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Benedita: woman, feminist and black deputy, went from a favela to make history


The difficulties experienced during the military dictatorship (1964 1985) in Brazil prompted Deputy Benedita da Silva, now 78 years old, to take her first steps in politics. Since then its flag “Woman, black and favela” has remained immovable.

Encouraged by the deficiencies suffered by the favelas in those years, some residents organized to create associations with the aim of improving their living conditions. This is how Benedita began to be a member of the military in the Favelas Association of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

In 1980, in Sao Paulo, union leaders, including Luiz Incio Lula da Silva, founded the Workers’ Party (PT), and Benedita decided to join and be part of that new political wave. Little by little she became the first black woman to reach positions of importance in this country.

Deputy Benedita da Silva.

An activist of the black, feminist and evangelical movement, Benedita has been a councilor (1982), a senator (1994), a vice-governor (1998) and a governor of Rio de Janeiro (2002-2003). Her position as head of the Special Secretariat for Social Assistance and Promotion, during the first Lula government in 2003, also stands out.

At the end of August, his name appeared on the front pages of newspapers when the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) decided that, starting with the general elections of 2022, the parties will proportionally divide their campaign funds between black and white candidates. The decision was made after a consultation carried out by the deputy, currently a candidate for mayor of Rio de Janeiro.

Last Thursday, the black movement achieved a new victory when Judge Ricardo Lewandowski of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) decided that the formations should apply this measure in the next municipal elections that are held in November and not wait until 2022.

The deputy talked about this historic decision.

What has the decision of the TSE implied?

It has been very important, because despite the fact that the majority of the population in Brazil is black [un 56%] we have a very small representation, both black women and men. In decision-making spaces and in political parties the orientations are traditionally white and the racial issue does not matter much.

We are having one of the biggest historical setbacks of our rights, of blacks and blacks, and for us the decision taken by the TSE, Benedita da Silva, a Brazilian deputy, was very important.

In Brazil there was recently an electoral reform [se estableci que los partidos polticos asignasen al menos un 30 % del Fondo Especial de Financiamiento a campaas de mujeres], but we are not able to guarantee equality for the candidacies of black men and women. Appeal to the Supreme Court arguing that if the electoral reform guaranteed 30% of positions and resources for women, within that fund there also had to be proportionality in relation to black and black candidates. The TSE understood that it was correct.

How would you rate the decision?

It has been a historic and surprising decision also because a statute of racial equality has already been created, which established this question of proportionality. In the government of Lula and Dilma, regardless of whether or not they have a law, they have worked on the issue of racial quotas, but so far we have not achieved any action to promote racial equality in the Brazilian National Congress. We are having one of the biggest historical setbacks of our rights, black and white, and for us the decision taken by the TSE was very important.

Do you consider that Brazil is very far from being a racial democracy?

Yes, a lot. The highest numbers of murders are from the black community [el 75,7 % de las personas asesinadas en Brasil en 2018 eran negras], of our youth. Now with the pandemic, most of the people who are dying are black. Brazil does not comply with the statute of racial equality, nor the Brazilian Constitution itself that speaks of the promotion of the different ethnic groups in the country. Brazil should work on this issue of proportionality in the representations of the black population, be it in public competitions, government advertising …

Do you think that the wave of worldwide protest against racism has influenced Brazilian politics and the decision of the TSE?

I think that, at least, it woke up some authorities, except the president of Brazil [Jair Bolsonaro] that it should be the first but nevertheless withdraws the rights of the black population. It is a government that thinks that there is no racism in Brazil and that colonization and slavery were very good for the black population. That is the government we have. But the population itself and some judges and prosecutors already see this situation of Brazilian blacks as unbearable.

You see what is happening in other countries, as in the United States, for example, they are barbarities that we do not want. What happens is that in Brazil it happens every day but it is not reported, it is not emphasized. That is why the population is not mobilized. When this happens and you have a press that spreads it, there you do have a reaction from the population.

But if you have a government that denies reality, then you don’t encourage the population to make decisions. Here they kill a man with 50 shots and talk that it was “a fatality”. We must continue to denounce these events that have been occurring in the United States and this mobilization is also awakening in the anti-racists of Brazil an indignation and intolerance in relation to this situation.

You are a woman, black and you were born in a favela. Many believe that her career paved the way for other women to enter politics. What do you think?

Those women were with me, they were trained and they are seeing that the place of women in politics is important and, mainly, of black women who are the majority of the population. Black women or black men take longer to reach an academic formation, to occupy spaces. We know that our struggle is great and we cannot miss any opportunity and one of them is that within the black movement we seek our space. Today we have a small representation, it is not compatible with the number of black people there are, but we have already taken one step and we are taking others in that direction.

In March 2018, Councilor Marielle Franco, a black and lesbian, was shot to death in Rio de Janeiro. What did it mean to you?

It was the loss of a great leader. It was a woman who, like me, was raising this flag. It was a reference for us, black women, and for the communities. She represented us, but Rio de Janeiro has become a city, a state, where our skin color means danger. Danger from those who carry out crimes of violence and corruption. Marielle denounced these issues and fought for human rights. Her death will not be in vain. She lives in each of our struggles. He left a legacy of courage, wisdom, competence and tolerance.

Marta Miera, RT.


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