Many journalist are calling the current state of violence and brutality in the favela's in Rio de Janeiro, a civil war. Last month, marked the beginning of a new area of political intervention in this region, as police forces and the Brazilian military raided the slums of north Rio. Armed with weapons, the intervention program came about to establish permanent monitoring as a means to reduce crime. Consequently, thousands of armed forces have raided the northern shantytowns, and evicting hundreds. Several dozen causalities have been taken as gang-members retaliate against the political intervention.
Favelas exhibit a typical scene in Brazil, one of extremes: the rich living next to the poor, yet largely unaware of them. Study's show that roughly 20% of Rio’s population calls one of the city’s 750 favelas home. Yet historically, very little successful political action has taken place to prevent violence in these regions. This is no small part of the society, it is imperative that these neighborhoods are carefully considered in the cities future social agenda. In these regions, men in the "ommandos", the drug trafficking gangs, hold significant power within the community. Many reports have been published which have described men in the ommandos as "beating their women like dolls"! With increased political pressure resulting in additional violence, I can't help but wonder how gender-based violence is consequently swelled within these slums at this time.
From experience I have witnessed the male-power dominance deeply entrenched in the Brazilian culture. Domestic violence in Brazil, as in other parts of the world, is often associated with economic stress. Some men, when they are unable to fulfill their traditional role as provider, may resort to violence in an attempt to re-assert their traditional male power. The cycle of domestic violence is further perpetuated in situations where men have witnessed domestic violence in their own families of origins, or where they themselves are victims of abuse or violence. This is particularly applicable in Rio, as one study has calculated that 61% of men and boys have reported being victims of physical violence in their immediate families in the low income neighborhoods of Brazil (Gonvalves de Assis, 1997).
It is to my understanding that in these areas, reproductive health is largely considered a woman's responsibility. And that in many areas, men are allowed and expected to have occasional outside sexual partners, while women must be faithful. This is only one of many of the gender norms which help to further impose discrimination against women in this region. The cultural narrative upholding gender-violence in Brazil is an extremely complex issue, and I am just begging to try and understand the different paradigms and factors involved. Thus I have many questions.
How are local community leaders, health clinics, and local NGO's effected, given the current state of horrific violence surround the recent "intervention"? How can we approach and respond to this very real woman's rights issue sensitively, to shift the prevailing norms defining gender roles? How can we promote gender-equitably, and support woman's rights in a region so engrossed in gang-related violence, and rooted in a culture of very defined gender roles?
Is a answer to promote more citizenship through actions of…integration made through music, culture, sports and social initiatives? Perhaps paired with a push to raise global and male consciousness, we can began to address some of the complexities at stake. The recent occurrences in squatter settlements surrounding Rio, is a all to common shared reality seen throughout many communities worldwide. The consequences are grave for all effected, but I can't help but think about how this is directly impacting women and children living within these circumstances.
I am by no means an expert on this issue or region, and would love to learn more. Please share your thoughts and stories.