gave an unfair sentence to Brock Turner, his dad said he was being punished too severely for “20 minutes of action”.

Our work at Promundo focuses in promoting healthy and non-violent masculinities, because we believe that gender equality will only be achieved when men are engaged as part of the solution. Especially at this time, it’s crucial that we redefine what it means “to be a man” and promote healthier gender roles.

Currently, at the Brazilian Congress, there are laws that prohibit schools and teachers to talk about harmful gender norms, sexual orientation and gender identity. We worry that this ideology will only aggravate violence against women and LGBT. It’s urgent that we start talking about gender based violence and harmful gender norms, so we stop naturalizing gender based violence in our society.


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