From the Field-Brazil

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Promoting Change by Empowering the Vulnerable

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Many Brazilian women in rural areas do not know their rights under Brazilian law and are vulnerable to become victims of gender or racial discrimination because they do not know how to protect themselves. IAF grantee partner Geledés Instituto da Mulher Negra is working to change that by ensuring that women have access to justice, even in the marginalized communities of the country.

For almost 30 years, the non-profit institute has led the fight against racism and sexism in the rural communities of the state of São Paulo, Brazil. The institute trains female community leaders to become legal advisors (promotoras legais) who can provide guidance to women on issues ranging from domestic violence to health, education, and other basic human rights. The one-year training workshop, funded in part for the past three years by the IAF, is based on pillars of empowerment, support, and education. Speakers educate participants on different issues such as how to file a claim for discrimination by an employer or for domestic abuse, how to obtain a birth certificate for one’s child, or how to secure employment or retirement benefits. By the end of the year, students are qualified to provide support and guidance to their communities on basic legal issues.

The workshops also provide a network of support and communication. Maria das Garças Nogueira, a legal advisor who attended the program, described it as a community that extends beyond the workshop, giving participants the skills and knowledge to change people’s lives in their communities. The bond that develops between the speakers, the participants, and the institute itself serves as a long-lasting support system. In turn, as legal information is disseminated it creates a ripple effect that reaches an even broader base throughout communities and encourages civic participation.

Finally, the workshop’s focus on both legal and academic education has encouraged many participants to take their training to the next level. Maria Ame’lia Quadros said the workshop boosted her self-esteem to the point that she now wants to return to school. Some graduates even go on to pursue formal legal qualifications at universities, while others use their new skills to formalize their businesses and become more economically independent.

The importance of the Geledés Institute goes beyond legal assistance. The institute has been a leading force in fighting racism, empowering black youth, and promoting democracy and equality. The institute has also advocated on behalf of the gay and lesbian community.  In short, Geledés is a grassroots movement that seeks change by empowering those who are most vulnerable. Maria Aparecide Silva Souto, a legal advisor trained through the program, said it best: “Being a promotora legal is being a transforming agent in the community I am a part of.” __ Marielena Octavio, IAF Intern