In late 2012 I had the pleasure of accompanying a visit to Complexo da Maré, with ActionAid Brazil. Complexo da Maré, often called Maré is a low income community or so called favela in the North Zone (Zona Norte) of Rio de Janeiro. It is located close to the International Airport Galeao Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Getting to Maré was a bumpy ride. After taking a taxi to the entrance of the favela, we switched transportation to “mototaxi” yes, you guessed it: Motorcycle taxi. Not all roads in the favela are appropriate for cars and the fastest way from A to B is often sitting on the back of a motorcycle. Emotions run high when holding on to the biker as car is approaching in the opposite direction of the narrow road. The biker suddently takes a turn into a side road and we quickly approach a different area, where newer building and government sign are shown. Soon we arrive in a newly renovated building, a cultural place called “Lona cultural”. We are off to meet with different women in the community and have a very interesting chat on life, relationships and dreams about the future. The house, which also has great library carries through activities such as theater courses and Capoeira lessons take place during the week. It is a meeting place in the community.
There we met women participating in a special employment preparing program to empower women in the community of Maré. The overall topic of the meeting was women’s rights in Brazil emphasizing the court order law «Maria da Penha» passed in 2006. The law «Maria da Penha» was passed after the the Brazilian biopharmacist Maria da Penha won the legal battle after becoming a victim of severe domestic abuse by her husband. Allegedly her husband tried to kill her twice, once by shooting her in her sleep. After a seven year legal battle, her husband was finally sentenced to 15 years in prison. Although he ended up serving a much shorter time due to retrials, the case became unique in Brazilian legal history. In August of 2001 the Brazilian government sanctioned the law “Maria da Penha” against domestic violence toward women, and to this day it stands as a symbol of women’s rights in Brazil
In the “Lona cultural” the organization Redes da Maré in cooperation with ActionAid Brazil were organizing weekly encounters with the participants of the program. Many personal stories were shared and the tone of the conversation was informal but nonetheless serious. The participants and female residents of Maré also participate in a weekly cooking course. The cooking course integrates in the project «Mare de Sabores» carried through by Redes da Maré and financed by Caixa Economica Federal.
During the meeting a number of scenarios are presented to illustrate domestic violence. Emphasizing that Psychological violence sometimes can be just as devastating as physical violence.
A decade after «Maria da Penha» was sanctioned, the movement still deals with great challenges. Recent women’s rights obtained in the legislative court in Brazil are at risk of being extracted from the Brazilian law. Some of these laws include protection against sexual abuse during medical procedures. It is absurd to think that such an act could be at risk of being considered a minor crime, the only punishment being some sort of financial compensation (cesta basica). One of the main challenges is that there are very few female legislators in the country. However, female representation alone, does not guarantee the protection of women’s rights. These issues illustrate the importance of an informed public debate on domestic violence and why it is still very much needed.
Plan to visit a favela?
It is widely advised that as a foreigner one should not visit a favela by yourself not even during daytime. If you are curious about the visiting a favela you could sign up to an organized tour.