The strength that springs from oppression

Image: Phong Vo


When women and girls have their rights violated, there is no mathematics that is sufficient to translate something that escapes statistical data.

Thallita da Cruz Fernandes, doctor, 28 years old. Bruna Angleri, dentist 40 years old. Jussara Burguz Tonon, housewife, 46 years old. What unites the names of three women from different places in São Paulo – São José do Rio Preto, Araras and the capital – is the same tragic outcome they had, as victims of recently recorded femicides. Three stories drastically changed by someone who acted with the impetus of a true tormentor, who plotted and acted sordidly under the cloak of intimacy and appropriated the right to decide another person's fate.

Far beyond statistical data, Thalita, Bruna and Jussara are names, they are faces, they are stories that overlap the coldness of numbers that reinforce how these cases are not the exception, but part of a recurring picture of violence manifested under the most different spectrums against the female population, whether women or girls. And despite the disturbing explosion of occurrences in their multiple modalities – physical, psychological or sexual –, the reactions are falling short of facing the escalation of violence for which possibly there is still no classification that completely defines it, given its brutality and cowardice.

And, so that this analysis is not just based on the subjective field of indignation of the cases that are repeated in our daily lives, here are some numbers from the São Paulo Public Security Secretariat, which reaffirm what unfortunately is concrete data, and not just surfaced perception from yet another death that is currently occupying the news.

The number of femicide cases increased by 34% in the first half of 2023 in the state of São Paulo, compared to the same period of the previous year. Between January and June this year, 111 cases of murder of women were recorded across the state. In 2022, there were 83.

The data also shows that 28.117 cases of intentional bodily harm against women were recorded, 14% more than the same period in 2022. Cases of threats against women also grew: 48.728 records, compared to 29.313 in 2022, that is, a high was 66%. And registrations of protective measures grew 17% in the first half of this year, compared to the same period last year.

And it is necessary to reiterate how violence against women and girls involves a broad spectrum, with indications of sustained growth curves in all its forms. Just take as a reference the way in which the United Nations defines violence against women – “any act of gender-based violence that results or may result in physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of freedom, whether in public or private life” – to conclude how we are facing a disturbing situation, since the lives and rights of a significant portion of the population are under constant threat.

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), one in three women and girls aged 15 to 49 in the Americas have suffered physical and/or sexual violence by a partner. Furthermore, one in four women and girls aged 15 or over in the Americas has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a partner. And one in eight women and girls aged 15 and over in the Americas has experienced sexual violence by a non-partner.

These are numbers for which there is effectively no mathematics that is actually precise, in the essence of the term. After all, when we enumerate these cases, what we are actually doing is mentioning lives, for which no equation is fully accurate. When women are violated in their rights, when they are harassed, attacked, physically or psychologically tortured, raped, objectified and eliminated, there is no mathematics that is sufficient to translate something that escapes statistical data: the pain, the humiliation, the damage to health mental health and fear, factors that simply cannot be counted.

For this reason, as a form of reaction to this disturbing reality, we will launch, on October 18th, at the Legislative Assembly of São Paulo (Alesp), the Parliamentary Front for the Defense of Life and Protection of Women and Girls. There needs to be an intense mobilization that firmly opposes this violence that is advancing, including in the richest state in the country, and which keeps the rights of the female population at constant risk.

More than just surviving

The winning of this year's Nobel Peace Prize by Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi is yet another source of energy that spreads throughout the world, against the brutal oppression that aims to subjugate women in a cruel and cowardly way. Because how can we not find inspiration in someone who does not bow down to the dictatorial regime of their country, even though they have been separated from their family for so many years? And from inside prison, in a letter sent to The New York Times, she fearlessly states: “The more they arrest us, the stronger we become”.

It is from inside the Evin prison unit, where he is serving his most recent sentence, that Narges makes his voice echo. It was like this, for example, a year ago, when young Mahsa Amini, just 22 years old, was murdered in the custody of Iran's morality police, for allegedly not wearing a proper hijab. Mahsa's death triggered an immediate and widespread revolt – led by women – that shook the country and challenged the repression coming from the ayatollahs. Including a rebellion in the penitentiary where the now Nobel Peace Prize winner is incarcerated.

Amid gunfire from prison security forces, explosions and flames, which resulted in at least eight deaths, Narges and her fellow fighters challenged oppressive power. And, as she describes to the NYT, they did not remain silent and continued to raise their voices. “Women will not give up”, declared the activist, with the strength of the letters that cross the bars and conquer the world.

A fearlessness that undoubtedly inspires! And it is for Narges Mohammadi, also for Thallita da Cruz Fernandes, for Bruna Angleri, for Jussara Burguz Tonon, and for all women and girls, that we have to move forward, fighting and defending our rights. As Narges herself reminds us: “We are driven by the will to survive, whether we are inside or outside prison.”

*Beth Sahão is a state deputy in São Paulo for the Workers' Party.

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