Struggle for Recognition: Afro-Brazilian Women

June 2, 2015

By: Edgar Estrada

The group began its 10:00 am morning with a bus ride headed from Copacabana to Morro de Urca (Mountain of Urca). Arriving at Morro de Urca, we proceeded to take a cable car up Pau de Açucar (Sugar Loaf Moutain), which provides an encompassing view of Rio de Janeiro´s landscape. Sugar Loaf mountain has two stations at different altitudes that allows the viewer  enjoy different angles of Rio.

At around 3:00 p.m., the group actively engaged and participated in a talk with Dora Silva Santana, an Afro-Brazilian trans woman and 2nd year Ph.D. student in Africana/African Diaspora studies at the University of Texas, called “Look! Hyper/in/visibilties and black trans experiences”. Dora is interested and studies black feminism, queer theory, and the lives of black trans people in Brazil. She is particularly and intimately interested in the process of “transitioning” of trans-individuals in Rio within the context of race, gender, income, and geography.

Dora opened the conversation by making the distinction between “cis gendered indivduals”, people who agree with their assigned gender at birth, and “trans gendered individuals”, which are people who don’t identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, and highlighted the reality of their different experiences. Dora brought to our attention the notions of the “standard body”, bodies that conform to the societal norms of beauty, gender, and behavior, and how trans-individuals do not meet these limiting societal expectations. Transgender bodies are underprivileged in most intersectional aspects of society (race, class, gender) and have their lives controlled and manipulated by larger institutional forces (i.e. policies, healthcare, and education). Dora continued the conversation by adding that the privileges which she speaks of are the “instances in which you are not questioned to have access to specific resources”, to essentially live

Dora highlighted the importance of acknowledging the (mis)(re)presentation of Black trans lives and experiences. Specifically, black Brazilian trans women face the issue of ‘misgendering’, attributing the wrong gender to an individual, and ignoring the self-ascribed identity and everyday struggles of the trans individual(s) and community. “I have the right to feel a certain way. I have the right to be angry”, asserted Dora. She is a scholar who is trying to expand people’s imagination by shedding light to the current struggles of a highly unrecognized, marginalized group and create an open, safe space for people who have to deal with racism and sexism in their everyday lives.

Half an hour later, in our next talk called “Economic autonomy: A focus on entrepreneurship”, Daise Rosas Natividade connected entrepreneurship and the economy with race and gender in Brazil, specifically in Rio. Daise spoke of the struggles of Black women in Brazil who are offered and given the jobs with the least pay and lowest economic return. Women in Brazil often find it very difficult to get into a high economic position because the best paying jobs are given to men. Women and especially black women are typically left with domestic jobs such as nannies or waitresses that offer little to no stable financial security (Neuwirth 2005:26). Daise works with Black Pages Brazil, an organization that voices the rights and deserved equality of women by working on policies that expand the entrepreneurship opportunities and economic standing of black Brazilian women.

Women in Brazil have gradually obtained a space in Brazilian politics and economics. Daise helps and strengthens the image of Brazilian women by providing a lens where they can be seen as autonomous individuals who have the full potential to be self sufficient and financially successful. In all, emerging waves of civil activists in Brazil are working to develop and sustain safe spaces for marginalized individuals and communities, particularly Brazilian women, that are left behind by structures that exist and work on racist and sexist grounds.

Neuwirth, Robert. Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters a New Urban World. Great Britain: Routledge. 2005. 26-65. Print.

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