Interview. Maria Amélia de Almeida Teles fought the military dictatorship and was savagely tortured. She’s still resisting. ‘In the war against democratic progress, our very bodies are the territory being fought over.’

Brazilian feminists resist ‘attack on our fundamental rights’

To understand what the Bolsonaro government means for Maria Amélia de Almeida Teles, known as Amelinha, feminist historian and human rights activist, it would be enough to read her biography. A militant of the Brazilian Communist Party during the heyday of the military dictatorship, she was arrested in 1972 together with her husband César and taken to OBAN, one of the most violent tools of repression of the dictatorship, where she was savagely tortured by Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, whose praises Bolsonaro sang during the impeachment proceedings against Dilma Rousseff. Not satisfied with merely torturing her and her husband, the colonel took Amelinha’s children, aged 4 and 5, into the torture chamber to show them their mother, lying naked and covered in blood and vomit, and their father, barely out of a coma.

Today, Amelinha is one of the coordinators of the Promotoras Legais Populares project, which is teaching black women, lesbians, transgendered persons, female prisoners, indigenous women, immigrant women, domestic workers and prostitutes, of all ages, to know and exercise of their rights and to take part in the daily struggle in defense of women’s rights as citizens.

How did your feminist activism start out?

My father was a communist, a worker and a trade unionist, so my social activism began very early. However, in the Brazil of the ‘50s and ‘60s, women were strongly discriminated against, and whatever status they wanted to gain in society, they faced prejudice, humiliation and insults. So, along with others, I began to look for ways to escape from the unending siege of the patriarchy. Later, many of them abandoned the struggle, but I didn’t. Today, I feel that I am a part of the Brazilian feminist movement, I am a member of the Women’s Union of São Paulo and I am devoting myself primarily to the task of providing ways and spaces for women to experience the many feminisms that exist in Brazil.

What emotions are you experiencing as you prepare to celebrate March 8?

Sadness and anger, because as a result of the attack on our fundamental rights by the extreme right, we have lost a lot of the ground we had gained after much struggle. And one of the consequences is a drastic increase in the number of femicides, rapes and other forms of violence against women. Fortunately, the emergence of so many feminist groups gives us hope that the struggle for a dignified life will not be cut short. Because, as the black female writer Conceição Evaristo said, “They have plotted to kill us, but we have plotted to not die.”

After Bolsonaro’s victory, what are the objectives for the group of women who gave rise to the “Ele não” campaign?

The objectives remain the same. We will continue to pursue our struggle for rights, justice, truth, memory and autonomy. After all, what we want is to live free and in peace, and allow each person to be able to do the same. One shouldn’t fear setbacks: one should face them and regain the lost ground.

What can be expected from this government, after such statements as that of Minister Damares Alves, who said: “There is a new era in Brazil: little boys are now dressed in blue and little girls in pink”?

An ideological war is being waged against all the forces engaged in the defense of rights and democracy. The gang in power has an agenda that would take us back to before the French Revolution—an obscurantist agenda. In the war against democratic progress, our very bodies are the territory being fought over. They want to take away our historical rights: the right to the freedom of movement, expression and organization, the right to decide about our own bodies and to be protagonists of our history, of our life and our work. We have smashed the stereotypes of female submissiveness, of mandatory maternity and compulsive heterosexuality, and those underpinning racism. We have fought for independence, fairness and freedom. And now, the politicians in charge want to take away the achievements we have gained over almost half a century of struggle. We defended the free use of all colors, and this lady wants everyone to use just two. Difficult times are ahead, but we cannot give in to the fear which they want to use to subdue us. This government is racist, misogynist, homophobic and transphobic. But we will resist.

How has the women’s movement changed in Brazil?

There are many Brazilian feminisms, and they are constantly changing, as are many of our demands. There are disagreements between us women, the result of racism, sexism, generational differences, social class, or geographical affiliation. We have to fight social, racial and gender inequalities through a political struggle. And we have to face the generational issues with solidarity and sisterhood, with love and humility. Each of us is different because of our individuality, and this enriches our actions and our future prospects. Indeed, there is an enormous distance between the different generations of feminisms and feminists, and this is an obstacle that impedes effective mutual understanding. I am working more with young people, who adapt more quickly and act more creatively. The ones who are older do not always show the level of tolerance they should. But, as we always say in our March 8 marches, “We are black, we are white, we are old, we are young, and all of us together, we are building our common strength.” In this way, we try to overcome the disagreements between us.

Many Latin American feminists are forcefully emphasizing the close relationship between the exploitation of women and that of the Earth. To what extent is eco-feminism present in Brazil?

What is happening is that eco-feminism is struggling to establish itself in the context of the fight for urban survival. The indigenous and peasant women, whose own path was marked by the struggle for regaining rights over the land, are more active in this debate compared to us who are living in urban centers. However, there is an urgent need to explore this issue further, considering the fact that the ecological imbalances will become ever deeper, further exacerbating social inequalities in big cities. Moreover, the feminist struggle cannot be anything else than an anti-capitalist struggle.

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